Although it occurs in Africa, this attractive python is often seen in the pet trade in other countries. It is known in North America as the ball python because it will roll into a ball with its head tucked into the middle as a defence mechanism when it feels threatened; in Europe, it is better known as the royal python.
It is one of the smaller pythons, with adults ranging from 0.9 to 1.8 m in length (3 to 6 ft.). Females are usually larger than males.
In the wild, pythons breed during the rainy season. The female lays only 4 to 10 eggs, which have leathery shells. She remains coiled around the eggs until they hatch 70 to 90 days later.
These pythons actively hunt small mammals such as rats and gerbils, following them into their burrows. They kill their prey by wrapping around them and constricting or by pressing them against the burrow walls.
Found in southern Sudan, in parts of Central Africa and in West Africa from Senegal to Togo, the royal python inhabits dry grassland (whether natural or created by clearing), savannah and forest edges; it rarely occurs in forests. It is usually seen on the ground even though it can climb. Its main economic importance is its role in controlling rodent pests.
In some parts of Africa such as areas in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin, this snake is worshipped and considered sacred, and its population is increasing. In other parts of Africa its survival is at risk because it is highly exploited for the pet trade as well as for food and as a source of leather.