Australian native animals – Small pythons

Videos about care and management of small pythons.

Introduction to the small pythons

Watch Introduction to the small pythons (1:28)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the characteristics of Australian small pythons

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

Right beside me here is the enclosure for a small Australian python. And this one here is the Children’s Python. It’s a group of species as well as the Stimson’s Python and the Spotted Python. And they’re a group of small Australian pythons that only get to about one and a half metres in total length, between one and one and a half metres in length and they’re found over most of Australia except for the far southern regions.

So, a species found in the desert, across the north and tropical area and also right down the east coast and in the sub tropical and tropical regions.

All Australian pythons are nonvenomous, they’re constrictors, so they naturally bite and constrict their food before consuming it. So, they’re totally nonvenomous. They only grow to about just over a metre in length. So, they’re only a fairly small sized python.

Typically, they’re fairly terrestrial, they will climb in amongst rocks also in small trees and so forth, but they’re most found around the grounds and under rocky outcrops.

When setting up an enclosure for this species one of the most important things to consider is the heating. Like all reptiles they need to be able to thermoregulate so they can be able to keep their body temperature at what would be optimum for that species.

For something like a small Australian Python like Children’s Python ideally you have a cooler end of the enclosure that gets down to about twenty five degrees Celsius. A warmer end of the enclosure that gets to around thirty degrees Celsius and preferably an area that gets a little bit warmer than that either underneath the basking light or on a heated heat mat or a heat cooler which gets to the low to mid thirty degrees Celsius where they can sit and rest and elevate their body temperature after consuming a meal.

[End of transcript]

Python basic health check

Watch Python basic health check (2:17)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the basics of maintaining good health in pythons

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

When looking at the health of a python there’s a number of important things to look for especially when obtaining your first snake. Whether you obtain it as a juvenile or as an adult is one important component.

If you’re obtaining your snake as a juvenile the most important thing to make sure is that it is feeding quite well. Usually you should never obtain a young snake that’s not had at least a good three or four feeds on its own accord before obtaining that snake because sometimes juvenile snakes can be quite hard to get going particularly as hatchlings.

So, once they get feeding from the breeder whoever’s supplying the snake make sure it’s feeding quite well and you’ve got a good feeding history. And that’s one of the most important things to look for.

When looking at the snake visually one of the important things to look for is that it doesn’t have excess sloughiness, skin stuck to its back. Snakes shed their skin fairly frequently. Juveniles shed their skin up to once a month. Adults shed their skin three or four times a year.

An important thing is to make sure it hasn’t got dry bits of skin stuck all over its back because that can indicate it either hasn’t been kept in humid enough conditions or there could be something wrong with it like a mite infestation or something like that, a parasite problem, you’re not sure about just by looking at the snake.

Another important thing to look for when looking at the snake is to make sure there’s no bubbles seen around its nose. And when it’s flicking out its forked tongue that tongue is quite forked. These are signs of a respiratory problem and that’s one of the more common health problems you see in reptiles particularly those that aren’t kept warm enough.

So, one of the things to look for is you’ll hear a wet, wheezy hissing. You might see bubbles coming from the nose or the tongue might not be properly forking. And usually by that stage it’s an advanced respiratory problem and definitely best not to obtain that animal. That’s certainly one of the things to look for.

If you see these problems in your snake that you’ve had whether it be in your classroom or wherever else for quite a while and you start to see these symptoms they’re indicative of oral respiratory infection and it’s best to get veterinary assistance as soon as possible because chances are it might need to be treated by antibiotics and the reason that caused that respiratory infection will need to be addressed and usually it’s because the enclosure is not warm enough.

It can either be the enclosure’s not warm enough, they’re not getting access to a warm enough basking spot or alternatively the enclosure might be too damp or too moist or too humid particularly for something like a Stimson’s Python which comes from a more arid region. And if it’s too wet in the enclosure that can bring on a respiratory infection as well.

[End of transcript]

Handling pythons

Watch Handling pythons (2:38)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the best practices when handling small pythons

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

Inside this bag here I have an adult Stimson’s Python. I’m transferring it in a soft breathable bag because that’s a good way to transfer pythons that way they feel secure, they’re hidden and they’re not going to bang around as much. So, I’ll get the Stimson’s Python out, he’s quite a friendly snake this one.

When getting him out first it’s important just to see where the head is and then lift the body gently underneath and not near the head. So, when handling a snake the important thing is to be gentle and support its body weight. As you support the body weight of the animal, it feels comfortable and it becomes less and less stressed.

Also important when you’re handling a snake it’s important not to handle mice beforehand because the only time I guess a friendly snake might lash out and bite unless it’s stressed is if it can smell the scent of mice on your hands. According to the snake his main sense organs are the tongue which he’s flicking out to pick up scent and also his heat sensing pits. He has got vision, he can see particularly if objects are moving but it’s not his primary organ.

So, by flicking out that tongue if your hand smells like a mouse, tastes like a mouse and is warm like a mouse he might think it’s mice and you might get an accidental bite. But otherwise if you support their body weight and you don’t handle any mice beforehand you should be quite alright. The individual temperament of every snake can be quite different. Some snakes might be naturally a bit more nervous. Other snakes might be a lot more docile and friendly. Sometimes bites may occur.

What to expect if you cop a bite from one of these snakes. If it’s a bite because he’s a little bit stressed or a little bit scared, it’s typically a bite and release. So, he’ll typically quick bite, release. It might bleed a little bit. It looks a lot worse than it is and typically be treated just like if you cut your finger, you’ll be quite alright. The only time a snake might bite and hang on as if it smells mouse or food on your hands and then it will bite and wrap up thinking it’s a mouse and then you may have a little bit more time trying to unravel the snake and enticing him to let go. But, typically if it’s stressed it will just bite and release. With a little bit of handling bites might not occur.

Bites are more common in juvenile snakes because as a hatchling python they’re only quite small and everything’s a predator to that animal. Whereas as they grow older and with frequent handling like in captive snakes, if you can purchase a captive one that’s been handled all its life they do become quite amiable to handling, just like the one I’m holding.

Typically lifting a snake out of the enclosure gentle handling like this can easily occur every day without any stress. But if it was to be passed around to person to person I’d limit that to more kind of once a week or so.

[End of transcript]

Feeding pythons

Watch Feeding pythons (3:31)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the components of a balanced diet for captive pythons

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

The small Australian group of pythons including Children’s Pythons, Stimson’s Pythons and Spotted Python in a wide variety of prey items in the wild.

They’ll eat skinks, various other lizards, geckos, small mammals, even small birds but in captivity we usually restrict them to a diet of mice. Typically, they can get all their nutritional needs from mice alone. It’s a whole bodied animal so you get all the goodness from like from Vitamin A in the liver right through to the bones, the calcium and so forth. So, we usually feed them on a diet of frozen mice.

The reason we use frozen mice over living mice is varied. A couple of reasons why we use frozen, and when I say frozen I mean frozen, fully thawed out and warmed before feeding the snake. And the reason for that it has to be thawed out properly and no frozen components in the mouse. We feed them frozen rather than pre killed rather than live because firstly a live mouse can potentially bite the snake back.

If a snake bites the mouse mid-way down the body the mouse can turn around and bite the snake potentially through the eye or something like that. Secondly, it’s deemed unethical to feed a live vertebrate animal like a mouse to a live other animal like a snake particularly it won’t feed on it straight away. And the third reason is also parasites.

A live mouse can potentially be carrying parasites and after freezing, particularly after four to six weeks any of those parasites are well and truly killed. So, there’s a few reasons, beneficial reasons why frozen is better than live. And also typically all types of snakes will eat a pre killed mouse.

So, it is quite easy to do and it is quite easy to have a pack of six or ten or twenty of these sitting in your freezer and a year’s worth or six months’ worth of mice ready to go.

Now, when choosing the right type, the right size of mice or rats for your snakes it’s important to consider the size of the snake. As a young Children’s Python or Spotted or Stimson’s Python they’ll typically feed on pinky mice. So, that mice that are within their first week of life. So, small pink mice.

As the snake gradually gets bigger the mouse will get bigger. So, then they’ll be fed fuzzy mice which is a little bit bigger. Typically, you’ll feed it a mouse that just leaves a bit of a bulge in the snake’s belly. They will be able to get their head around something much larger than themselves.

Snakes are well adapted to being able to stretch their head around the animal they’re eating. So, it doesn’t have to be by no means smaller than the head of the snake but usually you feed it something that’s going to leave a little bit of a bulge in its belly, a slight bulge after it’s finished consuming that animal.

Once you’ve finished feeding your snake it’s important to always to make sure there’s adequate heating for your snake especially after feeding. A snake will need to elevate its body temperature particularly into the low thirties even up to thirty five degrees Celsius to be able to effectively and quickly digest that meal. So, it typically seeks out a warm spot in the enclosure, sit there, warm themselves right up and that will help digestion kick started and it will speed up the digestive processes. So, it’s typically what a snake will do after the feeding. So, it’s important to make sure there is a warm spot available.

After feeding typically a snake will also have a good drink of water. With water although feeding your snake you don’t have to feed them too frequently. A snake can eat a meal like this once a week to once a fortnight. They don’t need to be fed daily like a mammal their metabolism’s a lot slower and activities a lot slower but they do need fresh water every day. So, it’s important to make sure there’s always a bowl of fresh water in the enclosure because they do drink every day or every couple of days. Feeding on the other hand doesn’t have to be as frequent.

If a snake is kept adequately warm all year round they can be fed all year round and usually one mouse like this a week is sufficient. For a large snake, adult snake one mouse like this fortnight can be sufficient because you don’t want the snake to become too obese either.

[End of transcript]

Housing pythons

Watch Housing pythons (3:28)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the requirements when housing pythons

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

Some of the more important aspects of keeping a small python in captivity in their enclosure includes the heating.

One of the important facts of the heating is that you want to have an enclosure that varies from around twenty five degrees at the cool end to around thirty degrees Celsius at the warm end with a basking area or a warm spot where they can get up to around thirty five degrees Celsius and that can be provided in a couple of ways.

One, it can be though a basking spot, so it can be something like a red globe above it can give heat down to a small basking spot for the snake to elevate its body temperature. Or alternatively, for a snake you can have a heated area under the enclosure whether it be a heat mat or a heat cord under the substrate that elevates the temperature of that ground.

For some of these small pythons that can be more natural because small pythons are mostly terrestrial and they’re nocturnal, they come out at night time when there’s not a large basking light from above and they do sit on warm surfaces. So, that can be a more of a natural thing for a really small python.

Within the enclosure in terms of furnishings it’s important to have somewhere for the snake to hide. That can be provided through either a rock outcrop area, a hollow log like the one in the enclosure beside me or even a hide box of some sort. These days you can purchase from a number of pet shops all sorts of naturalistic looking hide boxes that you can use inside your enclosure. And you can even set one of those up in the warm end of the enclosure and one in the cool end of the enclosure and that would be ideal for the snake to have the choice of what temperature to hide at.

A number of important factors of the enclosure is also the water bowl. Make sure it’s always got fresh water available within the enclosure at any given time. In terms of the size of the enclosure for a small python like these ones that only get to around maybe the one to one and half metres maximum mark an enclosure of about I guess four foot length, about one to one point two metres in length by about maybe forty to fifty, sixty centimetres in width would be I guess a good size enclosure for one of these animals.

The enclosure I’m next to here is quite ideal. It’s certainly got a large enough ground space for the python of this size to move around quite freely. It’s quite spacious vertically.

For a small python like this you would not need such a height on the enclosure. One of the reasons for that is because they’re mostly found down near the ground, they don’t use that space too much. So, having an enclosure half this size would even be ideal. And the other reason why half the size enclosure might be ideal on some occasions too it’s more efficient to heat that size enclosure rather than trying to heat this large enclosure.

When cleaning an enclosure of a python there is not a lot of cleaning involved. One of the important things is to make sure there’s always fresh water available for the snake to drink.

In terms of cleaning up when it defecates they’ll typically only defecate as often as they feed. And for a snake that only feeds once or twice a fortnight you only have to clean up its faecal matter once or twice a fortnight as well.

Pythons will also produce something called Uric or Uric acid, Uric paste and that’s typically a white excreted substance that comes out of a snake. And same as when it defecates, it’s simply a matter of obtaining a spoon or a set of gloves and just spot cleaning pulling that excreted matter out and disposing of it.

The substrate of the enclosure should probably be replaced once every few months. As often as once every six months would be ideal for a snake like this. Even though you’re spot cleaning every week it’s ideal just to get rid of that, give it a good disinfection with something like F10 veterinary disinfectant or Virkon just to make sure there’s no bacteria loads building up in the enclosure and then replace the substrate.

[End of transcript]


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