The Python regius is a non-venomous constricting type snake. Commonly found as an easy beginners pet, the Ball Python has several adaptations it has acquired over the course of evolution, that to this day, classify it as a quiet and efficient predator. Ball Pythons are generally slow, shy snakes that can sometimes present a challenge to keep and thrive.

Below: Heat pits highlighted in white

They have a high humidity requirement and get larger and more heavily bodied than their Colubridae cousins such as corn snakes and rat snakes. Ball Pythons can attain lengths of approximately 5 feet with males generally being smaller than females. The species is native to parts of Africa.

Left: Ball Python hiding in a coconut half.

Scales of Python regius, the Ball Python

The head is one of the most complicated areas of these snakes. Ball Pythons are ambush predators, able to lie in wait for days waiting for prey to wander by. Like all snakes these Pythons have a forked tongue that allows them to “taste the air.” Snakes such as the Ball Python also have a set of functioning nostrils. Located below the nostrils and highlighted by the white line, are a series of pits known as heat pits. There are four on each side of the mouth. These pits allow the snake to “see heat.” Ball pythons hunt by tracking heat signals that their prey gives off.

Below: Head scales

In comparison to their other senses Ball Pythons have very poor eyesight. In order to protect the eye, a special scale called an eye cap grows over it as part of the rest of the scale. Ball Pythons, like all snakes, have no eyelids and therefore cannot blink. They rely on the eye cap to keep debris and other irritants away from their eyes. In an environment of too low humidity the eye caps will develop dents. These dents are easily fixed when the humidity levels are fixed. They have broad flat scales on the top of their head that allow them to move easially through brush and cover without getting caught.

Below :Scales from around the mouth and throat from a shed skin.

Since snakes have no limbs, they have to have some way of engulfing the prey that they catch. Most of the time the prey is larger than the widest point of the snakes body. There are meals that are too big but most of the time the snake will try to swallow the prey item anyway. These special scales along the throat normally sit very close together, but during eating they are able to stretch to incredible lengths to allow the snake to ingest its food.

Locomotion seems like it would be a problem for the Ball Python, figuring in the lack of limbs. However, these snakes have developed an interesting and efficient way of moving around. Specialized scales on their bellies grip whatever they are laying on and then stay steady to move the animal forward. Moving backwards is somewhat difficult for the bulk of the snake because the scales may get caught. More likely, they would simply turn around rather than out rightly back up.

Below: Belly scale from a shed skin.

The scales on the rest of the body are smooth and lay close to the body. They are closer together and somewhat triangular in shape versus the belly scales or the head scales. All the scales lay in the same direction, going back towards the tail. They are small and individually hard but the snake itself does not feel hard but rather silky smooth. The scales, along with the muscles underneath help the animal to move in its environment.

Above (2): Belly scales, Above (1): Back scales from a shed skin

Below: Back scales

Ball Pythons have residual elements of hind legs. Small points located near the vent called anal spurs now serve little purpose other than to help the male hold onto the female during mating. Both males and females have anal spurs, the appearance of these spurs is not a way to sex these animals. Ball Pythons, like other outwardly gender neutral snakes need to be probed or popped (when you roll your thumb back gently to the vent to "pop" or expose the hemi-penises of male hatchlings).

Below: The vent and an anal spur of a Ball Python

Working with live animals is always difficult when photographing them. Especially with reptiles or small animals. Snakes do not know simple commands such as "sit' or "stay." This particular Ball Python is a pet, her name is Aspen and she's approximately 8 months old. She's used to being around people which made working with her relatively easy, but not necessarily photographing her. There were times when she would end up curling around my camera or even bypassing the camera and even sitting on my head. She was very friendly.

I used a nikon D80 camera with multiple lenses (60mm dedicated macro, 38mm thimble lens and a 80-120mm zoom lens). Photographing her skin was easier than photographing her because it didn't move. I used a glass slide to keep the skin flat. When photographing Aspen herself i used an electronic fiber-optic flash system that had three heads on it. When photographing her shed skin i used a tungsten based fiber-optic light source.

This practice should not be done on older animals as they gain control of their muscles and its extremely difficult to sex them this way. Probing is an accepted practice when done by a professional). The vent is the last large flat scale located next to the anal spurs. It is similar to a birds' cloaca in that both feces, urates (solid, chalk-like urine deposits) and eggs (if the animal is a female) all pass through the same opening.

Below: The tail of a Ball Python


As of 2007, Samantha is a third year student in the Biomedical Photographic Communications major at Rochester Institute of Technology. All photographs present on this site were taken in the Biomedical Photographic Communications lab at RIT by Samantha.

Contact information:
samanthawenitsky@gmail.com
saw5536@rit.edu
mrppph@rit.edu

More information available on Ball Pythons as pets from www.ball-pythons.net, a breeder and keepers forum.

Return to index of articles by students on the 'Principles and techniques of photomacrography' course, November 2007,
Biomedical Photographic Communications (BPC)
program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Article hosted on Micscape Magazine (Microscopy-UK).

 

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