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Burmese Pythons

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Burmese Python
Gary Ruplinger

Please be aware that the Burmese python is not a snake for beginning snake owners. Unfortunately, they are sometimes recommended as a beginner snake because they are easy to feed and keep healthy. What is not considered is that these snakes can eventually reach lengths of 20 feet. By the time they are two years old they can be over eight feet long and weigh fifty pounds. This is large enough to kill a human.

While many people have satisfactory experiences with these large pets, there are a number of cases on record in which people have been killed or attacked. Many of the attacks are in connection with poor feeding procedures. Others have happened when the Burmese python was allowed to roam freely through the house. The bottom line is these snakes can be unpredictable.

Keeping a large constricting snake requires a strict attention to housing and safety principles. They should not be allowed to roam freely. They are wild animals with strong instincts and can attack unexpectedly if they feel threatened or smell food on or near a human. Because they grow so large so fast, they have a voracious appetite. Holding food back from them to keep them from growing so fast just makes them hungry and irritable.

The majority of Burmese pythons are not aggressive, but the potential is always there. They should be respected for their strength and treated accordingly. When it is necessary to handle them as when cleaning their cage, it is important to have another experienced person to help. This is especially true for larger snakes. It is recommended that you have one handler for every five feet of snake.

A large Burmese python is also strong enough to get out of most enclosures. It needs the strongest of escape-proof cages, and for safety, this should be kept in an escape-proof locked room.

One reason the Burmese python is dangerous around feeding time is that it doesn't see well. They use their sense of smell for finding prey. If the keeper has the smell of food on him or near him, the snake is likely to assume the keeper is food. The instinct to constrict its food and eat is so reflexive that it can kill you before it realizes you are too big to swallow.

Experienced snake owners call unsafe feeding practices "Stupid Feeding Errors" or "SFE's." These are almost always involved when there is a report of a large snake attacking its owner. Proper feeding requires that you wash your hands before feeding the snake, and then use long handled tongs to hold the pre-killed prey. Any warm blooded animals, such as cats and dogs, can set off the feeding instinct, and should be kept at a safe distance.

In addition to these problems, cleaning up after a large Burmese python is about like cleaning up after a horse. If you get one and find out it is more than you can handle, you will not have an easy time getting rid of it. They may seem "cool," but not that many people want the job of taking care of such a big snake.

The best way to get used to all of these routines is to get your snake while it is very young. This way you can learn how to care for your snake correctly while the risk is still fairly small. Handling a young snake properly will help it be less defensive later on. Correct feeding methods should always be used, even when it's small. Never handle the snake when it is in a mood to eat or right afterwards.

When you first bring a "Burm" home, keep it quarantined from any other snakes you may own for at least a month and maybe several. There is a virus called IBD that is fatal in pythons and can affect boas as well. The symptoms include regurgitating, mouthrot, loss of appetite, and respiratory infections. In addition, they might assume contorted positions. Unfortunately, sometimes even snakes from the pet store are already infected with this virus. It's one more reason to take time watching the snake you hope to get for a while before buying it.

While a 55-gallon aquarium can make a suitable starter enclosure, it won't be long before you'll be forced to build your own large cage. A walk-in closet can be converted to a pen for a Burmese. The important thing is for it to be completely escape-proof. These snakes are extremely strong.

Substrate, or floor covering, for the vivarium can be newspaper, paper towels, or butcher paper. When you've made sure the snake doesn't have mites and it has settled into its new home, you can use bedding in the cage. Don't use cedar or other wood shavings, however, because the oils can adversely affect the python's health. Soiled bedding needs to be removed and replaced with clean material. Also, Astroturf can be cut to fit the cage. Have two pieces of Astroturf ready, and you can use one while washing the other.

A Burmese python will appreciate having a hiding place in its enclosure. This can be as simple as a cardboard box with a door cut into the side. Pet stores carry half-logs and other decorative hides for snakes.

The temperature inside the snake's enclosure should be kept at 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 degrees Celsius) in the daytime, with a drop to 78 degrees (25.5 degrees Celsius) at night. A warm area should be kept at 90 degrees (32.2 degrees Celsius) so the snake can bask. There are a variety of ways to add warmth to the pen. Light bulbs can help, but they have to be kept away from the snake to avoid burns. They also need to be turned off for 12 hours a day. A good option when the snake is large is a veterinary heating pad called a "pig blanket." This rigid fiberglass mat can be equipped with a thermostat.

A Burmese will enjoy soaking in it's water bowl. It will need a tub when it gets bigger, and may eventually have to be bathed in the bath tub. Be sure to follow safety precautions if this is necessary, including having a willing partner to help handle the big snake. Bathing is particularly helpful during shedding. Make sure you keep the snake's water bowl clean, with fresh water always available.

Your young Burmese python will benefit by having a short daily period of handling. Don't start these until it has settled into its new home and never handle it after eating. Always remember it will slither away and escape when it can, so keep track of it. Move gently and never suddenly. If the snake wraps around you, start at the tail end to gently unwind it. Try not to let it wrap around your neck. Keep disinfectant available for the occasional bite most Burmese owners eventually get.

While these are awesome beautiful creatures, think twice before adopting a Burmese python into your home. The responsibility of keeping a potential killer is tremendous. To keep things in perspective, however, it's worth noting that more people are killed by Rottweilers and German Shepherds than by large pet snakes. Still, getting a Burmese python is not a decision to be made lightly.



 

 
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