Many hobbyists consider the ball python to be the perfect snake. With the mystique of a giant snake in a pet of easily manageable size, captive-bred ball pythons are simple to house, easy to feed, and exceptionally hardy.
Ball pythons are very diverse in their appearance, which is part of the reason why they’re so commonly kept as pets. No two ball pythons look exactly alike: although they share some general similarities, each individual has a unique color pattern. Generally, they are stout-bodied, muscular snakes with a well-defined neck and an arrow-shaped head. Each side of the upper jaw has five labial pits, which are used to sense the body heat given off by potential prey.
Both male and female ball pythons have spurs on both sides of the cloaca (the end of the digestive tract). These spurs appear as small, clawlike structures and are used by the male for courting the female during breeding.
- Size: The average adult ball python is 3.5–4 feet (1–1.2 m) in length, but larger specimens can be as long as 6 feet (1.8 m).
- Color: Ball pythons have a background color of black or dark brown, with gold or lighter brown blotches on the sides and along the back. The belly is generally white with occasional flecks of color on the margins. Normally, ball pythons are extremely variable in their color and pattern: some can be very light in color, while others are very dark; some may have more striping, while others may appear more banded.
Ball pythons with mutations to their color and/or pattern are known as morphs. Most morphs do not originate in captivity but are reproduced in captivity when genetic mutations that occur spontaneously in the wild are imported from Africa. The piebald morph, for example, has sections of its normal color pattern replaced with pure white.
Breeders are creating dozens of new ball-python morphs by crossbreeding existing morphs in different combinations. These designer morphs are completely new and unique ball pythons, such as the snow ball python, the product of two established mutations: an albino (a ball python lacking black pigment) and an axanthic (a ball python lacking yellow pigment). The resulting offspring are mostly white with pale traces of the normal pattern.
A healthy, well-acclimated ball python can make an excellent pet that’s generally easy to care for. Its small size and relatively docile nature makes it an ideal snake for an owner who has never cared for a snake before. A ball python is calm, easily tamed, and can adjust quickly to proper handling.
Ball pythons are native to western and west central Africa. These areas are generally humid, so pet ball pythons require a similarly humid climate in their enclosures. Wild pythons often live in scrublands and around cassava farms, which have a plentiful supply of African rodents to serve as a food source for them.
Unlike most pythons, ball pythons are burrowers—they take shelter in abandoned rodent burrows or recently abandoned termite mounds during the day and emerge at night to search for prey on the ground. They are named for their defensive behavior of curling into a ball when threatened.
Is Your Home Right for a Ball Python?
Before you bring a ball python into your home, be sure that you can provide the care it requires. A healthy ball python can live for up to 40 years or more in captivity, so be prepared for a long-term commitment to your snake before purchasing one.
Remember that even though you might love snakes, not everyone else does. Before you bring home a ball python, make sure that no one in your household is afraid of snakes or has objections to living with one. You also should discuss the ball python’s diet with the other members of your household. Many people are squeamish about the whole-rodent diet that your ball python requires.