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A Look at Ball Pythons

Updated on January 25, 2011

Ball pythons are fairly short, heavy-bodied snakes. Their average length is between 4 and 5 feet (1.2 and 1.5 m). They are muscular, with a well-defined, slender neck. The head is narrow at the nose and broader at the base of the skull. Five labial heat-sensing pits are located on each side of the upper jaw; these are used to sense infrared radiation (body heat) given off by prey. These labial pits are able to detect small variations in temperature of only a few degrees. Keep this in mind when feeding your snake frozen thawed rodents by hand; if your hand is giving off more heat than the food item, chances are you will be bit­ten.

The normal appearance of a wild ball pythons is generally a black or dark brown back­ground color with lighter blotches of either gold or light brown. The pattern is highly vari­able. Individuals can be striped, blotched, banded, or a combination of all three patterns. The ventral surface or belly of the ball python is generally white, with occasional black or yellow flecking. Like fingerprints, no two ball pythons have an identical pattern, even when they hatch from the same egg. Many times, the lighter areas on the ball python will contain dark markings. At times, when these markings or spots are nearer the top of the pattern, it gives the blotch the appearance of being in the form of strange "face," similar t6 the pur­ported faces of space aliens. Many people refer to this type of pattern as "aliens" markings.

Ball pythons, whether male or female, have cloacal spurs—small stubs on either side of the cloaca. Males use these spurs during courtship. Occasionally, the spurs may wear down and may even break off. You cannot tell the sex of a ball python by the size of the spurs.

Ball pythons are most active at night, when they emerge from their burrows to go forag­ing for food or looking for a mate. When you keep one, you will notice that as the lights go off, it will not be long before your ball python will come out and crawl around its enclo­sure.

In the wild, ball pythons eat a variety of animals, from birds to bats to small mammals. One study found that ball pythons less than 30 inches (76.2 cm) long primarily fed on birds, while ball pythons over 39 inches (99.1 cm) in the same area fed primarily on small mammals. This is not an unusual occurrence in nature. Many species of animals will prey on different types of food items depending upon their size or even their sex.

Because the ball python's primary habitat is the savanna, there is little opportunity for this species to climb, given that most savannas have very few trees. It is possible that ball pythons inhabiting areas with more trees have more opportunities to exercise their climbing potential. In general though, with the exception of an occasional climb, ball pythons are not built for life in the trees. All ball pythons are good swimmers.

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