Python regius is a fascinating species of snakes. Largely docile, comparatively small, and a non-venomous constrictor, the so-called ball python is very popular for pet enthusiasts.

Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim

Ball pythons, when mated for specific traits, result in beautiful breeds known as sterling ball pythons. Animal Scene’s expert Pitlair explains that sterling ball pythons come from the mating of cinnamon pastel and pastel ball pythons; hence, they’re also known as superpastel cinnamon ball pythons.

Two co-dominant genes (the pastel and the cinnamon genes) are involved in the creation of this “designer morph.” If one starts the pair as hatchlings, it could take two to three years to produce a sterling.

Pitlair adds, “…the pastel and cinnamon gene are what we call incomplete dominant or what is commonly referred to in the hobby as codominate (codom for short). To simplify this, the morph is a pastel + pastel + cinnamon. Two genes were involved in its morph, none of which are recessive.”

Muted Pastels

Unlike a normal ball python, a sterling ball python is neither brown nor camouflaged for survival in the wild. Sterlings are light in color with a yellow base and black-gray patterns that, in a snake’s natural habitat, would make it easy for both prey and predator to spot. Moreover, the colors are still heritable; offspring bred from sterlings will still show pastels and cinnamons.

Why ‘sterling’? Pitlair says that in the hobby, the first to come up with new morph gets to name it. “It just so happened that the first person to produce a sterling decided to call it ‘sterling’ and after that, every time another person produced a superpastel cinnamon, they would refer to it as sterling.”

As he puts it, the sterling and normal pythons are so far apart in looks “…that there is no mistaking the difference. Normal or wild type are brown, best suited to camouflage themselves in their natural environment, while sterling are designer morphs that are very light in color with yellows and grays.”

Sterlings, as with most ball pythons, are small, averaging three to four feet in length. Native to Africa, they can live beyond fifteen years, subsisting on a typical diet of rodents, small mammals, and small fowl.

Cinnamon Care

It’s important to remember that having a ball python as a pet requires sufficient preparation, Pitlair advises. Do due diligence and research, and ensure everything is set up before actually getting one. Aside from one’s own safety, the health and care for these lovely creatures should always be a priority and well-planned out for.

Generally, caring for sterlings requires similar basic care expected for normal ball pythons—as with all its morphs. Although the diversity of pythons prevents generalizations on their care requirements, there are a few things we should always be on the lookout for. Healthy sterlings exhibit alertness; feed according to its kind; and defecate regularly.

If there is loss of appetite, signs of tiredness, lack of motion, or weight loss, it could potentially be an indication of sickness. Other usual health problems that one needs to be able to quickly recognize include the snake opening its mouth as it emits a wheezing sound; this could mean phlegm and difficulty in breathing.

The basic needs of your sterling would be the correct temperature and humidity, and a clean enclosure. UV light is not required for them. These pythons are particularly susceptible to the Inclusive Body Disease (IBD) virus, which can be fatal. Aside from loss of appetite, uncoordinated mobility (also known as “stargazing”) can be a symptom of infection by IBD. In all cases of suspected illness, one should immediately take the sterling to the vet.

Exotic Gentleness

Once you’re sure that you’re prepared to care for these beauties, you’ll see that they make great pets, especially for those who prefer to be more on the exotic side but are uneasy with finding potentially deadlier alternatives.

These creatures are fairly tame and shy, exhibiting more tolerance to handling than other species, and are thus ideal for people who like handling their pets frequently. The risk of being bitten is also very low, particularly if one is cautious and also follows good sanitary practices. On the flip side, due to their nature, sterlings are not affectionate and do not respond to commands, verbal or otherwise.

Regardless of their docility, young children exposed to these pets should still be guided by adults. There can also be occasional challenges such as males not being interested in mating. Females may also sometimes go off their feed cycles and not achieve sufficient weight. Although going off-feed is not unusual, just keep offering it food patiently.

Did You Know?

• Ball pythons are thus because they usually curl up in a ball, head hidden within the coils, if they feel threatened.

• They are also called royal pythons (hence the species regius) because many African rulers wore them (live!) as jewelry. Now that is one awesome pet!

• Never keep ball pythons in pine or cedar-based substrates. These phenol-containing woods contain toxins that can be very harmful for them.

• Serpent worship: ball pythons are particularly venerated by the Igbo people of Nigeria. Both traditional Igbos and Christian Igbos have high esteem for these creatures, believed to be representative of the earth. A number of Igbos even stage a funeral, complete with coffin, for ball pythons that die.

This appeared as “A Sterling Companion: Python regius” in Animal Scene’s June 2016 issue.