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Reticulated Pythons

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Reticulated Python
Gary Ruplinger

The word "reticulated" means "net-like" and refers to the beautiful network pattern on these big Southeast Asian snakes. They are often killed for their skins when found in the wild.

Please be aware that the reticulated python is not a snake for beginning snake owners. Reaching lengths up to 33 feet, the longest snake on record was a reticulated python. 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 reticulated 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 reticulated 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 all larger snakes. It is recommended that you have one handler for every three feet of snake, since the "retic" is known to have a nervous temperament.

A large reticulated 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 reticulated python is dangerous around feeding time is that it uses its 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 not its meal. (And it's possible that it could swallow you!)

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 reticulated 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 a big snake. Plus, they live over 20 years in captivity, so you're in it for the long haul.


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 reticulated python home, keep it quarantined from any other snakes you may own for at least a month and maybe even several months. 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 retic. The important thing is for the pen to be completely escape-proof. These snakes are extremely strong. Ideally the cage should be long enough for the snake to stretch out at least half its length and as wide as a third of its length.

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 as bedding though 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 reticulated python will need 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. Some people paint part of the glass or Plexiglas enclosure black to give it something to get behind. They like to feed from their hide.

The temperature inside the snake's enclosure should have a gradient of temperatures from 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius). 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. The warm end should take up at least a third of the cage.

A reticulated python will enjoy soaking in its 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 retic will benefit by having a short daily period of handling. Don't start these until it has settled into its new home though, 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 owners of big snakes eventually get.

While these are awesome beautiful creatures, think twice before adopting a reticulated 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 one is not a decision to be made lightly.



 

 
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