Disclaimer - Double “D” Reptiles continues to suggest that reticulated pythons should never be kept by any beginning handler, anyone under the age of 18 or by anyone who does not own their own home/building. We suggest that these snakes need keepers of at least intermediate experience and as they grow will need at least one other person present during all handling sessions, for the safety of the handler, as a back-up handler (this person should also be experienced at handling larger snakes.)
The reticulated python, often shortened to retic, is a true giant among the snakes. These are generally believed to be the longest snake in the world with the potential to become 30 feet or longer. Specimens are currently alive that exceed 25 feet and 300 lbs. These large pythons have a nasty reputation for aggression due in part to a very strong response to food and the temperament of wild caught animals. Young animals commonly bite due to fear and captive born, well cared for and handled snakes are reported to calm down after reaching young adult size to be what the handler had made them, which can be friendly, docile snakes. The teeth of the reticulated python, by all reports/accounts, are longer and sharper than the Burmese or African Rock python and can deliver an extremely nasty wound as they get larger. This is just another reason that these snakes are not suggested for beginners.
The natural range of these snakes is SE Asia, the islands of Indonesia and surrounding areas. Their skins are exploited for the leather trade. They are also used for their meat in some areas. The Asian market for blood and gall bladder is yet another way to which these giants fall prey to humans.
Dwarf retics have become available and are reported to be a much more docile snake than the larger, more common varieties. We will attempt to write a separate section on these as we learn more.
Size and Life span
As previously stated, these are true giant serpents. Babies enter the world at a reported average 185 grams and can grow to be in excess of 6 feet in one year’s time. Sexual maturity is reached in 2 to 4 years with males being able to breed at around 7 – 8 feet and females generally waiting until they exceed 11 feet in length. Females are typically larger than males both in size and girth. Experienced keepers seem to claim that adults over 12 feet in length that are captive born and handled regularly are often quite docile creatures. However, due to the size, caution should be taken during handling sessions with even the most docile animals.
Like all pythons, the reticulated python can survive for a great many years in captivity. Longevity records report ages of 19 years to almost 30 years possible. Much of the success with longevity rest with the keeper. These snakes can become obese from overfeeding and lack of exercise. When this occurs, fat deposits accumulate and negatively affect the long-term health of the snake.
The first 2 things we can say about requirements are EXPERIENCE and SPACE! As we have already discussed the need for experience with large pythons, space is the next thing to consider. These snakes grow large and they grow fast until they reach 10 to 15 feet, at which time they tend to slow down considerably. Large, escape-proof caging is a must! This is not a species you want free-roaming your home or even in your reptile room. The cage area should be ½ as long as the snake to allow it to stretch out and move with a width at least 1/3 its length. By these measurements, a 12-foot snake would need floor space of 6 feet by 4 feet (a total of 24 square feet.)
Because these snakes come from more equatorial regions, cage temperatures should simulate this environment. Temperatures should be allowed to range from about 80 degrees F to 92 degrees F with room to move from one range to the other. A humid environment is also needed with an ideal humidity being 60 to 85 percent. Lighting should be used to provide most heat, much like the sun does in nature though in colder climates and seasons pig blankets can be used to supplement the heat. Light periods should be maintained around 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Some fluctuation may be desired to induce breeding.
A reliable source of food is another requirement that must also be considered when purchasing a large snake such as the reticulated python. They are voracious eaters and need to feed on a regular basis. As they grow larger, they will consume prey as large as rabbits and even young lambs, goats and pigs. If you predict a possible problem with being able to provide enough food for your retic, even if all other requirements can be met, please, do not get one. Water should also be available to these pythons at all times. This will allow the snake to drink at its leisure and assist with proper humidity in the cage.
The reticulated python is quite possibly the most aggressive snake available when it comes to feeding time. Train your retic from the very beginning to only accept thawed, or at least fresh killed food. The last thing you want is a snake this large assuming that any movement within it’s reach is food. With this species, it is recommended to always present food from tongs to avoid mistakes.
Babies can be started on adult mice or jumper rats and quickly mature to eating small rats. With the fast growth rate seen in this species, by the time it reaches 5 or 6 feet in length, it will be feeding on a couple of large rats every week to 10 days. By 8 feet in size, small rabbits can be fed and feeding intervals stretched to 10 to 14 days. This snake will probably eat as long as food is provided. Thus the keeper must be aware to not overfeed and watch out for the snake’s health.
After establishing a sexual pair is present, make certain that both male and female are in good health and of good weight before attempting to breed them. Males are sexually mature at 7-8 feet while females should be 11-12 feet before breeding is attempted. The normal breeding season in captivity is September to March and food should be withheld for 2 weeks prior to putting snakes together. It helps to reduce daytime light periods to roughly 9 hours and lower nighttime cage temperatures into the mid-70 degree range. Introduce the female into the male’s enclosure so that she is, in effect, entering his territory to breed. Never house 2 males together, especially during this time as they will fight for the right to breed the female and the wounds they can inflict upon each other with their teeth can be fatal to one or both animals. Extreme care should be used when handling males during the breeding season.
Once copulation has taken place, separate the 2 animals. After the female ovulates (witnessed by a short-term swelling just past mid-body that goes away,) she will begin to develop the eggs inside her. After 45 to 60 days (approx.) she will have a pre-lay shed and a few days later lay a clutch of 20 to 80+ eggs on the floor of her cage. Unlike smaller or more docile pythons, allow the female to maternally incubate. This is what many keepers/handlers look forward to watching, as the female will contract her muscles in a sort of rhythm to increase the temperature surrounding the eggs. If a large incubator is to be used, you MUST get the eggs away from the female and clean the entire area within the first 24 to 36 hours after laying while the female is still weakened from the process. Otherwise, a female will protect her clutch with a vengeance and nothing/nobody is safe from her wrath until the eggs hatch and her job is done. Eggs can be artificially incubated at 88-90 degrees F and will hatch 80 to 90 days after being laid.
Currently there are a number of mutations/morphs available on the market with more being discovered each year. These include the normal (or silver-head), yellow-head, tiger, super tiger, calico, albino (of which there are at least 2 forms), Jaguar and various dwarf forms. Another form has been brought into the US from the wild that appears albino with powder blue pattern markings where black normally occurs but this snake has dark eyes rather than the normal pink eyes of albinos. We are anxious to hear news of this new phase.
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