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Pet Reticulated Python Care

Often regarded as a more challenging snake to maintain, the reticulated python can be a rewarding animal to keep as long as you understand their needs.  

In response to many requests for information concerning the captive care of this popular pet snake, RainForest Adventures is providing the following suggested guidelines for the captive care of the pet Reticulated Python.

Long a staple in the pet industry, the Reticulated Python can make an excellent choice as a pet snake. Issues concerning their large size, unpredictable temper, and potential danger are all things that should be considered prior to obtaining a young python.  

In this article we will address the basic needs and requirements to successfully keep a pet Reticulated Python. The primary areas that we will address here are:

"The awe inspiring size of a giant python has lured many a pet keeper into acquiring one of these remarkable animals. " 

Bill Lucey-2006

A native of  tropical Southeast Asia, the Reticulated Python, is full grown at approximately 14 to 18 feet in length.   Legends and tales of this snake reaching giant proportions are greatly exaggerated.   A CNN news story in 2005 claiming a 49' foot python in captivity in Asia proved later to be a 23' snake.    This type of hype is common, not just among layman, but also among the supposedly informed.

Several recognized sub-species of the Reticulated Python are being sold as pets today. The sub-species  vary in size from small pythons reaching a maximum size of 5 feet, to the true giants of the snake world. 

It is not within the scope of this article to discuss the various sub-species of reticulated pythons that are available on the market today, for the general sake of husbandry information all of the sub-species require generally the same basic husbandry needs.

For the sake of this article we will be talking primarily about the common Reticulated Python.  

 

Snake Ownership Regulations:  One factor to consider before proceeding with the purchase of a new pet is the applicable state, and or, local laws that apply to the area you live in.   Laws vary greatly from state to state as well as within individual city limits.   What may be legal in your area may be illegal just a few streets away!  The best source of this type of information is your local pet shop.  An honest pet shop will always be abreast of the applicable laws governing not only sale but the ownership of animals. 

Ironically, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to own "exotic" animal species as a result of misguided laws.  Under the guise of "protecting" the citizens, laws are passed prohibiting the ownership of certain animals. 

A quick review of any major search engine will result in vast amounts of information on the millions of bites that occur annually from domestic pets such as dogs and cats.  Literally, billions of dollars are paid out on an annual basis by the major insurance carriers to cover attacks, including fatal attacks, by our beloved puppy dogs and kitty cats.   

In spite of a mountain of evidence that would suggest if we are interested in "protecting" citizens from animal attacks it would only make sense to start with the animal that attacks most frequently; our politicians will frequently ban the ownership of animals they perceive to be dangerous.

 

 

 Choosing Your New Reticulated Python

There are essentially two types of young snakes available to purchase, wild caught animals and captive born and bred babies (CBB).  We will take a look at both options here and provide our opinion on which we feel is best. 

Reticulated Pythons are still imported into the United States from several countries in Southeast Asia.   The specific locale or island, the snake originated from is more often than not an unknown fact since the animals are routinely brought together at various collection points for export. 

While the newly imported babies are generally available in the late spring or early summer of the year in the United States, they can often still be found in virtually any month of the year.    We strongly suggest you not purchase a wild caught baby for several reasons. The health of the animal and potential parasites are an unknown with virtually any wild caught animal.    

Pressures on the remaining wild stock of animals represents another issue concerning the purchase of wild caught animals.  Enough reticulated pythons are bred in captivity to supply the needs of this country as well as others.   The trade in animal skins represents one of the greatest threats to this species, whose skin is highly sought by leather traders.

Captive born and bred babies (CBB) are by far a better option for several reasons.  Generally, captive born babies are produced by individual hobbyists or breeders, and then resold to the pet stores or are available for resale by the breeder themselves at various pet shows, reptile expos, online etc.    This is by far the best way to support not only your local pet store or reptile show, but also is a much more "eco-friendly" and sustainable way to support wildlife.

Baby pythons that are hatched in captivity are generally much less likely to contain parasites, illnesses etc.  The captive born pythons are generally much healthier and adjusted to feeding than a wild caught animal. 

You may be able to communicate directly with the breeder themselves and gain reasonable insight into the color pattern, temperament, and adult size of the parents that produced the animal.  Breeders and pet shops in your area are also much more likely to stand behind an animal that is captive born vs. a wild caught specimen. 

As is the case with purchasing any new pet, common sense should prevail in choosing a baby.  Clear, bright eyes, no nasal discharge, no obvious signs of parasites etc. are the primary things to look for.  Asking the seller about a guarantee is always a good idea, but be reasonable on this subject.  Once the baby leaves the care of the seller, they have no control over what conditions the animal is maintained in. 

 

Housing

This is one of the single largest considerations to owning a Reticulated Python.  Given the large potential size of adult females, and to a lesser degree the males,  great thought should be placed on how much space to provide for the eventual size of your snake. 

This snake species is capable of growing at over 5' feet per year for the first two or three years of life.   Documented cases of growth in excess of 10' have occurred in the first year of this species life.   In a matter of 24 months your snake can grow from less than 20" inches to more than 13' feet.  Young snakes still have a relatively small body girth compared to mature adults but the rapid growth rate requires planning. 

We will discuss with greater detail the feeding of you new pet in the diet section of this article, but please bear in mind that the volume of food your snake eats will have a great impact on the growth rate as well as presenting some significant husbandry issues in dealing with urine and feces of a large snake. 

It is always a good idea to have the enclosure for your snake set and ready to go before you bring your new pet home.  While this snake does not require highly specialized environments, there are certainly some basic criteria that must be met for the overall health and well being of your new snake.

Each of our homes are different. The ambient air temperature, location of the enclosure, and other factors may require a day or two for you to ensure the temperature and humidity factors are stable before bringing your new snake home.  Always try to determine the temperature of the enclosure both during the day and night to ensure the enclosure is not too hot or too cold. 

The ideal daytime temperature range for your snake is 82-95 degrees.  An enclosure should have a basking spot, or warm end, that is a higher temperature than the rest of the enclosure.  This will allow your snake to move from a warm area to a cooler one as the snake sees fit.  The process of controlling their own body temperature is known as thermoregulation.  Nighttime temperatures should not be allowed to drop below 74 degrees for any long period of time.  Exceptions to this rule are addressed in the Breeding section of this article. 

Humidity can be a very large issue with this species of snake.   In the wild, Reticulated Pythons have a tendency to be more aquatic than some other species of pythons.  The proper humidity is a larger factor in allowing the animal to shed its skin properly than it is any other health issue.   A large water bowl that the snake can soak in will significantly aid in both maintaining the humidity and providing a bathing spot for the snake. As the python increases in size you will need to keep enlarging the soaking container to allow the snake access to a suitable size water container.   As large adults, pythons require a soaking container nearly as large as a human bathtub!

 

Python Diet

Most Reticulated Pythons will eat rodents such as mice and rats, although some prefer birds (chicks).  The vast majority of snakes will gladly consume pre-killed rodents.   All pythons are different. We have worked with hundreds of snakes over the years and have found some to be aggressive feeders, others very shy.   The reticulated python is less likely to be a seasonal feeder than some of the other python species, particularly as juveniles.     The most critical component of feeding any pet snake is to ensure the environment is correct and free from excessive stress.   While the average retic may be a bit more forgiving of its environment than other tropical snakes, it is still important to attempt to make the animal as comfortable as possible.

As can be the case with any captive animal, some are very aggressive feeders and would likely over eat, while others are much less likely to consume so much food voluntarily.

If your snake refuses to feed review all of the housing and husbandry practices to ensure the snake has adequate temperatures and humidity requirements.  Also make every effort not stress the animal prior to feeding by handling etc.

It is highly recommended that you kill the rodents prior to feeding any snake.  Rodents posses very strong jaws and sharp teeth.  A misplaced strike by a snake can result in the rodent having its mouth free to bite the snake during constriction.  This will not only result in open wounds that are subject to infection, but can result in serious injury to the skeletal structure of the snake.  Death is not an uncommon result of a snake who is bitten in the spine or other critical area by the rodent.

 On occasion, a snake may need some encouragement to eat a prey item that is not moving about on its own.  We typically trick the snake into eating its first few meals by simulating movement of the rodent by simply dangling the food item in front of the snakes face.  Be careful not to be be too aggressive in dangling the food item as this may intimidate a young snake. 

One major benefit to purchasing pre-killed mice, or buying live mice and killing them yourself, is the storage of frozen rodents.   Rodents can be stored in zip lock bags and maintained for months in the freezer.  This type of storage does not always sit well with other members of the family, so be sure to discuss this before placing frozen rodents next to mom's favorite roast.

This convenience allows you to purchase many months of feeder rodents at a time.  In many cases your cost of feeding your animal will go down as the quantity of rodents purchased will allow you to take advantage of savings. 

Most constrictors take four or five days to digest a meal and prefer to do this in a dark, warm place, i.e. "hide-box".   Water should be provided in a large heavy bowl, so that the python has plenty of room to soak.  Try to utilize as heavy a container as possible to avoid the possibility the snake may tip the container over.

Your pet snake will defecate approximately 5-7 days after eating a meal.  It is equally as important to monitor your snakes defecation as it is to monitor the animals feeding schedule. 

Any snake can  occasionally become constipated and will not pass a bowel movement.  This can lead to serious complications; a warm soaking bowl will generally encourage a snake to defecate.  In the wild many animals defecate during rain storms to help hide the odor of their feces. This helps them hide from potential predators. If your snake does not defecate within 14 days of a meal do not continue to feed the snake until defecation takes place. 

The  Reticulated python has an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years in captivity.  This species of snake is capable of living well over 30 years if the conditions are right!    A well fed, properly maintained snake will benefit from proper diet and will give you many years of enjoyment and learning.    

 

Handling

Always keep in mind that this species of snake is not as predictable as animals such as the Boa Constrictor or Ball Python.  When this snake is being handled by either experienced, or inexperienced people, great care should be taken, even seemingly dependable and tame animals can lash out with a  severe bite.

Most people who acquire a Reticulated Python wish to handle the snake.  Your pet will benefit from regular gentle handling, in the case of Reticulated Pythons it has been suggested that frequent handling will lessen the likely hood the snake will become aggressive later in life.

  In fact handling your pet boa will greatly decrease the risk of an accidental bite.    Once you begin to know your snake, you will start to recognize behavior. A curious snake will stretch out its neck and hold its head high, a defensive or aggressive snake will recoil and rarely flick its tongue out. 

One problem experienced by some pet owners is an issue known as a "Feeding response".   A feeding response generally occurs when your pet is not handled with any regular frequency.  Often the only contact between you and the animal is when a food item is introduced to the cage.  The animal begins to associate the opening of their door with the introduction of food.  

While snakes are not regarded as intelligent creatures, they can certainly begin to associate an activity with food.  A feeding response bite can be even more serious than a defensive strike; a snake who is acting aggressively and wishes to scare away a potential predator will strike and release immediately.    A snake who believes it is going to be fed will strike and coil around its "prey".  In the event your hand is bitten, the snake has the potential to coil around your arm and continue to apply pressure to the bitten area as the snake feels the movement in your hand and is convinced the mouse will not die!  This is often the worst type of bite as the snake simply is following instincts and will continue to try and constrict the prey for upwards of 20 minutes!. 

 

Breeding Your Reticulated Python

Breeding and Propagation:  

Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus)  

As is the case with all mating attempts, a healthy well fed male and female snake are critical to a successful mating attempt.  Age is another consideration as a reticulated python can be grown to a sizable length without the required years of maturity to ensure the animal is sexually mature.  Over, or underfed female snakes will have great difficulty in successfully mating and reproducing viable offspring. 

All pythons are egg layers.  In general, there is no need to have multiple males with this species, but it is often a good idea to utilize several males in a breeding attempt until you are 100% sure the male you have is fertile and has reproduced in prior attempts.   Obvious exceptions to this rule would include using a specific male who has a desired gene pattern for the reproduction of a specific trait such as albinism etc. 

On some occasions an otherwise healthy male snake will show no interest in reproduction.   Male pythons can, and often are aggressive towards each other.  Serious injury, including death, can result from fights between rival male pythons.  For this reason it is recommended to utilize one known and proven male to breed with your female snake.   

The introduction of the male to the females enclosure is recommended.   A cooling period of six to eight weeks prior to mating attempts will increase the chances of a successful mating.  There have been multiple successful matings, however, where no cooling period was utilized.  There is currently an ongoing debate over whether or not the cooling period actually hurts the chances of a successful mating. We at RainForest have had success using both methods. 

Copulation in the most snake species can last for up to several days at a time.  Males will repeatedly mate with the same female while she is receptive.   It has been noted that most mating of large pythons occurs nocturnally. 

Mating of reticulated pythons generally occurs from mid November through late January, but this species is known to have successfully copulated in virtually all months of the year. 

Temperature during gestation is critical, the range should be between 82-88 degrees.  High temperatures will produce both birth defects and deformed babies, low temperatures will yield the same results.  Humidity should be maintained at 65-85 percent.