Pythons are increasingly popular pets.  Commonly kept species include Antaresia maculosis (Spotted or Small-blotched python), Antaresis childreni (Children’s python) and Antaresia stimsoni (Stimson’s or Large-blotched python).

These three species are all relatively small for pythons, never getting more than a metre long, and so are more suitable for novice snake keepers than the large pythons which can reach three or four metres. They can also live for 20 years or more and so should be regarded as long term pets.

Antaresia pythons are best housed individually, especially when juveniles as cannibalism is not unusual. These small species of python are generally amenable to handling and can vary in coloration and pattern extensively.  They, like other pythons, are mainly nocturnal and are best viewed, fed and handled in the late afternoon and evening.

Caution

Pythons have very sharp teeth and can, if alarmed or stressed, deliver a painful bite.  Always handle with care and be watchful.  Never handle a snake if you have been handling rats, mice or birds as the smell of these potential prey items has been known to induce a strike/bite response.

Licenses

Pythons are a protected animal.  In order to keep them, you must obtain a reptile recreational wildlife license from Queensland Department of Environmental and Heritage Protection before you purchase your python.  A license is needed for as long as you have your python.

Handling your Python

The Antaresia pythons are all relatively amenable to handling, however handling should never be excessive.  Some snakes can stress very easily by frequent handling.  There is no way as a juvenile to predict if your snake will be amenable to handling or be bitey.  No matter what your snake’s personality, you will need to handle your snake when cleaning the enclosure, moving it to another enclosure, separating it for feeding if keeping more than one, traveling, or visits to the vet.

Unless you are familiar with the behaviour of your snake, it is advisable to always use a snake hook.  Putting your hands into their environment could get you bitten!  Slip the snake hook about a third of the way down the body and lift gently.  If required, you should support the tail end with your free hand.  Always wash your hands before and after handling snakes.

Equipment needed

Vivarium

When you purchase your hatchling snake, it can be kept in about a 12” enclosure, however you will need to upgrade to a bigger enclosure as your python grows.  An ideal size enclosure for an adult Antaresia python would be at least 36” long.

Snakes can escape from the tiniest gaps, so ensure that there are no holes that it could push through.  Also ensure that sliding glass doors have a lock, as snakes have been known to open them.

Within the enclosure, snakes will require a cool area and a warm area.  Ensure that the enclosure has ample room to provide these two areas.  Also ensure that adequate ventilation is allowed.

Enclosure Furnishing

All snakes will like to hide at times, so the addition of a hide box is essential.  This can be a purpose bought hide, one made of PVC pipe, or a wooden box.  A rough rock placed inside the enclosure will help your snake when shedding, and, whilst mainly terrestrial, many snakes will climb rocks or logs.  A stick securely placed (or even nailed or screwed in) can give your snake something to climb on.

A water bowl large enough for your snake to soak in is also required.  Finally, aquarium backing can also look fabulous in enclosures to simulate the natural environment.

Substrate

There are many different substrates that can be used for snakes.  Newspaper or butchers paper are inexpensive and easy to clean.  However if you want a more aesthetically pleasing substrate, coarse sand, coarse aquarium gravel, leaf litter or sawdust can also be used.  There is also a variety of commercially available substrates.

Whatever substrate you decide to use, remember ease of cleaning and hygiene should always be an important factor.

Lighting

Light is divided up into two main types – UVA (which is responsible for normal behaviors such as feeding, diurnal movement, mating, etc) and UVB (allows the synthesis of Vitamin D3 which helps to process calcium and prevent Metabolic Bone Disease).

Snakes, unlike most other reptiles, do not have high UVB requirements, as they get their Vitamin D3 from the liver of the prey.  However, UV light may still be beneficial for their psychological well-being.

For 24 hour viewing without disturbing your python, a red or blue bulb can be used.  These bulbs may also provide heat (see the Heating section).  Always ensure that bulbs are covered by a mesh cover so that the snake doesn’t burn itself on contact with the bulb.

Heating

Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that they rely on an external heat source to maintain normal body temperature.  This heat source can be provided in a number of different ways.

The most popular heat source is heat pads.  These are placed underneath the enclosure at one end.  By heating only one end, a thermal gradient can be created, allowing your snake to retreat to a cooler area of the enclosure when needed.

Another often used heat source is a red or blue bulb (as described in the lighting section).  The size of the bulb will depend on the surrounding temperature that the snake is kept in, but usually shouldn’t have to be larger than 40W.

Whichever heat source you use, it is essential that you connect it to a thermostat.  This will prevent overheating of the enclosure.  Place the probe of the thermostat near the basking surface, and set the thermostat to about 30-32°C.   This will ensure that an adequate thermal gradient is maintained.  A good quality thermometer inside the enclosure will also help you to keep an eye on the temperature.  Never let the temperature rise above 35°C as this can be lethal to most snakes.

Feeding Pythons

The size of the food item will depend on the size of the python.  Hatchlings generally eat mice pinkies.  As the snake grows, so does their food size. Once an Antaresia python has reach 4-6 months of age, it should be eating fuzzy or weanling mice.  At this stage rat pinkies can also be offered.  Pythons can open their mouths a lot wider than most animals and so can devour larger prey items than their head size.  However, never offer prey which is too large as this can tear the mouth and cause injury.  Once the python is approximately 60 cm long, it should be able to eat adult mice or fuzzy rats without too much trouble.

Live food is NEVER recommended to be given to pythons, as it is terrifying for the prey and potentially dangerous to the snake.  Mice and rats have been known to kill snakes by biting and scratching in defense. Live rodents can also be a source of parasites, which are killed by freezing, and nutritionally there is no difference between live and frozen food.

After eating, snakes should not be handled as can cause stress and result in regurgitation of the meal.  It is best to let the snake digest fully and pass waste before handling at length.  After all, you wouldn’t exercise after a big meal! Each python will have a varying metabolism dependent on temperature, but allow at least a couple of days before handling.

Try feeding your python about 3-4 days after you get it home and given it a chance to settle in.  Afterwards, only offer food after the snake has passed waste then wait a few days to feed again.  Don’t worry if your python rejects food, wait a few days and try again.  It may not have passed the last food completely as yet.  Pythons should not be fed more often than once a week.

Water

All snakes need water to survive.  Try to provide a water bowl which is deep enough for the snake to drink from and if it wants, to swim in occasionally.  Only half fill it so that it doesn’t spill over when the snake enters the water.  Snakes don’t drink very much or very often so you should only need to change the water every second or third day. Always check the bowl for any sliminess which can build up.

Brumation

Brumation is similar to mammal hibernation and it basically means the reptile enters a period of inactivity during the cooler months.  Antaresia pythons do not go into a true brumation as some of our southern snakes do.  However, as the temperature drops, your python may want feeding less often or not at all.

Sloughing

Snakes shed a lot more regularly when young than they do once they’ve reached maturity.  This is a process of removing old skin which could be damaged, too small for the growing snake or simply the natural process of being a reptile.  When the snake is coming into shed, its eyes become milky and its appearance becomes grey and dull.  They will refuse food at this time.

Many snakes will not need help with the shedding process, however you can help by spraying the snake with warm (not hot) water to help the old skin become moist and easier to discard.

Note that during the shedding process, your snake will not be able to see properly, so can become easily alarmed.  Snakes should not be handled at all during this time.

Routine Maintenance

Whilst snakes are relatively low maintenance compared to some pets, they do require some routing cleaning.  Faeces and shed skin should be removed as soon as you see it.  It is important to remove waste immediately as germs and disease can build up in the enclosure and cause illness if good hygiene is not practiced.  Depending on which substrate you use, this will also need regular changing.

Every 3-4 months it is advisable to remove your python, all the cage furniture and substrate, and give the enclosure a thorough clean.  Using a reptile cage cleaner spray will ensure that any harmful bacteria is killed.  Wash any hide rocks, rocks and water bowls with tap water (do not use bleach) and let dry naturally.

Health

Most deaths in captivity are stress-related which brings on a lowering of the immune system causing disease.

A common problem that snakes are prone to is internal and external parasites.  These are however easily treated.

Respiratory infections, characterized by loss of appetite, wheezing and nasal discharge, are usually a result of poor hygiene and husbandry techniques.  Scale rot and mouth infections can also occur in poorly maintained snakes.

Occasionally snakes refuse to feed.  This can be as simple as the snake starting to shed, or a serious problem requiring veterinary attention.  Generally, if your adult snake hasn’t eaten for 3 months, seek veterinary advice.

This information sheet is intended as a basic introduction to python care only.  For more information, there are numerous books available on all aspect of pythons.  Keeping Children’s Pythons published by Australian Reptile Keepers, and Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity by John Weigel are both excellent books.  If you have any concerns about the health of your snake, please phone us for a consultation on 5493 2655.