Wishing you, your family and your ball pythons a happy 4th of July!
The thought of why and how ball pythons may have evolved to hunt primarily at night in the wild came upon me while I was cleaning ball python cages yesterday. This blog entry is more or less a loose hypothesis or collection of possibilities on why and how ball pythons evolved to hunt at night as opposed to during the day. I must preface this blogy entry by stating that these are by no means facts, only my personal thoughts and ideas after pondering the subject matter later that evening. Consider this blog more or less a discussion on the topic and nothing more since I've done no research either way to prove or disprove any of the ideas that follow. Your comments are very much welcomed so please share your thoughts on this topic.
Most people notice immediately the row of holes or “pits” above the mouth area on a ball python because they look odd or different. It's easy to think that these holes are used for breathing since we as humans have a pair of holes on our face as well right above the mouth area that we refer to as a “nose”. On the contrary, the holes or pits in a ball python are not used to breathe but are used to measure external heat sources and the proximity or distance of the heat source from the ball python itself.
In order to discuss why and how ball pythons may have evolved to hunt at night, we have to first remove the notion of captive bred ball pythons from the picture and examine their original birth-place, Africa. Africa is home to a diverse and rich assortment of animals, both small and large. Temperatures tend to be hot in many areas and the selection of animals - both predators and prey - demand that in order to survive an animal must adapt to its environment along with the threat of surrounding predators or face extinction, hence the term “survival of the fittest”.
Ball pythons are not dangerous creatures when compared to deadly snakes in Africa such as the Black Mamba, Puff Adder and Gaboon Viper just to name a few. In fact, ball pythons don't grow to massive lengths like the Burmese Python, Reticulated Python, Anaconda and the like so they are in fact quite vulnerable snakes. This vulnerability would have forced the ball python to migrate and dwell in areas where they were less likely to become prey to other notorious predators such as the Lion, Hyena, etc., and remain hidden for the most part in shelter from other predators wishing to seek them out as prey. This desire to stay concealed is probably why captive bred ball pythons tend to stay tucked away hiding in their hide-boxes for the most part.
The primary predator of the ball python in Africa is the Black Cobra. Ball pythons evolved a defense posture to combat this predator by fashioning their bodies into the shape of a ball, hence the name “ball python”. A black cobra cannot swallow a ball python that has fashioned its body into the shape of a ball so I can only venture to believe that ball pythons developed this defensive posture over time. Early ball pythons that did not curl up somewhat or contort their body were eaten and the ones that did survived, thus passing this important trait down to future generations. Since curling up meant survival, ball pythons over time through natural selection have developed the ability to fully fashion their bodies into the ball shape that we know today.
The chief food source of ball pythons in Africa is the rodent. Rodents are food sources for many other predators as well so rodents tend to be more active at night and travel under the cover of darkness. Ball pythons need to feed as all animals do so they too had to evolve along with the rodent in order to hunt them at night. I think this evolution over time is the reason why they developed heat pits and the ability to see better in the dark. If you look at a ball pythons' eyes, you'll notice that they resemble that of cat eyes. Like a cat, their pupils narrow vertically in the presence of light and expand in the absence of light.
Since feeding our ball pythons frozen thawed food items, I've noticed that they rely heavily on the use of their heat pits. If the prey item is not warm enough, the ball python will usually strike and “miss” the prey item several times despite the fact that it may only be mere inches away from their face. This leads me to believe that the primary mechanism used to generate a strike action in order to capture and subdue prey is based primarily on the heat source by way of its pits. They use their forked tongue to gather scent molecules from the air to identify nearby prey and employ their heat pits to zero in on the location of the heat source for the attack.
In my opinion, vision in ball pythons plays a minor role when it comes to the need to visually see a prey item but is still important and useful nevertheless, otherwise they would have no need for eye sight. Mole rats that live in total darkness have no use for vision so they've evolved to become blind since the use of sight is of no value to them. I think ball pythons use their vision to help aid in navigation when there are no prey in the vicinity. When they emerge from their hiding places at night to hunt for prey, most of the surrounding objects in their path are still warm and give off strong heat signatures. If the ball python relied solely on its heat pits and tongue then it would be challenged to navigate at night due to the excess build up of heat most objects received during the day. I think they use their eyesight in these situations to navigate the terrain and employ their heat pits prior to a strike and possibly to identify warm areas needed for thermo-regulation.
Again, these are just my personal thoughts and I welcome your comments.
We wish all the mother's a Happy Mother's Day!
This may seem like a foolish blog post to most but I've received quite a number of emails asking me whether it was okay to take a ball python outside. The weather is starting to get warmer in most parts of the country right now and people are eager to get outside and bring their ball python along with them. This is a touchy subject for most because not everyone enjoys seeing a snake, regardless of whether it's harmless or not.
I would venture to say that it's okay to take your ball python outside but please be respectful of other people when doing so. There's just a ton of bad press nowadays and although we've defeated HR669 as a community, we're still not completely out of the woods just yet. If you do decide to take your ball python outside, PLEASE supervise it fully and be careful of who you decide to let hold or touch it. If your ball python should happen to bite or injure someone, that person may decide that they want to sue you, especially if the strike point is the human eye. I mentioned this so you'd be aware and give you something to think about before you let anyone hold or touch your ball python.
If you have an exotic ball python morph like an Albino, try to keep it out of direct sun light because the sun affects people and animals with albinism differently than those without. People with albinism have problems with the sun due to their albinism and you'll notice that most, if not all wear dark sunglasses to protect their eyes. I'd venture to say albino ball pythons may have the same problems with the sun as well so keep them out of direct sunlight.
If you decide to let your ball python roam freely in your backyard, check it for ticks afterwards. Mites aren't really a concern but ticks are most definiately a concern and will embed themselves in your ball python if given the opportunity. The more I think about it, check it for both mites and ticks. Search my other blog posts for photos and information on mites and ticks. Other than what I've mentioned already, just try to use some basic common sense if you decide to take your ball python outside or on a trip with you.
Speaking of trips, don't leave them alone unattended in a hot car because they can perish if subjected to extreme heat for a lenghty period of time. You may also notice that your ball python might hiss at you if its been outside for a while and you try to pick it up or take it off a chair, ledge, etc. that it's resting on. I've noticed that when ball pythons get a taste of “freedom” they can hiss at you but generally won't strike.
First it was HR669 that demanded my attention, which we've defeated by the way - congratulations everyone! - and now it's swine flu. For all of you that follow my blog, you know my topics are pretty much focused on ball pythons since this is a ball python website. I'm not one for "fear mongering" nor do I promote fear mongering but I've become very concerned with the recent reports, deaths and the rapid spreading of swine and avian flu. I don't have to tell you what swine flu or avian flu is because you know this already and you know how deadly this strain of flu is and what it can and has done to humans thus far.
This blog is pretty much a Public Service Announcement about the N95 Particle Respirator mask (nano or nanotechnology mask) and how it can protect you and your family if you ever need to use it in the event that swine flu reaches pandemic levels. I'm not a survivalist type of person that stores food and water in his bomb shelter but as far as swine flu is concerned, I'd rather have protective N95 particle respirator masks here in storage and not need them than need them and not have them.
I bought a couple boxes of N95 masks for family and friends "just in case". I'm hearing these masks are selling out quickly here in the United States so you may want to consider stocking up on some for your family and friends just in case they're needed. You don't want to be in a situation where you really need a mask to save your life but can't find any because they've all been sold out.
I really do hate writing these types of blogs but I feel that I have a responsibility to make this type of announcement public, especially since people are supposedly dying worldwide at an alarming rate. Most stores are completely sold out of the N95 Particle Respirator mask and people are hoarding them by the case-load. According to the experts, the N95 mask is the only mask that has a 98% filter efficiency level and is effective against particulate aerosols and is NIOSH approved (extremely important!). Most people aren't aware that if the mask they're using isn't a N95 mask it's not effective and won't protect the wearer against the deadly swine flu virus.
I've found a place to buy them cheaply online but they're selling out fast and I'm not sure how much longer they'll have them in stock. I hope none of us ever has to use them but if we do have to use them, I hope you have some stored away in the event that you need to use them to protect the lives of you and your family.
Lets all pray that this doesn't become a pandemic.