Reticulated Python Care

Image credit: jinterwas

Image credit: jinterwas

Scientific Name: Python Reticulatus

Sexing and Characteristics:
The wild type mainland reticulated python will always have a variable appearance, but in general they are long and proportionally slender snakes. They are generally of a yellow/silver/gold based colouration, with a regular diamond-like pattern of saddles running dorsally down the length of the snake. Eyes are generally a yellow to orange colour.

Reticulated pythons can be sexed by means of popping while very young, or by probing at any age.
Sexing methods should only be carried out by experienced individuals.

Distribution:  
The reticulated python can be found across South-East Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Size:
The reticulated python is commonly recognised as the longest snake in the world, something which makes them near on impossible to keep into adulthood for the average hobbiest snake keeper. Females mature at greater lengths and more robust girth sizes than males, and potential lengths of 20ft+ must be taken into consideration when taking on a reticulated python. Lengths of close to 30ft have been recorded, but this is rare. These snakes grow rapidly, and lengths of 6-8ft in one year are commonplace.

Note: There are various island specific locality species of ‘dwarf’ reticulated pythons quite widely available to private keepers. These snakes do not reach the immense proportions of mainland or larger island locality pythons, and are generally much slimmer in build – in particular the smaller dwarf localities. Sizes range from about 6-10ft ft adult size for the smaller localities such as those snakes from Kayaudi, Honey Island etc. and up to  12-13 ft for female Jampea reticulated pythons.
‘Superdwarf’ reticulated pythons is a term coined by Bob Clark and Mike Wilbanks to describe very small locality snakes imported by them from an ‘undisclosed location’ in 1999. Many breeders are now working with ‘super dwarf’ lines, which should not exceed 6-7 ft in length, even as adult females. It is advisable to research an individual snake’s bloodlines before purchasing, as many of these snakes can be inaccurately labelled.
It is worth bearing in mind that many super dwarf and dwarf colour and pattern varieties (morphs) will have a certain amount of mainland influence, which may well influence their eventual size.

Substrate and Water Needs:
Many keepers of large reticulated pythons find newspaper the easiest substrate to work with. A variety may be used however, including astroturf, aspen, bark, etc. Cedar and pine beddings should be avoided as they are toxic to reptiles.
Fresh water should always be available, and as reticulated pythons are quite aquatic in nature and have proven themselves to be excellent swimmers, a water dish /tub large enough to soak in will be appreciated.

Lighting and UVB:
Reticulated pythons have no specific lighting needs. However, if you do use a basking bulb please ensure you use it in conjuncion with a bulb guard to avoid burns to your animal.
As with any heating device a thermostat should be used with a basking bulb to avoid overheating.

Temperatures & Humidity:
Your reticulated python requires a basking spot of about 90-92 degrees Fahrenheit. The background temperature should range from about 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit, on a gradient. Temperatures should never be allowed to fall below 75 degrees Farenheit.
Temperature guns and/or in cage thermometers placed at various points throughout  your snake’s housing will help you achieve and maintain adequate temperatures.
To achieve these temperatures several heating devices can be used such as :

  • Heat mats (not advised for very large specimens)
  • Basking/Infrared bulbs
  • Ceramic bulbs
  • Reptile radiators

The choice of heating system used is a matter of personal choice, however in ALL cases a thermostat should be used in conjunction with the heater to avoid burms to the animal, and danger of fire.

Humidity should be in the region of 60-70%, higher when shedding. Too humid an environment can result in conditions like scale rot, harbour bacteria etc, so humidity levels should be monitored.

  • If help is needed choosing heating/thermostat options, please do not hesitate to contact the Herpetological Society of Ireland and we will guide you in the right direction.

Housing:
Hatchling reticulated pythons are best kept in small tubs with secure hides, where they can become established feeders. Young reticulated pythons may become insecure in oversized caging.  Juveniles are often kept in vivariums, with secure hides and climbing frames, until they  reach about 10-12 feet in length. At this point, it is usual for keepers to have custom built enclosures made for their animals. Adult mainland and large island locality reticulated pythons require an enormous amount of  floor space, and this is something to be kept in mind when thinking about acquiring such an animal. Enclosures need to be extremely sturdy, and any glass used must be strong.

Diet:
Reticulated pythons should be fed appropriately sized DEFROSTED rodents, generally rats, to begin with. Hatchling retics will generally feed on fuzzy rats and should be fed one prey item about once per week. As your python grows, he/she will require larger prey such as rabbits, chickens, perhaps lambs and piglets. You will know when your snake is ready to move up a size when the food item is no longer noticeable in the snake’s body after a feed.
As your reticulated python moves onto larger prey, he/she should be fed less frequently.
Snakes should generally be fed prey no larger in diameter than the widest part of the snake’s body. However, with reticulated pythons, it is sometimes necessary to feed items slightly wider than this (but never more than one and a half times the girth at the widest part of your snake’s body), due to the long and slender nature of these snakes. Live food should be avoided.
It is important to consider the availability and cost of larger prey items before taking on a reticulated python.
Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:
Generally supplements are not needed, because in consuming entire prey animals, snakes obtain a balanced diet containing all necessary nutrients.
Maintenance:
Reticulated pythons are a challenging snake to keep.
Their adult size means that a second, and perhaps third and fourth person, must be on standby when carrying out even the most basic of maintenance procedures, such as cleaning out a wet enclosure.
I would recommend changing their water every 1-2 days, spot clean every few days, and clean them out thoroughly every 1-2 months  using an appropriate disinfectant (savlon, dettol, trigene, etc.)
Reticulated pythons are noted for their extremely powerful feeding response, which is not always directed at food! With gentle handling and tap-training, many reticulated pythons will settle down and become very manageable as adults. Others may remain aggressive and/or unpredictable, and it is important to exercise caution while handling, especially as they grow.
Some Words on this Species:
The reticulated python is NOT a suitable snake for beginners and novice snake keepers. These pythons reach enormous proportions and are noted for their speed, agility, alertness and intelligence. They have quite a reputation for being nasty, which is perhaps not fully deserved, in my opinion, and is mostly based on records of wild caught specimens.
Saying that, these pythons have an enormous feeding response, can be extremely temperamental at times and  let their keepers away with few mistakes.  There are many records of quite placid juveniles turning nasty as they reach sexual maturity, and I have experienced this with some of my own snakes.
They must be handled with caution and care. As adults, they are capable of causing serious injury to a person. These animals should never be taken lightly.
But all of these points above are what make the reticulated python so fascinating and rewarding to keep for many experienced keepers. Retics are a very unique snake, with a temperament and attitude of their own which makes them irresistible to many.
The availability of so many colour and pattern mutations (morphs) in this species means that more people than ever before are becoming reticulated python keepers.
Dwarf and super dwarf localities may make the keeping of these beautiful animals a more realistic option for many.

Caresheet Courtesey of The Herpetological Society of Ireland 2009

Featured Image courtesy of jinterwas 

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