The spider ball python is a highly sought-after snake due to their incredibly beautiful and unique patterns and colors. They are one of the many morphs of the standard ball python.
A morph is a genetic mutation that alters a snake’s appearance. So, morphs of a snake are the same breed. They just come in all sorts of great designs!
But, the genetic change responsible for the spider balls colors and markings are associated with a neurological disorder known as head wobble syndrome. This is a controversial subject among snake enthusiasts.
Some consider this trait to be cute and have no issue with it. But, others believe it affects their quality of life and is cruel to use them for breeding. So let’s learn more about the Spider Ball Python.
Where Does the Spider Ball Python Come From?
The ball python originates from western and Central Africa where they are found in open forest and Savannah grasslands thriving in the warm tropical climates.
They tend to live in areas that have some source of water so they can cool themselves and are generally seen on or under the ground in confiscated burrows. Although ball pythons are quite capable of climbing trees, they rarely do.
As constricting snakes, they kill their prey by wrapping their bodies around it and squeezing it to death.
As one of the smaller pythons around, they have become extremely popular as exotic pets, especially with their calm nature and the fact that they are non-venomous.
Naming the Spider Ball Python
Americans named the ball python because of their natural defense of curling up into a tight ball and pulling their heads into the center when they feel threatened or stressed. They are so compact when they do this that you could roll them along the ground!
These snakes are also referred to by their scientific name Python Regius, known as royal pythons in Europe, as according to Egyptian legend Cleopatra wore them as bracelets around her wrists.
One of the main reasons the ball python is so popular is because of the numerous and varied patterns and colors they can have. These variations are known as morphs.
Currently, there are more than 5000 ball python morphs and combos with the most common being Spider, Albino, Pastel and Pinstripe.
The spider was one of the first morphs from ball pythons bred and sold in the USA. No one is quite sure how the spider ball python originated, but there is a myth that it came from a single wild-caught individual and imported in 1999 by NERD (New England Reptiles Distribution).
But like many designer breeds, there are often problems and none more so than with the spider.
Spider Ball Wobble
All spider balls have a genetic condition that causes their head to wobble uncontrollably, with some worse than others, and can make feeding difficult, which is why some breeders refuse to breed with them.
On the other hand, many believe the wobble does not affect them as they can still eat, breed and live like any other ball pythons.
The International Herpetological Society (IHS) mainly operates in the UK but has branches worldwide. Although it is not prohibited to breed spider balls, the IHS forbids the sale of these snakes at any of their events.
Fun Facts About The Spider Ball Python
An ethnic group called the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria highly regard ball pythons. The snakes roam freely in their villages where they are well treated, so much so that when one dies, the Igbo people make a coffin and hold a funeral.
In the wild, ball pythons have many predators which include larger snakes, birds and carnivorous mammals with baby ball pythons also at risk from frogs and spiders.
Unlike most snakes, female ball pythons incubate and protect their eggs. They wrap their body around the eggs and do not move until they hatch going without food and water for about two months.
Spider Ball Python Appearance
Spider ball pythons weigh around 2 kg, measuring between three and six feet in length but usually not exceeding five feet. Females are around a foot bigger than males with a thicker body.
The head is small and oval-shaped, being flat on top with a square and boxy snout. Their neck is narrower than the head leading into a thick, muscular body while their short tail tapers to a blunt end.
Ball pythons have approximately 30 sharp teeth that are comb-like in appearance. They are angled backwards so they can pull prey into their mouths.
Ball pythons have spurs which are claw-like and found on the lower end of the snake with the male ones being larger than that of a female.
Regular ball pythons are usually a dark brown to black color revealing tan blotches along the sides having a somewhat spotted look.
But, how do we recognize a spider ball python?
The features of the spider ball python include green eyes, a light golden color across their body with pretty orange scales, high white sides and black, subtle spider web stripes. The head pattern is said to resemble a skull.
Breeding the spider ball python with another type of ball python results in some amazing combinations and breeders love to experiment with these morphs to see what they can create.
Spider Ball Temperament
Ball pythons are known to have gentle dispositions and are highly unlikely to bite, often being described by some as the “Labrador of snakes” due to their predictable nature.
Newborn snakes are jumpy and timid at first but with regular and gentle handling, soon settle down.
Ball pythons are considered ideal snakes for first-time owners as their relatively small size makes them easy to handle along with their calm demeanor. However, they can be shy at first, and it may take them a while to become accustomed to a new handler or home, but once they do, make wonderful pets.
Like most snakes, ball pythons are nocturnal being awake mostly during the night. However, they are also crepuscular, which means they are more active during dusk and dawn. In the wild, they are underground for much of their time in burrows, which may explain this unusual behavior.
The spider has the same temperament as that of a regular ball python.
Spider Ball Python Health
From time to time, you may encounter health issues with your spider ball that requires attention, so you must take them to a qualified herp vet.
As mentioned, the main health concern with a spider ball python is a neurological disorder known as “the wobble.” When talking about “wobble” in the spider ball, there are two descriptions. The first is where they are seen shaking their heads back and forth, causing the snake to become disoriented and confused.
The second is known as the corkscrew where the snake turns its head upside down, bumping into walls and appearing to lose coordination.
It is a dominant trait, as all spiders have wobbles to some extent. Some may not show signs early on but develop it as adults, whereas others have it young and lose it as they become older.
Impact on Quality of Life
Because of the wobble, it can make feeding difficult for the spider and affect their quality of life. There is very little research carried out for spider wobble and why it occurs, but we do know that it is impossible to separate the spider morph and the wobble condition.
That said, there is no clear proof either that it does cause the snake pain, stress or discomfort and more studies are required.
Other Health Concerns
Other health issues your spider ball may encounter includes:
- Mouth rot
- External and internal parasites
- Fleas and mites
- Respiratory infections
- Shedding complications.
Expected Lifespan of Spider Ball Python
Spider ball pythons can live to around thirty years old, so are a long-term commitment, but much depends on the severity of the wobble.
Often, they are unable to eat the prey offered to them, with some force-fed, which is stressful for the snake. Those who make it to adulthood is usually because the wobble isn’t too bad.
Caring For Your Spider Ball Python
Caring for a spider ball is not as demanding as other pet snakes. But, they do have some special care needs. The right environment is crucial for keeping your snake happy and healthy.
The enclosure should be long enough for the snake to completely stretch out. It should also have a secure lid as snakes are notorious escape artists!
You can use bedding such as newspaper, aspen wood shavings or shredded bark as bedding. Spot clean regularly removing any waste daily.
Ball pythons spend much of their time hiding in the wild. You can add a hiding box as well a dish large enough for your snake to soak in.
Getting the heat right
Many enclosures designed for reptiles have the heat built-in, or you can use a heat lamp.
Your snake should be able to heat up and cool down as necessary. The temperature should be 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cooler side. On the basking side, it should be 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
At night temperatures can fall to 75 degrees Fahrenheit with an area of 80 degrees Fahrenheit maintained.
Feeding The Spider Ball Python
Ball pythons are known to have hearty appetites. So, they require a regular feeding schedule. That said, it is not uncommon for them to skip a meal.
Only feed your snake food that is appropriate for their size.
Often two mice per feeding is enough, offering one at a time. However, if your spider ball is bigger, they may require larger mice or a small rat. Dangling the prey in front of your snake using tongs gets the snake interested. Plus, it lessens the risk of you being bitten.
Only give pre-killed food as rodents can bite, causing injury or even death to your snake. You can feed just once a week or every two weeks. But, make sure your spider isn’t shedding as they often lose their appetite.
After feeding, leave your pet snake for at least 24 hours. This is ample time to digest the food. Handling them too soon after feeding may cause them to regurgitate.
Do Spider Ball Pythons Make Good Pets?
Spider ball pythons make ideal pets, especially for those new to keeping snakes. They are calm and easy to handle being easy to maintain.
However, because all spiders suffer from some form of wobble it can affect their quality of life.
For this reason, we don’t recommend purchasing this morph as a pet.
It is better to consider other, healthier morphs, or rescue a spider morph from a shelter.
Rescuing A Spider Ball Python
As spider ball pythons are extremely popular, you will probably have no problem finding one at an animal rescue center.
Many people don’t realize that these snakes can live at least twenty years. As such, they are a big commitment. In fact, many ending up in a shelter due to head wobble syndrome.
Shelters usually only re-home animals that are in good health. So, if you do find a spider ball to adopt, the wobble is unlikely to be severe.
As the spider ball python has “wobbles”, we suggest you consider similar breeds instead that are healthier:
- Ball Python in another morph
- Corn snake
- Gopher snake
Is A Spider Ball Python Right For Me?
The spider ball python is a stunning looking snake. Its docile temperament is suitable for those who are first-time snake owners.
Remember, these snakes have head wobble syndrome. As such, many believe their quality of life is affected by this defect and question the ethics of owning one.
Others argue that there is no conclusive evidence that wobbles are harmful to the spider ball.
We have provided you with the facts. However, only you can make the final decision as to whether the spider ball python is right for you.
Have You Ever Had One?
Do you have a Spider Ball Python? Let us know in the comments below.
References And Resources
Mark P. Rose Neurologic dysfunction in a ball python (python regius) color morph, and Implications for welfare Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, July 2014
Mitchell MA Snake care and husbandry The Veterinary Clinics of North America, Exotic Animal Practice, May 2004