Taxonomy is the system used by scientists to classify living organisms into similar or related groups. As science and technology progress and information increases, so do the methods used to deter¬mine relationships among organisms. DNA analysis, something that was unavailable years ago, is now more commonly used to determine how living organisms are relat¬ed to one another. Earlier methods for clas-sifying snakes that are still used today include scale counts, bone structure, and other anatomical characteristics. These methods can be confusing, because we don’t usually know what characteristics developed first or which ones are truly the most important in determining relationships. The advent of DNA analysis allows much greater accuracy in classification.
All living organisms have two names: the common name and the scientific name. Common names are the familiar, everyday names of living things, such as dog, leopard gecko, and ball python. Scientific names are written in Latinized form-some of the names are truly Latin while others are Latin versions of words from other languages. Most early scientific texts were written in Latin, and because of this, when a species was named, the Latin language was used. The continued use of Latin persists, since this provides for continuity among various scientific texts and journals. Regardless of which country you live in or which language you speak, the scientific or Latin name for a specific plant or animal will always be the same.
Ball pythons belong to the family Pythonidae, although some authorities consider this a subfamily of Boidae, the boas. This family is further broken down into eight genera (the plural of genus; genus is the level of classification just above species): Antaresia (dwarf Australian pythons), Aspidites (black-headed pythons and woma pythons), Bothrochilus (Bismarck ringed python), Leiopython (white-lipped python), Liasis (olive, Macklot’s, water pythons, and relatives), Apodora (Papuan python), Morelia (carpet, diamond, green tree, Boelen’s, and amethystine pythons), and Python (Burmese, blood, rock, reticulated, and simi¬lar species). Ball pythons belong to the genus Python, which also contains the largest of the world’s python species. The other members of Python are the reticulated, African rock, Timor, blood, Indian (including the Burmese subspecies), and Angolan pythons. The Angolan python (P. anchietae) is the ball python’s closest relative. The ball python is the smallest member of this genus, rarely exceeding 6.5 feet (2 m) in total length.
The ball python’s scientific name is Python regius. Literally translated, it means “royal python.” (In Europe, P. regius is known as the royal python, while in America it is called the ball python.) It is possible that this small python received its scientific name in part because of the number of African tribes that worshipped it. In many areas of Africa, the snake is still considered a sacred animal. In some older literature, P. regius is referred to as the regal python.