Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Python regius – The Ball (Royal) Python

Ball or Royal Pythons, are indigenous to the forests of Central and Western Africa. They are semi-arboreal snakes, which means they can be found on both the ground and in trees. They are non-venomous.
Monty, WBS's Ball Python (photo: Dawn Griffard)

The name “Royal Python” derives from the fact that rulers in Africa would often wear the python as jewelry!

Ball Pythons are particularly revered by the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria.  Because it lives and travels close to the ground, it is considered to be symbolic of the Earth.  Ball pythons are given free range in Igbo villages and can wander through the streets and in and out of homes at will.  They can be carefully relocated by gently picking them up and placing them back in the forest, but if one is accidently killed, the people will build a small coffin and perform a traditional funeral for the unfortunate creature.

Ball Pythons have flat heads and a square snout.  They possess 100-150 teeth that curve inward, which allows them to catch and hold onto their prey.

Adults usually do not grow longer than 5-6 feet – females growing bigger than males.
Normal color Ball Pythons are black and brown, with black striping on the head and large irregular brown blotches on the body called “lobes”.  Many purposely-bred color mutations of Ball Pythons exist in the pet trade, some of which can be rare, and therefore very expensive.

“Pits” on the fronts of the snake’s face, formed by special scales, allow the snake to sense changes in heat in the environment as finite as 3/1000th of a degree, which allow them to hunt almost completely by feeling the body heat of their prey.  However, Ball Pythons can also see extremely well in near darkness.  Both of these features together make them formidable hunters.

Both males and females have claw-like “anal spurs” on either side of their vent at the base of their tails.  These are thought to be evolutionary remainders of hind legs.

In captivity, the Ball Python makes an excellent companion.  They are generally mellow, almost shy snakes that will often be content to be held and will often curl up on your hand or in your lap.  In fact, the name “Ball Python” comes from the way they ball up – with their heads neatly tucked safely in the middle – when they are feeling shy or threatened.
Like all reptiles, Ball Pythons are ectothermic, or cold-blooded.  This means that the animal must depend on its environment to regulate its body temperature.  For instance, if the snake feels too cold, it will seek out a warm spot where it can bask in the sun.  If it feels too warm, it will retreat to a cool burrow.  Ball Pythons require a daytime basking area of around 90 degrees, and an ambient warm temperature of 85-90 degrees.  When too warm, they will retreat to a cool area, but never cooler than 75 degrees.

Like most snakes, Ball Pythons are opportunistic feeders, and will try to eat a good meal about once a week.  In the wild, Ball Pythons will eat small mammals, other snakes, birds, frogs and lizards.  In captivity, they are usually fed rodents – as they are easily accessible.  They are constrictors; which means they wrap around their prey and squeeze it until it has suffocated.  They will then proceed to slowly swallow the prey until it reaches their stomach.

Depending on the snake’s age, size and how much it eats, he or she will shed 2-6 times a year.  Young snakes shed more often than older snakes; smaller ones more than larger.  The process of shedding takes about 7-10 days.  The shedding process happens when the snake’s body begins to grow a new layer of skin under the existing one.  That new layer begins to separate from the old and a very thin layer of fluid forms between the two layers.  When shedding is about to occur, the belly may become pink and the skin’s overall color will dull.  This is called being “opaque”.  A perfect shed will come off the snake as one complete piece.  If it does not come off as one piece, the snake’s environmental humidity is probably not ideal.  Humidity is important in creating and maintaining that fluid layer between the two layers of skin for the entire length of time the shedding process takes.

Ball Pythons are oviparous – which means they lay eggs.  Females will lay 3-11 large, leathery eggs, which she will incubate underground.  She will maintain heat for the eggs by shivering her body.  The eggs will hatch after 55-60 days.

Contrary to popular belief, snakes are not animals to be feared.  They are beautiful animals that can possess calm, sweet personalities.  They are fascinating to watch and make entertaining pets.

The World Bird Sanctuary's Ball Python, Monty, is looking for an individual or a family to adopt him as part of our Adopt A Bird program (I know—he’s not a bird—but all of our animals are available for adoption.)

Monty is a beautiful specimen of a Ball Python and is a very good snake.  In our sanctuary dominated by birds, he is often overlooked as being an important educational ambassador.  Your $50 adoption fee would help feed, house and care for Monty in the coming year!

To adopt Monty on-line Click Here.  Not comfortable doing purchases on-line?  Then call 636-225-4390 and tell the staff member who answers that you want to do an adoption.

Submitted by Dawn Griffard, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist 

No comments: