Care Guide Author Kelsee Drew
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The Royal Python or sometimes known as the Ball
Python is as the name suggests a member of the Python species. Its ease of care
and generally placid temperament has made it one of the most popular and commonly
kept pet snakes. It makes an ideal pet for the novice snake keeper whilst
remaining a firm favourite amongst even the most avid snake enthusiasts.
Royal Pythons originate from the East, West and
Central regions of Africa. As a terrestrial snake they spend much of their life
on the ground. However, despite their terrestrial label, these wonderful snakes
can and will climb when need or opportunity presents. Generally, they frequent
forest floors and grassy savannas in their natural habitat.
Royal Pythons are a moderate sized constrictor
and the smallest of all the African Python species. They are non-venomous
feeding on rodents and occasionally small birds. In the poorer areas of Africa,
they play an important role in rodent control and help protect crops.
Royal Pythons have been successfully kept and bred in captivity for over 60 years. Their ease of breeding has contributed towards their success in the pet trade. There is little need or justification for the trade in wild caught specimens of Royal Python. In their original form, Royal Pythons are stunning snakes.Normal (or ‘Classic’) Pythons display natural earthy colours such as browns, blacks and beige interspersed with white and gold makings.
Fig 4 Classic Royal Python
Amongst captivite bred Royal Pythons, there are a plethora of different colour and pattern mutations, referred to as morphs. These are obtained through selective breeding of animals with various colour and pattern traits along with the combination of naturally occurring genetic mutations. Some of these ‘morphs’ sell for a modest sum whilst the latest designer morph Royal Pythons can sell for several thousand pounds. It is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss morphs in greater detail. If you would like to know more about Royal Python morphs, a good starting point would be to visit the American Website http://www.worldofballpythons.com
all the different morphs the ‘care guide’ for the Pythons all remain the same.
Royal Pythons are ‘crepuscular hunters’ being most active at dusk and dawn. Their eyes are adapted to dim light and sense their prey with the heat-sensitive organs known as heat pits located below the nostrils and highlighted by the white line. There are 4 on each side of the mouth and the pits allow the snake to ‘see heat’ so the Python can track the heat signals that their prey gives off. As with all snakes, Royal Pythons are equipped with a Jacobson Organ, located in the roof of their mouth. When the snake flicks its tongue, it is capturing scent molecules. These are interpreted by the Jacobson Organ allowing the snake to detect prey from a considerable distance.
Fig 5 Headshot and Heat Pits
As previously stated, Royal Pythons are one of
the ideal ‘starter reptiles’ but remain popular with even the most avid reptile
keeping enthusiast. The care needs of a Royal Python are quite simple in
comparison to many species of reptile. However, if the care they receive is
inappropriate or incorrect it can result in suffering or death of the snake.
With appropriate care and loving attention, a captive
Royal Python should live for many years. In fact, it is important that you
realize that a well-cared for Python can live for over 20 years and have been
known to live for over 40 years on rare occasions!
Royal Pythons generally have a very docile temperament,
as they are more likely to curl up in a ball to protect themselves than strike
at a potential threat. They are normally easy and safe to handle, even at full
adult size of between 5 and 6 feet. They can become surprisingly tame and some
appear to develop distinct personalities and characters.
Fig 6 Marty Snake Ambassador
Please read this care guide in conjunction with
our ‘Basics of Reptile Care’ Guide. We are adapting all of our species guides
to encompass the ‘Five Needs’ outlined in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act (Section
9). Although we have tried to create a comprehensive care guide with
information that works for our animals, we strongly urge you to carry out
further research and reading before buying your first snake. Need for a suitable environment:
Royal Pythons are not the most active of snakes. Often,
they behave as an ‘ambusher predators’ lying in wait for a potential next meal
to walk into their ‘trap’. This means that Royal Pythons don’t need excessively
large enclosures. A hatchling should be housed in a small 2ft (57.5x49x50cm)
vivarium, a medium 3ft (86x49x50cm) sized vivarium should house a juvenile
Python nicely. Once Royal Pythons reach ‘adulthood’ at around 3 years old they
should be housed in a large 4ft (115x49x50cm) vivarium or bigger if necessary.
New legislation effecting the UK reptile trade
sets out a minimum enclosure size as a length of no less than 2 thirds the
length of the snake and a depth of no less than a third of the length of the
snake. Although some keepers argue against this stipulation it does serve as a
useful guide towards ensuring enclosure size is appropriate for your pet snake.
It should also be noted that some young Royal Pythons struggle to feed if their
enclosure is overly large. Provision of extra hides and coverage to make the
snake feel more secure in its enclosure does often help. However, there are
occasions where it is necessary to accommodate the snake in a much smaller than
expected enclosure. The shop or breeder supplying you with your snake should be
able to advise you regarding enclosure size.
There are many types of enclosure that are
suitable for accommodating Royal Pythons. Small hatchlings can be housed in 3
litre Braeplast Boxes or similar sized plastic tubs, progressing to larger
plastic faunariums. As the snake grows it should be moved into larger and
appropriately sized enclosures.
Fig 7 Braeplast Box and Faunarium
The most popular type of enclosure used to house
Royal Pythons is the standard wooden vivarium. Alternatives can include glass
terrariums, plastic vivarium’s and large ‘tubs’ such as Really Useful Boxes.
Providing the appropriate environment can be maintained within the enclosure
any of these can be a suitable home for your pet. Our preferred accommodation
for Royal Pythons is the standard wooden vivarium. We believe these allow for
the creation of a good thermal gradient within the enclosure, they can be
furnished to meet the snake’s requirements whilst serving as a stunning display
for your pet. Our ‘Basic of Reptile Care’ guide discusses further the various
types of enclosures and their merits.
Fig 8 Wooden Display Vivarium
It is also important to remember that snakes are
very good escape artists and it is extremely important that you ensure vents,
doors and any other potential escape routes are secured.
Your Royal Python will require some form of
heating within its enclosure. Reptiles, often referred to as cold blooded, are
ectothermic. This means that they cannot generate their own body heat nor do they
have any inbuilt ability to regulate their body temperature. They are dependent
on their environment for warming up and cooling down. They will move from areas
of warmth or cool to achieve their optimal body temperature. This temperature
regulation is vital for the reptile’s enzyme and metabolic activity and for the
process of digestion. The process of controlling body temperature by moving
from warm to cool along a thermal gradient is called thermoregulation.
An appropriately sized and placed heat mat can
provide the degree of warmth required for your snake to create the hot end of
the thermal gradient within the enclosure. However, we cannot stress enough the
importance of using a thermostat to regulate the temperature of the heat mat.
Without a thermostat these mats can become dangerously hot resulting in severe
burns to your snake. A thermostat will help keep electricity usage costs down
and prevent fires. Your thermostat should be calibrated against and your
enclosure temperatures monitored with the use of digital thermometers. The thermal gradient should range from around
33°C (91°F) at the hottest end and around 26°C (80°F) at the coolest end of the
enclosure. When using a heat mat these temperatures are measured at substrate
Fig 9 Heatmat and Thermostat
Alternatively, the thermal gradient can be
established using a heat lamp or ceramic heater affixed to the roof of the
enclosure. Again, it is vital that the heat source is controlled and regulated
by an appropriate thermostat and monitored with digital thermometers. The heat
source should be carefully placed and an appropriate guard used to ensure the
snake cannot coil around the lamp or heat emitting device or become wedge
between it and the side of the vivarium.
Fig 10 Heating Unit with Cage and Stat
Please refer to our Basic of Reptile Care Guide
for more information regarding heat sources and thermostats.
Royal Pythons are frequently kept in enclosures
without any form of internal lighting. Providing the room in which the
enclosure is situated has a defined day/night light cycle this is not usually a
problem. Small LED lighting strips can transform a dull looking enclosure into
a stunning display. White LEDS can be used to give a day light effect whilst a
blue or red light can be used for viewing the snake at night. The use of a
dimmer helps ensure the light intensity is not too bright for your snake.
Fig 11 LED light Packs
Royal Pythons have been successfully kept for
many years without supplementary UVB lighting. The crepuscular nature of these
snakes does however mean that in the wild they would be exposed to low levels
of UVB. We would not discourage any reptile keeper from providing an
appropriate level of supplementary UVB lighting. (The only exception being the
need for caution with albino/scaleless species). The UVB index for Royal
Pythons is 0 to 2-3. The provision of a 6% UVB tube attached to the top of a well-furnished standard 15” tall vivarium
would result in UVB exposure comparable to that the animal would receive in the
wild. It is of course essential that the UVB unit is securely mounted so that
the snake can’t dislodge it or become trapped in the wiring.
The provision of a water dish is not for drinking
purposes alone. Your Royal Python will sometimes want to soak in its water
bowl. Soaking is normal behaviour in the pre shed phase. As such the water bowl
should be big enough and deep enough to accommodate your snake. The bowl should
only be filled to a third of its depth to prevent overflowing when the snake
Your Royal Python will require hides at either
end of the enclosure’s thermal gradient. The hides should be of a size where
the snake feels safe and secure. There should be very little space between the
underside of the hide and the ‘balled up’ snake inside. In such a tight-fitting
hide, the snake knows there is little chance of anything intruding into his or
her hiding space. The provision of foliage and cork bark tubes etc. create
further areas of refuge for your snake. Insecurity through the lack of, or
inappropriately sized hides is a major contributory factor in snakes refusing
Royal Pythons may not be the most active of
snakes, but they do benefit from exercise and enclosure enrichment. It is
beneficial for them to have branches and vines to climb on. They do seem to
appreciate and benefit from different textures within their enclosure. Bark and
rocks can help during the shedding process. A change the scenery every once in
a while, will give your Python something new to explore. This simple form of enrichment helps ensure your
pet doesn’t get too bored. It can also transform a wooden / glass box enclosure
into a stunning visual display.
Artificial plants, branches, and rocks can be
purchased at a modest price in store. Plastic plants are easy to clean and
Fig 12 Furnished Royal Python Enclosure
Substrate is the term used to describe the layer
of bedding that lines the bottom of the enclosure. The most commonly used
substrates for Royal Pythons are Lignocel, Natracel or Aspen. These affordable
substrates are dust extracted, soft and absorbent. They allow for easy spot
cleaning and if changed regularly they help minimise odour’s whilst ensuring
your snake is housed in hygienic conditions. It is vital that substrate that
has become wet through water spillage or bodily waste is changed. If left, the
excess humidity can cause respiratory infection whilst soiled wet bedding can
result in scale rot and scouring burns.
There is an increasing trend amongst reptile
keepers towards the creation of bio active enclosures. This involves the
replication of the animal’s natural environment with natural substrates that
include custodian insects and live plants. The custodian insects break down
waste matter converting it into food for the plants. Although this sounds
simplistic, in reality it is less than easy to accomplish a bio active
enclosure that could effectively deal with the waste produced by an adult Royal
Python. Pending the publication of our own ‘Bio Active Guide’ we would highly
recommend you visit https://bioactiveherps.co.uk/
if you wish to explore this
Need for a suitable diet:
Royal Pythons feed on mice or rats appropriately
sized to their mouth or the thickest section of their body.
Royal Python hatchlings start feeding on fuzzy
mice or small rat pinks. hey should be fed every 5-6 days until they are
juveniles. Juveniles will eat every 7-10 days feeding on increasingly larger
prey items according to their size. Once the Python is an adult it will be
eating every 3 weeks-1 months. As they grow and mature they will begin to eat
less frequently and eat even larger prey.
Fig 13 Feeder size array
It is important to be aware that a mature Royal
Python can go for considerable periods of time without eating. It is not
unusual for adults to undergo fasting periods of several months during the
winter months and prior to breeding. We have had Royal Pythons fast for 5 to 6
months with barely any loss of weight or body stature. This can be worrying for
the less experienced snake keeper. If you are concerned that your snake is
fasting for a prolonged period please speak to the breeder or outlet who
supplied your snake.
Snake food should be available from your local
reptile shop in the form of frozen rodents or chicks. It is also possible to
buy frozen snake food online, although if you only own one or two snakes this
is not usually very cost effective.
There should be NO requirement to feed your snake ‘live prey’. Live feeding
can be dangerous for your snake, a live rodent can fight back with sharp teeth.
If it is necessary for the survival of the snake to feed it ‘live prey’ it
should not be offered for sale. It should remain with the shop or breeder until
it is regularly eating defrost food.
Prior to feeding it to your snake, the food item
shouldbe thoroughly defrosted then warmed up to body temperature. To warm the
food, it can be placed inside a zip lock bag and floated in hot water, placed
on a heat mat or hot water bottle. Never warm your snake food in the micro wave
or oven. Prior to offering the pre warmed food to the snake we give it an extra
boost of warmth from a hairdryer, paying particular attention towards heating
the head of the prey. This helps ensure that the Royal Python will latches onto
the head rather than the body when striking its prey. Food should be presented
to the snake with a pair of feeding forceps. (Grip the rodent in the forceps
just in front of the pelvis and present it to the snake head first.) When
feeding NEVER use your hands to offer the food !! Feeding by hand carries a
very high risk of being bitten.
Fig 14 Prey in Forceps feeding snake
It is also important to maintain high hygiene
standards when feeding snakes. Frozen rodents can carry harmful bacteria such
as Salmonella. It is important that any surfaces outside of the enclosure that
are touched by the prey item are disinfected. Hands should be washed with
antibacterial soap after handling snake food and feeding your snake.
It is recommended that you avoid handle your Royal Python on feeding day as they will be hungry and may not want to socialise with you. Do not handle your Python until 48 hours after feeding as it needs time to digest its food. If handled too soon it may regurgitate the food item.
Many snakes will not feed when coming into shed,
especially during the blue eyed phase. Unless your snake appears to be actively
hunting for food, wait until it has shed rather than attempt to feed when your
snake is ‘in blue’.
It is recommended that you keep a chart or record
of when your Royal Python eats/refuses food and sheds. This will help you in
regards to assessing the overall health of your Python.
Fig 15 Snake Feed Record
If your young Royal Python regularly refuses food
or misses several feeds in succession please speak to the breeder or outlet who
supplied your pet.
If you purchase your Royal Python from Grinning
Gecko we would be delighted to invite you to take part in one of our snake
feeding sessions prior to taking your new pet home.
Need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns:
In terms of reptile ownership and Royal Python
care, this is perhaps a rather vague need. It is argued that a captive reptile
could never truly exhibit normal behaviour patterns. The same argument could
just as easily be applied to ALL animals kept in captivity including cats,
dogs, and other conventional pets. This should not deter us from attempting to
create conditions where our reptiles CAN display normal behaviour patterns.
Environmental conditions must be appropriate for
your Royal Python so that it can thermo-regulate. Being ectotherms, Royal
Pythons need to be able to move between areas of warmth and cool to regulate
their body temperature. If conditions within the enclosure are incorrect, they
will NOT be able to exhibit normal ectothermic behaviour.
Royal Pythons are crepuscular, being most active
at dusk and dawn. They need a distinct day and night lighting cycle. Without
this, they would not be able to demonstrate normal levels of crepuscular
activity. They need areas of shade, and areas to get completely out of the
light. Without cover and a photo gradient within their enclosure normal
behaviour patterns will be restricted.
Video Royal Python in the wild.
Although a Royal Python can live happily on a
diet consisting solely of a single type of prey, for example rats, it is
beneficial to offer a wider variety such a diet. Variation in the way prey is
presented, for instance left on a branch rather than simply offering direct
from the forceps can stimulate a natural hunting behaviour. Opportunity for
this is unfortunately limited as the prey will soon lose its warmth. It is
fascinating to watch a Python capturing/striking, constricting and ingesting
its food whole.
We would encourage you to research the natural
behaviour of wild Royal Pythons and as far as possible create conditions within
your Pythons enclosure that allow it to behave as far as possible in a way
similar to its wild cousins.
During periods of warm weather it is worth
considering taking your Royal Python out in the garden for short spells. Obviously,
you will have to be careful that your pet can not escape, that it can’t be
attacked by other animals or of course attack any animal itself. It is perhaps
in the setting outside of the enclosure that we truly see how majestic these
animals are. The way they move and interact with their surroundings will give
you greater insight into the normal behaviour exhibited by their wild cousins.
Fig 16 Royal Python exploring garden.
Need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals:
We strongly advise against cohabitation of Royal
Pythons. The potential for complications far outstretches any potential
benefits. Competition for optimal basking spots, hides or areas to soak etc can
be stressful to the enclosure occupants. A male and female will eventually
display mating and reproductive behaviour. A male Royal Python will reach
sexual maturity before a female. Reproduction places considerable physiological
stress on a female. This stress will be magnified should an immature or
undersized female Royal Python become gravid.
The feeding of Royal Pythons in a multi occupant
enclosure can become rather problematic, especially if both snakes are hungry.
Although incidences are very rare, Royal Pythons
have displayed cannibalistic behaviour. In 2017, two very young Royal Python
were transported to one of the IHS Breeders Meetings in a shared transport tub.
To their owner’s horror, whilst in transit, the slightly larger of the two
snakes had ingested the other. To make this incidence even worst, the snake
ingesting its travelling companion had asphyxiated and died whilst partaking in
its ill chosen meal. It would be easy to dismiss this as yet another internet
myth. Sadly this incident was anything but a myth and was witnessed and widely
discussed at the IHS event
In general, it’s not recommended to house 2 Royal
Pythons within the same enclosure. The only time we would advocate placing two
Royal Pythons together in the same enclosure would be for a carefully planned
Need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease.
When considering the health needs of your Royal
Python it is perhaps best to begin by looking at a healthy Royal Python. A
healthy Python will have bright eyes without any discharge and its mouth will have
no visible signs of trauma or infection. There should be no significant
overbite or underbite when the jaws are closed. Its nostrils should also be
free of discharge.
The adult Royal Pythons body should be well
filled without being overtly obese. A healthy Royal Python will be alert and
constantly flicking its tongue to sense it’s surroundings. It should be able to
support its own weight and move around with ease.
The skin of your Royal Python should be free from
cuts, abrasions or lesions. The scales should all appear to be facing down in
uniform layers and feel smooth when stroked from head to tail direction. The
cloaca, should be clean with no sign of prolapse or discharge. Ideally there
should be no evidence of old retained shed or retained spectacle scales.
(All snakes can retain their eye scales and have
the occasional ‘patchy’ shed. This is not necessarily a sign that a snake is in
poor condition. Shedding problems and retained eye caps are generally easily
rectified. However multiple layers of retained shed and eye caps are a
significant reason for concern.)
It is important that you examine the snake for
evidence of external parasites. If the Python has black dots (possibly moving)
and is seen soaking in water a lot this could be mites. If it is confirmed to
be mites the snake must be treated immediately as this is very uncomfortable
for the Python and could be passed on to any other snakes it comes in contact
The Python’s faeces should be solid and dark in
colour. Royal Python faeces do not normally have an offensive odour. Blood or
mucus in a Royal Pythons faeces is a clear sign of underlying illness needing
urgent investigation and treatment.
Although initially, it will often be curled in a
ball with its head tucked away, a Python should become active when disturbed. Providing
enclosure temperatures are adequate it should be easily roused. It should not
appear disorientated or display neurological symptoms such as circling or star
gazing as often seen with Spider morph Royal Pythons.
It is a good idea to weigh your snake on a
regular basis with a set of digital scales. We would suggest weekly for the
first 6 months of your Python’s life then on a monthly basis. In the first 12
months of life, your Royal Python should show a steady weight gain and size
increase. This tapers off over the next few years and by the age of 3/4 years,
your Python will probably have attained full size.
If you monitor your Python’s weight on a regular
basis you may be able to spot any health problems before symptoms become
obvious. A fluctuation of less than 10% in body weight is generally of no
concern. However, if your Python shows a significant or consistent weight loss
then further investigation is required.
One of the most urgent health problems with a
Royal Python or indeed any snake, is a respiratory infection. If your snake
shows any sign of bubbling at the mouth or nostrils, increased respiratory rate
and gaping mouth, it is possible that your snake has a respiratory infection.
This is a serious health problem that demands urgent treatment. Snakes only
have one fully functioning lung and it is essential that this function is not
compromised. If you suspect your snake has a respiratory infection please seek
veterinary help immediately. Whilst awaiting transportation to your vet
increase the enclosure temperature slightly. It is important to ensure the
snake is kept warm in transit.
If your Python does become ill or sustains an
injury, as its owner you have a ‘duty of care’ to get it an appropriate level
of help. For minor concerns, it may be appropriate to contact the Python’s
breeder, the store you purchased it from or to seek advice from Internet
reptile groups or forums. For animals obtained from us, you are more than
welcome to contact us at any time for advice. It does not matter how long you
have had the Python, how old it is, we are here to help.
In the event of a serious illness or injury, if
your Python is collapsed or unresponsive there is little value in seeking help
from the Internet. You need specialist help in the form of a vet. It is a very
good idea to have the contact details for your vet before the need arises.
Unfortunately, some vets charge a little more for treating reptiles as they are
considered ‘exotics’. It is possible to ensure your Python, paying a monthly
premium to cover veterinary expenses. Alternatively, and our recommendation, is
that you put a little amount away each month to build an emergency fund for
One of the keywords in the last of the ‘Five
Needs’ is protected. We have mentioned in the other ‘needs’ the importance of a
correct environment, a thermostat to protect your Python from burns, the
correct nutrition etc. etc. By following these measures you will be going a
long way towards meeting the ‘need to protect your Royal Python from pain, suffering,
injury, and disease.’
Rather than writing a list and explanation of the
health problems a Royal Python can experience we ask that you read our guide to
common reptile ailments.
Thank you for reading this comprehensive Royal
Python care guide. We hope it proves useful towards giving your Python the best
possible care. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to discuss any
of the content or if you require further information. If you spot something we
have missed or any errors in the guide, please drop us a line.
We are committed towards promoting ‘responsible,
caring and ethical’ reptile ownership. We are delighted to help and advise any
keeper towards giving their snakes the best possible care. You do NOT need to
have purchased a snake from us to gain our help. Please visit our contact page
for details of how to reach us. We will reply to your messages at the earliest
As your interest in Royal Pythons develops you
may find yourself drawn towards the fascinating hobby of Royal Python Breeding.
It is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss the intricacies of breeding these
beautiful snakes. We would encourage you to carry out as much research as you
possibly can, join specialist Royal Python groups and talk with experienced
Royal Python breeders.
Finally, we would like to wish you many years of
successful Python keeping and the happiest and healthiest of reptiles,