||West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Togo, Senegal
|| 2 - 3 years
|Number of Young
The royal python is one of 27 species of python and lives in grassland habitats such as savannahs and sparsely wooded plains. The snake’s pattern of ovoid patches on a brown or bluish-brown ground colour varies considerably between individuals, but almost always includes some shade of yellow. Completely yellow (xanthic) individuals can also occur. Because of their beautiful patterns royal pythons are often killed for their skins, although, not to the same extent as the larger Indian and African pythons. They are also a favoured food animal of various tribal groups in their range.
Heat sensitive pits around the python’s upper lip help the snake to locate its prey. Like other pythons the royal python is not poisonous and kills its prey, including small rodents, by constriction. This species of snake is in fact very placid. If threatened it will coil into a tight ball with the head and neck tucked in between the coils rather than attack. In this position the snake can literally be rolled about. It is this habitat of the royal python which gives it its alternative name - the ball python.
Long ago in geological time the ancestors of snakes had legs. If you look very closely at a royal python you can see two tiny claws on the underside, near the tail. These are all that remains of the hindlimbs of the ancestral reptile.
During the dry season the royal python will hide away in mammal burrows or similar underground retreats. Here they become inactive, similar to other animals which hibernate during the winter. This is called aestivation. A female snake may also use these burrows as a place to lay and incubate her eggs. She may lay 6-7 eggs at a time, which she incubates by coiling around them.
Smallest of the African pythons, seldom more than 4 ft long. A stocky boldly patterned species.
Royal pythons are popular as pets and are often seen in zoological parks and private collections. They are, however, very difficult to breed in captivity. Most royal pythons that are available have therefore been caught in the wild. For each snake reaching this country several others have died, either in the hunter’s traps, during the journey, or in pet shops. Those imported snakes which do survive often find it difficult to adjust to captive conditions and often refuse to eat. Royal pythons are therefore not recommended as pets.
Captive royal pythons require a temperature of 27°C and water must also be provided. They eat small rodents such as mice, which are usually pre-killed. They will occasionally go on long, self imposed fasts, but food should still be offered during this time.
Marwell Education Centre has several royal pythons. Some are unwanted or rescued pets and the others were confiscated by Customs at Heathrow Airport as part of an illegal shipment. They are now cared for at the zoo.
©2009 Marwell Wildlife