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Daily Classroom Special
Critter Corner: Meet the Ball Python
About this Daily Classroom Special
Critter Corner allows teachers and students to learn and share experiences about organisms that can be kept in the classroom. Critter Corner is maintained by Judith Jones, teacher at East Chapel Hill High School (NC) and Teachers Network web mentor. E-mail Judith. Make sure to visit Judy's other Daily Classroom Special, The Time Travel Interviews with Famous Scientists

To the Critter Corner Directory.

Introduction

ball python I have acquired my two ball pythons in interesting ways. One of them was found by some Chapel Hill residents on their front porch when they returned home one day. This was a bit unusual since ball pythons are definitely NOT native to North Carolina. They took the snake to the Animal Shelter and I adopted it from the shelter. My other ball python came to me from a counselor at the high school where I teach. Her brother was ready to find a new home for his snake. Both of these snakes are beautiful colors and have proved to be docile and hungry!

Ball pythons are a very widely sold snake. About seven or eight years ago, there were huge numbers being imported into the United States from Africa. Fortunately, exporters have now established breeding programs and it is very easy to get a healthy ball python bred in captivity. It is relatively inexpensive and reaches a very nice five feet.

However, this snake is probably best acquired by someone who has experience raising snakes. Recently imported snakes can be very reluctant eaters. However, if you can get hold of an adult snake that is a known "good eater" or a captive bred juvenile, you may have better luck. Imported snakes can harbor parasites also, so I heartily recommend for health and ecological reasons, that people only buy captive bred snakes.

Scientific Name

Python regius (sometimes called the Royal Python)

General Physical Description

This compact snake often has a dark brown skin that is covered with big irregular patches of cream or a yellowish color. Some people actually see the snake as a cream colored snake with dark patches. The sides of the head are pale with a dark line from the jaw through the eye to the nostril. The broken color patterning of the ball pythons' skin probably makes them hard to see by the large raptors (birds) that prey upon them. Breeders have made many lovely color variations available from jungle colored (pale yellow eyes, brown with irregular black markings) to xanthic (yellow or gold colored all over). Adults range from three to five feet long and are fairly wide bodied. They have a somewhat triangular head. They live for a very long time in captivity 20 to 30 years among the most long-lived snakes on record.

Reproduction

The best breeders are males and females that are over 1000 grams in weight although smaller males may be able to mate. Ball pythons will reproduce from age three to well into their 20's. In nature, ball pythons will form mating pairs from September through November (the rainy season). Ball python eggs are laid from February to April (the dry season). Hatching occurs from April to June. In captivity, the environmental conditions have to be manipulated to get ball pythons to breed. Light should be varying from 15 hours in summer to nine hours in winter. More frequent feeding until winter is important. In December, when the male and female are put together, temperatures are lowered to 75-82 degrees Fo until February when normal temperatures are resumed. Food is offered again and basking spots are provided. Egg laying usually occurs at night in the spring. They may lay anywhere from one to 11 off-white leathery eggs. If humidity and temperature are kept high, the female may successfully brood the eggs (coil around them). But the eggs can be removed and incubated in very slightly damp vermiculite. In about 55-60 days the eggs will hatch. The baby ball python slits several places in the shell with an egg tooth. Finally, it will poke its head out. But the process takes about a day or a day and a half to complete.

Handling Tips

When you hold a ball python, it most often assume its "ball-like" position. Just let the snake remain like that resting comfortably on your hand. Ball pythons have been known to strike and bite. However, I have never had one of mine bite and they have been handled by students of all ages. I still recommend caution until you know your snake! The snake is not poisonous but it can leave several surface wounds that will bleed. Mainly, you should just let the snake get used to you and begin to explore your hand and arm as it begins to feel safer.

Food and Feeding Schedule

Ball pythons that are not stressed are the best eaters. Try not to handle a ball python before attempting to feed it. Adult ball pythons can eat adult mice or small rats. My two pythons eat one small rat every seven-10 days (less often in winter). In the wild, pythons would be eating African rodents such as rats, gerbils, and gerboas. They are sometimes reluctant to eat our mice and lab rats because they are unfamiliar. Again, this is a good reason to get a captive bred snake that is used to the captive diet. There should always be a dish of water available. Some people provide a larger bowl just when shedding is about to happen so that the snake can soak. But be very careful to avoid build up of moisture in the aquarium. Molds can lead to skin conditions in ball pythons and other snakes.

Classroom Habitat

A simple aquarium with a secure screen lid makes an excellent home for a ball python and it can be easily and well cleaned. The commercially made fiberglass snake enclosures are excellent also. Remember, all snakes are escape artists! Make sure you have a very secure lid. You can start juveniles off in a 10-gallon aquarium and slowly work up to a 30-gallon aquarium for the large adult. Newspaper makes a fine substrate. The cage can be cleaned easily. But shredded bark or pine shavings might be more attractive. Do not use cedar shavings because they are toxic to snakes. When feeding the snakes be careful that shavings do not get into their mouths. The aquarium should have a basking area (90-95 degrees Fo) Heating pads and strips that go under the aquarium are the best source of heat. It is preferable to have a rheostat control. Ball pythons can wrap themselves around the electrical hot rocks and get burned so these rocks are not recommended. Extra lighting is not necessary. Ball pythons love to have a shelter to hide in during the day.

Behavior

Ball pythons are good climbers but tend to remain near ground level around roots and low shrubs. When it is threatened, it will roll itself into a ball with its head buried inside its coils--hence the common name "ball python." These snakes are mainly nocturnal, but they will become active when you take them out of their cages.

Native Habitat and Role in the Environment

Ball Pythons live in the grasslands west of the Nile and in mountain regions. They are found primarily in West Africa, in the Ivory Coast, and in parts of Central Africa. They are not found in closed forests. In fact, they will set up colonies in grasslands that have been cleared for farming.

 

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