People have always had a fascination with keeping long, large-bodied snakes as pets. Reticulated pythons (Malayopython reticulatus) are the world’s longest snakes. The world’s longest retic in captivity, Medusa, holds the Guinness World Record for being the longest captive snake at 25 feet and 2 inches. Pet retics are suitable for experienced snake handlers only.
As powerful constrictors, retics command respect when being handled. Retics were once considered aggressive snakes, but are now easier to care for due to captive breeding. They’re more expensive to feed than most snakes and require huge enclosures. Feed your retic one meal the size up to the thickest part of the snake’s body every 7-10 days.
On average, reticulated pythons can live 15 to 20 years in captivity. Handling your retic early and frequently will help to build trust between you and your pet snake. Young retics are more likely to bite in self-defense, but this typically reduces as the snake builds trust in its owner.
Caring for a Pet Reticulated Python
Reticulated pythons have a large, muscular build with exquisite patterns and iridescence. You need to make sure that you’re getting a healthy snake. Check for the following factors while choosing a pet retic:
- Eyes should be clear. Milky eyes before shedding (ecdysis) is normal
- The retic should be alert with its tongue flicking
- No visible bruises, cuts, or kinking on the body
- No sores around the mouth, or bubbles from the nose
- The snake should be a healthy weight
Retics can be found in a myriad of colors, ranging from olive green and gold to tan with a diamond-like patterning. The albino retic is another stunning choice and can be found in lavender, white, and purple.
Because of their large size, reticulated pythons need some room to stretch. However, it’s best to keep young retics in smaller tanks, within 10 to 15 gallons. As the snake grows into adulthood, the size of its tank will have to increase as well. A fully grown reticulated python needs to be kept in a vivarium that’s 3 feet wide, 2 feet high, and 6-8 feet long.
A 10 to 15-gallon tank is sufficient until a retic reaches 3 feet in length. When dealing with retics smaller than 10 feet in length, choose a tank with a length and width that’s equal to the length of the snake.
Retics can get intimated by too much space. Therefore, you will have to make a tank feel smaller with rocks, hides, plants, and décor. You will need to transfer your retic to a larger tank before it reaches 10 feet. Most retics reach 10 feet by 18 to 24 months of age.
Whether you have a young retic with a small tank or a fully-grown snake with a bigger tank, all retics need to have places where they can be alone and not disturbed. Therefore, your snake’s housing should have a hiding spot. For young snakes, you can make a hide using a small box with an opening. Larger snakes need sturdier hides such as hollowed-out logs.
A reticulated python’s enclosure should be kept at about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There should be at least one basking area maintained at 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Having multiple spots with different temperatures allows the snake to balance its temperature.
A variety of heat sources are available for heating reticulated python enclosures. These include heat pads, ceramic heaters, basking bulbs, heat panels, heat tape, and spot lamps.
Getting a high-quality thermostat will allow you to ensure that you’re providing the right temperature for proper thermoregulation of your snake.
The bottom of your snake’s housing should be lined with a substrate. Cypress mulch, aspen, etc. can be used as bedding for a retic’s cage.
Food and Water
Reticulated pythons are very voracious feeders. Retics are known to eat cats, chickens and sometimes even dogs, according to Functional Ecology. Another study published by the National University of Singapore showed that a reticulated python is well-capable of swallowing a sun bear.
Most pythons start off with live food and some may be transitioned to freshly-killed or even frozen-thawed prey. Therefore, if you have a young retic, be prepared to feed your pet live animals.
Retics can be trained to accept frozen-thawed food. If it refuses to eat dead prey in the beginning, try offering it a frozen mouse occasionally and see if it accepts it. Keep in mind that not all retics accept dead food, and that some will need live prey as their permanent source of nutrition.
Whether your snake is eating live or pre-killed food, the basic rule of thumb for feeding a retic is that the diameter of the prey should match the thickest part of the snake’s body. Feed your snake every 7 to 10 days. Frequent feeding can accelerate your snake’s growth, but overfeeding can cause obesity and other health problems.
With water, you need a large, sturdy water dish. As a retic grows, it becomes stronger so everything in its environment needs to be solid and secured to prevent tipping over and breakage. The water dish doesn’t need to large enough for the snake to soak in.
Live Prey to Pre-Killed Prey
- Increase the time between feedings from 7 days to 10 days. This will help to increase your snake’s appetite.
- Heat frozen food before serving to activate your snake’s urge to feed.
- Feed your python at dusk when it is more active.
- Use tongs to deliver food, shaking the food slightly to imitate the movement of live prey. Avoid putting the food in your snake’s face.
Wash your hands thoroughly after handling dead prey to prevent your retic from mistaking your hands for food. You’re more likely to get bitten.
Handling and Temperament
In the wild, reticulated pythons are known for being ill-tempered and aggressive. However, with proper care and handling, captive-bred retics can make excellent pets. Because of their size, personality and strength, retics are only recommended for advanced-level snake keepers.
Baby retics can be nervous about being around large predators, such as humans, all the time. This can cause them to hiss and strike. However, daily handling can make them feel confident around their owners.
Reticulated pythons are best bought young from a reputable breeder or pet store as they’re easiest to tame. Captive-bred retics start life with greater trust towards humans and settle much faster into an established daily husbandry routine.
Once you remove a young retic from its cage, allow it to crawl through your fingers. Keep your palm flat and your fingers closed to reduce the risk of being bitten. Allowing your retic to acclimatize to your smell, touch and company can help increase positive interaction and trust.
How to Tame a Reticulated Python
Retics survive in different modes. They may be in thinking mode, hunting mode, feeding mode, sleeping mode, breeding mode, or defensive mode.
Waking a sleeping retic may instinctively set it to feeding mode. This is because, in the wild, reticulated pythons lay motionless in game trails and instantly react when prey is nearby. The problem with captive snakes is that they may overreact and wrap themselves around their owner’s hands.
Make sure your retic is awake before you enter its enclosure. Tap the tank a few times and check for any eye movement or activity that shows the snake is aware of you being there. The next step is to help your retic differentiate between you and a prey animal. Use a full roll of paper towels as a shield for small to mid-sized pythons.
Once you’re certain your python is awake, open its cage and hold the paper towels near its face. Your snake may stick its nose into the hollow tube. Give your python a few firm pats with the paper towels from the middle of its body and down. This will condition your snake to know that it’s time for human interaction, not eating.
You can use snake hooks for the same purpose. Always be cautious and alert as an overexcited snake can overshoot the hook or paper towels or swing around. Avoid attempting this technique with large, defensive snakes with unpredictable moods. Always have another experienced handler with you in the same room or within earshot to make the removal of the snake easier, in case it mistakes you for food.
The best time to interact with a retic is when it is in thinking mode. You’ll know your python is calm when it moving smoothly in its cage and exhibiting long tongue flicks. A nervous or defensive snake, on the other hand, will show jolting movements while hanging its tongue out.
Handlers need to be confident while dealing with retics as your nervousness can quickly put a snake into defensive mode. Work on your comfort while handling snakes and use gloves in the meantime. If you’re dealing with a jittery snake, avoid staring at it as reticulated pythons are keyed to their owner’s eyes.
Avoid letting your snake get too close to your face. Your face is a vascular area that releases heat, making it an excellent target for a snake bite. Never position your body or face over a jittery or nervous snake as a retic may mistake you for a threat, resulting in a severe bite.
Do not grab the tail or the lower length of your snake’s body as this can create mistrust. Rough handling can make your snake nervous, giving rise to defensive behavior. When picking up your snake, start with the first third of its body so that it feels supported. Avoid grabbing a retic behind the head, but if you must do it, be gentle to avoid losing trust.
Avoid causing your retic to bounce its head off the cage repeatedly as this can be painful. It also makes the snake feel that you’re the source of its discomfort. Therefore, if your snake is nervous, cover the glass and provide a hide to reduce such behavior.
Reticulated Python Teeth
Reticulated pythons have teeth designed to secure prey animals. The top region of the jaw has two sets of teeth and the lower has a single row of teeth. The teeth in the front are longer and help grip onto prey. The top inner row has fewer teeth. Their teeth are also blade-like and triangular to help them slash and bite.
Bite injuries often occur when an adult male is breeding and sense’s another male’s presence. This makes your snake more defensive.
Do’s and Don’ts with Reticulated Pythons
Handlers must ensure that their retics feel safe and secure. With time and effort, keepers can understand their snake’s behavioral patterns and avoid common mistakes that can be harmful to them and their snakes.
Avoid Crammed Cages
Your retic’s tank should encourage it to move and stretch, especially when it reaches adulthood. Adult retics prefer spaces to meander and sprawl.
If you have a trim 16-foot snake, a tank that’s 8 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 2 feet tall is considered acceptable. If you have an obese snake, a smaller enclosure is likely to shorten its lifespan even more.
Don’t House Two Males Together
Once they’re more than 3 feet in length, you must never house two male reticulated pythons together as this may lead to fatal injuries.
During the breeding season, you must practice caution while handling multiple males. If you smell like a male snake while handling another, he may react defensively and want you out of his enclosure. Be cautious while moving a breeding-sized female from one male retic’s cage to the next.
Handle breeding-sized males with care as their high hormone levels can make them excited and easily upset for some time.
Retics enjoy eating. The more you feed them, the more they’ll grow. However, you must make sure your python doesn’t overheat while it’s digesting its food.
A retic’s core temperature rises when it’s digesting a large meal. Therefore, its cage must have a cooler spot with a temperature of 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit to allow thermoregulation. A body temperature that’s higher than 92 degrees Fahrenheit can be detrimental for a retic.
The warm side of the cage should be about 90 degrees and the overall ambient temperature must be kept within 80 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
After your snake eats, it must have access to enough fresh water to aid its digestive process.
Add Items to Explore
Smaller retics are more likely to wander through their cages in search of food. They may also rub their mouths and develop “fang face” – a condition that occurs when a snake continuously presses its delicate mouth and nose against fixed objects. This causes tissue swelling and inflammation, causing small wounds and bacterial infection.
Without antibiotics or a change of caging, an infection may spread to the teeth and bones, leading to life-threatening complications. This condition is common in wild-caught snakes, young retics and some dwarf varieties.
Providing different things to explore, such as crumpled up newspaper, creates some distraction and gives your snake more places to hide. This reduces its need to rub against objects.
Common Health Problems
The following are health issues seen in reticulated pythons:
Parasites, such as snake mites, are common problems with all snakes. Therefore, clean your snake’s housing on a regular basis, disinfecting it at least once a week. Wash your hands before and after handling your snake to prevent the transfer of parasites.
Respiratory issues such as pneumonia, typically occur due to varying temperatures, or the temperature being too low for prolonged periods. You can detect respiratory issues in your retic via wheezing. As the condition advances, it may lead to cheese-like secretions.
Pushing is a behavioral problem that can lead to critical health complications. Retics are known to push their heads against their cage. This can cause injury and swelling of the head.
If you notice your snake pushing, check the tank temperature and clean out the cage. Retics are more likely to exhibit pushing when they’re feeling stressed and uncomfortable.
Inclusion Body Disease (IBD)
IBD is a life-threatening, infectious viral disease that affects pythons and boa constrictors. Look out for signs, such as the inability to constrict or correct itself if the snake is turned over.
Despite their calm demeanor, it’s important to understand that these giant snakes should only be handled by the trained hands of an experienced snake keeper. Retics require your utmost respect, confidence, and responsibility. If you’re nervous or uncomfortable, your retic will be able to tell, making it more defensive and jittery.