Ball Python or Royal Python

Python regius

The ball python is a medium-sized snake native to grasslands and farmlands of western and central Africa. Like other pythons, it is a constrictor, eating mostly small rodents. It is generally not aggressive; if threatened it usually curls up into a ball with its head on the inside (hence the name “Ball python”). Ball pythons are brown or black with lighter brown or gold patches, although selective breeding has produced over 100 different color varieties.

Ball pythons are one of the most popular reptile pets in the United States. They can be either captive-bred or wild caught. Captive-bred snakes make much better pets, because they are usually healthier and more docile; in contrast, wild-caught snakes are more aggressive, and typically carry more parasites. These snakes grow to 3 to 4 feet in length and can live 20 to 30 years in captivity.

Did You Know?

If threatened the Ball Python usually curls up into a ball with its head on the inside hence the name.

Sustainability

Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Some Cause for Concern

Most ball pythons in the pet trade are imported from python “ranches” in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Wild females are trapped, held until they lay eggs, and then released back into the wild; the eggs are held until they hatch and then the baby snakes are exported. Wild populations in Ghana appear to be stable, although there is concern about their long-term persistence due to the very high trapping pressure. Even though local captive-bred animals are available, over 350,000 ball pythons were imported into the United States during the years 1989 through 2000.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Ensure that your ball python is captive-bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet from a reputable breeder or seller to ensure that you are not buying a wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

Ball pythons have not become established in the wild outside their native range. But, because of the sheer number of ball pythons kept as pets in the United States, there is the risk that some will be released into the wild by irresponsible owners. Although less likely than the case with Burmese pythons, in the right environment (warm, humid) these snakes could potentially become established. However due to their smaller size and other reasons the impact would likely not be as great as has occurred with larger snakes.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ball pythons require a warm, humid (80ºF, 60–80% relative humidity) environment, and secure enclosure to prevent escape. They need daily fresh water, a hiding space, fresh or frozen rodents, and a safe heat source. They are capable of surviving for 20 to 30 years in captivity and can grow up to 5 or 6 feet in length. Imported wild-caught or “ranched” animals may be stressed during capture and shipment. Due to stress imported animals may be more susceptible to potentially fatal skin infections and usually carry parasites.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a pet ball python, be sure to research its specific care requirements.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Like all reptiles, ball pythons can carry Salmonella. If ingested by humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to infants and young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is important to wash hands before and after handling an animal. Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly. Due to risk of disease transmission, physical injury to children or the animal, and risk of escape, children should not be left unsupervised with this species.

In addition, wild-caught or ranched ball pythons can carry intestinal parasites, such as cryptosporidium, and several types of exotic ticks. Ticks may in turn carry diseases (such as Q fever) that threaten humans, livestock, or wildlife; these exotic ticks could even become invasive in the United States. Ball pythons may also carry mites that cause allergies in handlers.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Reptiles often do not show signs of illness when harboring Salmonella. Regardless, when purchasing a pet ask the seller if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Always wash your hands after handling a reptile.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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