Royal python

Common Name: Royal python

Scientific Name: Python Regius

Royal pythons have large brown markings, with lighter medium brown spots with a creamy white belly generally.

Royal pythons also known as ball pythons, derive their name from their ability to form a tight ball with their head at the centre in response to threats. This defensive manoeuvre is called “balling”.

They are nocturnal, sedentary, and solitary living on or in burrows, in grasslands and open forests. They are often found near a water source to maintain body temperature in the heat and although they can climb trees, they are by nature terricolous meaning they prefer to live on the ground or in soil.

Female royal pythons are larger than males and have a longer jaw length, which may aid them when hunting. A larger jaw increases their capacity for swallowing making them more effective hunters than the smaller males.

Fast Facts

  • Status

    Near threatened

  • Size

    100 – 183cm

  • Weight

    adult males up to 1200g; adult females up to 2000g

  • Gestation

    Eggs hatch after approx. 2 months

  • Young


  • Life span

    The average lifespan is 20+ years in captivity, decreasing to 10 years in the wild

In the wild

In Nigeria, birds make up a significant part of the Royal pythons’ diet, but elsewhere rodents, such as the African giant rats and black rats are their main source of food. They are opportunistic hunters, using specialist heat pits located around their upper jaw to detect warm-blooded prey. They ambush and strike, either swallowing prey live or immobilizing by constriction.

In rural agricultural communities, Royal pythons help keep local rat populations down, providing effective pest control and therefore economic benefits to those who farm the land.

Royal pythons live in both dry and humid habitats, preferring grassland and open forest areas of West and Central Africa. They have a large distribution that ranges from Central South Sudan, South to Uganda, West across central Africa and through West Africa to Senegal.

The breeding season for Royal Pythons usually runs from mid-September to mid-November in line with the minor rainy season. The gestation period is 44 – 54 days.

Usually, the female lays a clutch of 6 – 10 eggs between mid-February to the beginning of April during the second half of the dry season.

Females incubate the eggs for a period of 2 months by coiling around them throughout. Hatchlings are immediately independent but remain close for several months.

The main predator threat to this species of python is humans. Adult pythons are trapped for bushmeat, and juveniles are collected and exported for the international pet trade.

An IUCN report published in 2021 has, however, recategorized the royal python as near threatened due to the decreasing trend in numbers suggesting that there has been a 30% reduction over a 3-generational period. This could be due in part to changes to farming practices, which are becoming increasingly mechanised, which together with more widespread use of agrochemicals, is adversely affecting the survival rate of royal python populations.

Despite being on the Appendices of CITES list since 1977, the trade in live animals continues to thrive with 30,000 – 50,000 pythons exported annually to America. Although still widespread and common in Tongo, royal pythons need improved management of enforcements in place to protect them to ensure population sustainability.

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