If you are any kind of snake person, chances are that ball pythons are among your favorites.
They are chocolate-colored or maybe dark ebony, usually with gold markings. They are sleek and smooth.
They are gentle and meek, and when they are afraid, they roll themselves in a ball.
In this article, we will show how knowing where ball pythons live in nature enables pet owners to keep them healthy and happy.
Where Do Ball Pythons Live In The Wild?
Ball pythons are the most popular pet snake in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The National Pet Owners Survey reveals that 800,000 households in the USA keep pet snakes, but it is not known how many families have ball pythons.
Millions of ball pythons are kept by snake enthusiasts in North America and Europe. But where can they still be found in the wild?
Ball pythons are native to western and central Africa south of the Sahara Desert, where they live in grasslands, shrubland, farmland, and open forest.
Their preferred spots in those locations tell a lot about how to keep a ball python comfortable as a pet.
The Geography of Ball Pythons
Ball pythons live in sub-Saharan Africa from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Benin, Ghana, and Nigeria, eastward through Chad, Cameron, and the Central African Republic to South Sudan and Uganda.
We don’t really know how many ball pythons live in each of these countries. But we know millions of ball pythons once lived in Ghana and Togo.
The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Treaty made international trade in ball pythons legal in the 1990s.
Between 1997 and 2018 almost four million ball pythons were exported from Africa, 98 percent of them from Ghana and Togo.
Hunters in Togo collect females that are getting ready to lay eggs for sale to snake ranches. In just one year, 2019, 58 hunters collected 3,000 gravid (expecting) females and 5,000 eggs.
Under CITES treaty rules, countries are only allowed to export ball pythons if there is scientific evidence that collecting them will not endanger the native population.
Togo, for example, is only allowed to export 1,500 wild ball pythons and 62,500 “farmed” ball pythons raised from collected eggs.
Even so, many snake hunters in Africa say it is harder to find ball pythons than it used to be.
Part of the reason ball pythons are harder to find in Africa than they used to be is that they aren’t pets in Africa.
Ball pythons are eaten as bushmeat. Their skin is used for making leather, and they are used in traditional medicine.
As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed ball pythons as “near threatened.”
But the brisk trade in ball python morphs, raised by breeders mostly in the US state of Florida, is reducing the pressure on ball pythons in Africa.
Ball Python Morphs Born in the USA
Before the early 1990s, ball pythons were considered easy to take care of, but not particularly interesting.
Then in 1992, the first albino ball pythons went on sale.
Breeders outside of Africa quickly learned how to breed morphs in a tremendous variety of patterns and colors, and morphs became much more popular, and expensive, than ball pythons caught in Africa.
Of course, even morphs have African origins.
Ball python hunters take gravid (“pregnant”) females and eggs to snake ranches.
These facilities hatch the eggs and raise the baby snakes until they are ready for shipment to North America or Europe.
This can be a few days to a few weeks after they are hatched. To offset the environmental impact of snake hunting, the snake farms return the previously pregnant females and some of the hatchlings back to the wild.
International shipping of young ball pythons is very stressful for them. They are used to hot, humid conditions, and the hold of the plane is cold and dry.
Importer Gourmet Rodents reports that only 1 percent of the ball pythons it buys in Africa die on the flight to the United States, but some companies lose as many as 5 percent of the ball pythons they buy in Africa.
Despite the deaths of ball pythons on their trip to the USA, importers say that importing ball pythons from West Africa helps to protect them in the wild.
Paying for ball pythons shows people in Africa that they have value beyond meat, leather, and medicine.
People who live with them in Africa have a monetary incentive to make sure they do not disappear. Just one company in Florida, Strictly Reptiles, imports 10,000 ball pythons a year just from Togo.
But importing ball pythons from Africa is inherently risky to both snakes and, because of the diseases they can carry, also to people.
The healthiest, happiest ball pythons you can buy are designed morphs raised in your home country.
Now let’s consider what understanding the natural habitat of ball pythons in Africa tells us about how to keep them healthy as pets.
What Does Ball Python’s Wild Habitat Tell Us About Keeping Them?
Even when a ball python is bred in Europe or North America, it has the same needs as its relatives in the wild in Africa.
Here are some of the things that the ball python’s African home tells us about how to keep them healthy and happy elsewhere.
Ball pythons need warmth
In Togo, temperatures range from about 73 °F (23 °C ) on the coast to about 86 °F (30 °C) in the northernmost regions.
On the opposite side of the continent, there is more variation in temperatures in South Sudan, ranging from about 73° to 98° F (23° to 37 °C) in the warmest month, March, and 68° and 86° F (20° to 30° C) in the coolest month, July.
Ball pythons in nature never encounter temperatures much lower than about 68° F (20° C).
They seldom encounter temperatures higher than 98° F (37 °C). You should keep your ball python’s enclosure between those two extremes at all times to keep your pet snake healthy and comfortable.
Ball pythons need humidity
In Senegal, at the western end of the ball python’s range in Africa, the average humidity in September is a steamy 81%.
Some places in Cameroon receive as much as 300 inches (10 meters) of rain every year.
Ball pythons often dig their burrows in termite mounds, so they won’t drown during floods, and also their skins can stay moist in the dry season.
You should not let your ball python’s enclosure get so humid that condensation collects on the glass.
However, you should not let it dry out, either. Use a hygrometer (a humidity meter) to keep the humidity around 60% to 65%.
Mist your snake’s enclosure if it dries out, or clean out soggy substrate if there is condensation on the walls.
Ball pythons enjoy contact with the soil
Ball pythons love to burrow. They may build a nest inside a termite mound.
Or they may build a nest in the top few inches (about 5 to 8 cm) of the soil, pressing down the grass to cushion their eggs.
Male pythons often hunt for small birds, which take them into the trees that dot the grassy savannas where they live, but most of the time, most ball pythons are ground-dwelling snakes.
You don’t have to give your ball python a termite mound to keep it happy.
But it will prefer to have a gritty, moist substrate in the bottom of its cage where it can curl up and relax, preferably underneath half of a log or a plastic hide.
It is OK to place a plastic branch in your ball python’s enclosure for it to climb and explore (assuming that the lid of the cage is secure), but soft substrate and hides are more important.
Ball pythons are primarily nocturnal
Ball pythons mostly live just a few degrees north of the equator. Night and day are usually close to 12 hours long all year round.
Twilight does not last very long, Moonless nights are very dark.
Your ball python will be more active at night than during the day.
Turning off overhead lights encourages it to come out of its hiding place. If you take your ball python out of its cage to interact with it, it will be more active in the evening than during the morning and afternoon.
Ball pythons, unlike some other reptiles, do not require UV lamps. They get very little sun in their native habitat, and they get their vitamin D from the whole prey animals they eat.
Ball pythons can’t focus on distant objects. They will know you are approaching their enclosure by your scent, rather than by sight.
They don’t have cones in the retinas of their eyes that allow them to see red and yellow, but they can see both blue and ultraviolet light.
You can illuminate their cage with red and yellow (but not blue) light if you want to watch them at night.
Ball pythons live in the same habitat as rodents
Ball pythons can eat a variety of small animals, but female ball pythons mostly feed on small rodents.
They live in grassy areas, where rodents feed on grass seeds.
As long as you feed your ball python a whole rodent (or a specially formulated rodent called Reptilinks), it will get all the nutrients it needs.
Although ball pythons interact with live rodents in nature, it is not a good idea to place a live rodent in your ball python’s enclosure for it to eat.
The rodent may fight back, and injure your snake. Live rodents can transmit intestinal parasites to your snake.
Provide your snake with a healthy diet by giving it previously killed, previously frozen, and slowly thawed rodents small enough for it to swallow whole.
When you buy a ball python, you can look forward to many years with a fascinating, easy-to-care-for pet. Honor its origin by giving it conditions as close to nature as you can.
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