When many people think of their childhood pets, images of cats and dogs and gerbils and bunnies come to mind. Not so for Julie Jones.
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“I’ve always been a reptile enthusiast,” said Jones, 29, a resident of Placerville. “When I was a kid, I’d bring home snakes and lizards and frogs instead of playing with Barbies. My mom wasn’t too fond of snakes, but eventually she let me get a gecko, and it sort of just evolved from there.”
When she got older, Jones began working at the Camino Animal Hospital, and it was here that she adopted her first snake, a ball python she named Jake.
“Jake was a rescue. His scales had been burned, and I agreed to help him,” Jones said.
Jones later gave away Jake to a new home, but it was because of their acquaintance that she fell in love with ball pythons. Today, she owns three.
“Ball pythons are really cool snakes. They’re sweet and mellow and slow moving, and they’re almost always really docile,” said Jones. “Usually they prefer to be solitary, but — and I know it sounds crazy — some of them can be super cuddly. They have personalities just like cats and dogs. It’s really fun when they want to be close to you.”
At their biggest, ball pythons are usually between three and five feet long. They grow slowly and reach adulthood within two to three years, and can live for anywhere from 20 to 30 years in captivity. The snakes eat rats — Jones buys them frozen from local stores like Lees’ Feed and Western Store and Petco — but only about once a week. Where it gets tricky is maintaining the right environment.
“Ball pythons are a tropical species and need humidity, which is not something that comes naturally around here,” said Jones. To keep her snakes happy and healthy, Jones keeps them in separate plastic tubs with heating elements on the bottom. She lines the bottom of the tubs with paper towels and provides them with a water bowl and a hut — in case they feel like hiding.
The coolest thing about ball pythons, though, according to Jones, is their numerous different patterns and colors. The snakes can be any color from banana yellow to black and white to brown, and there are breeders all around the nation who are continually coming up with new varieties.
“They really are a beautiful snake,” said Jones. “They’re not for everyone, but for the right person, they can make really great pets … They’re like potato chips — it’s hard to stop at just one!”