Advice and information on keeping Royal Pythons and other small Pythons and Boas.
Forest lands of Central and Western Africa, found on the ground and in trees
Many types of enclosure can be used to house Python and Boa snakes. For hatchlings and other juveniles, the moulded clear plastic tanks with a fitted lid are very useful. For larger snakes the purpose made vivaria are probably more appropriate. The types with sliding glass doors to the front being especially resistant to escape. Another possibility is a converted aquarium. A special adapting lid is used to contain the snakes and house any equipment that may be used. Any tank must have a secure top to prevent the snake escaping. Bigger Royal Pythons have a powerful ‘push’ with their heads, so the enclosure lid must be secure.
Use a heat mat between half and two thirds the size of the cage to provide background heating. The hottest spot in the cage should not be above 32ºC while the coolest should not be below 20ºC. If done correctly it will be warmest next to the mat at about 32ºC, while the coolest part of the cage could be nearer 25ºC. A specific hot spot can be installed to operate during the day. Light should be present for a similar period; about fourteen hours in summer dropping to eight in winter. To be on the safe side a lamp like Reptile D3 or Natural Sunlight.
Although Royal Pythons enjoy high humidity, at the same time the snakes cannot stand stagnant or airless conditions. Fresh air moving into the enclosure is essential. Use the upward draughts caused by heated air rising to flush out stale air and drag fresh air in. In addition, you could install a fan to help with ventilation. A hiding place of some sort should be provided for the Royal Python and an interesting branch, or cork bark for climbing and resting. On to the floor of the enclosure, Rain Forest, Reptile Sand or Savannah Substrate shavings can be spread a very thin layer of no more than 1 cm. These will blot up and ‘clump’ any fouling by the snakes. Clumps of waste can be removed without cleaning the whole tank out.
When you do clean the tank out, a routine cleaner for all nonporous surfaces should be used followed by a thorough rinse. Anything that cannot be easily cleaned should be thrown away and replaced. Any little graze or blemish on the snakes themselves should be checked and disinfected. After dealing with the snake and its tank, a surgical scrub will clean your hands and surfaces. It is important to note that many of the parasites, bacteria and protozoans carried by snakes can be transmitted to humans and other reptiles.
It is best to keep these snakes on their own. Adult pairs may live together quite happily but will need supervision at feeding time. One snake may inadvertently eat another if they both start on the same food item. It may be best not to mix species or specimens of widely differing size in the same cage as some will eat others.
To handle a snake, the whole animal should be gently held in the hands. Let it move through the fingers but do not grasp it too tightly. The hands should provide support and restraint is applied by slowing down but not stopping the flow of its movement.
Do not let your snake coil around anyone's neck including your own.
These snakes will curl up into a tight ball when threatened. Such behaviour will soon subside as the snake settles down to life in captivity. Many snakes are nervous when introduced into a new situation with strangers. Give them a couple of days to settle down before letting them be handled by new people.
Royal Pythons have the reputation for being fussy eaters. Only buy a snake which takes defrosted rodents readily. They should only be fed killed prey (rodents). You can buy such prey in bulk and freeze it. Defrost thoroughly before feeding anything to the snake. Do not feed anything of an unknown origin, such as wild or pet rodents or cat and road kills. Certainly, live food should never be offered to a pet snake.
A water dish kept full of fresh water should always be available. This dish should be quite small so that the snake can drink but makes total immersion difficult. A larger bathing dish can be supplied for a few hours, a couple of times each week. Damp and wet conditions lead to skin ulceration and other diseases.
Selecting a healthy snake.
When selecting a Royal Python, other Python or Boa, look for a well-fleshed body, no visible cuts or abrasions, clear, alert eyes, tongue flicking, no signs of mites or ticks. The vent (anus) should be clean.
These snakes can live several decades in captivity and are not often sick as long as all the normal hygiene precautions regarding humans and animals are observed. When you get your snake find an experienced reptile vet to guide you through any illnesses your snake may develop. Always take your snake to the vet if you suspect anything changing in its appearance or behaviour, you can also ask the vet about how to help your snake to shed its skin.
A small handful of problems probably account for 90% of all captive disease. The first relates to skin and eye problems caused by dirty conditions. Small abscesses occur under the scales and eyes are often inflamed. Damp or wet conditions exacerbate the situation and the disease is avoidable if the cage is completely dry. In spite of them enjoying a bath, Royal Pythons cannot tolerate being wet for prolonged periods. Another common disease is an infection of the respiratory tract. The snake will ‘wheeze’, gape and even sneeze. A frothy mucus will also be commonly discharged from the mouth. Raising the cage temperature may alleviate the distress but veterinary intervention is the only real remedy.
Sometimes a snake will be found to have a mouth infection, A cheesy mass may be seen in the mouth and soreness of the tissue is also common. The symptom of ‘mouth rot’, necrotic stomatitis, is indicative of a more general infection and veterinary advice must be sought.
Parasites such as ticks and mites live on the skin of the snake too, so check your snake regularly. Ticks and mites should also be checked for frequently.