Blood pythons (also called red short-tailed pythons or Brongersma’s short-tailed pythons) grow to 5 or 6 feet long. Blood pythons are bigger around the middle, for their size, compared to almost any other species of snake. Even healthy specimens tend to look very overweight.
In the wild, blood pythons feed on mammals and birds. You can provide this diet with pre-killed mice and rats. They have a reputation as picky eaters, but this is because early captive specimens were wild-caught.
You just need to be patient when feeding a blood python. In our guide, we explain what blood pythons eat, how often to feed one, and how to tell if a blood python is overweight or underweight.
What Are Blood Pythons?
Three species are considered short-tailed pythons, one of which is the blood python. They come from western Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, and many small islands in the area. This area is warm and humid, and they need these conditions in captivity.
According to Oecologia, there are many color morphs. They range from a dark brown to a light yellow, similar to other pythons. But some natural lines are redder than others. These lines have then been selectively bred to create blood red snakes.
These snakes are best known in the snake-owning community for their bad temperament. They aren’t considered to be the friendliest snake, but it is possible to keep them as pets.
What to Feed Blood Pythons
In the wild, blood pythons feed on a variety of mammals and birds. They tend to live near the edges of jungles and forests, and especially close to streams/rivers. This enables them to find a wide range of prey. This includes rodents on the ground, and birds and eggs in the trees.
They are constrictors, so they wrap themselves around their prey to squeeze it. This stops the prey’s heart, which prevents them from struggling and makes them easier to eat. Blood pythons don’t use venom.
Mammals and birds provide all the nutritional content they need. So, you can safely feed ball pythons in captivity on a regular rodent diet. Start off a hatchling blood python with small rodents, i.e., pinkies and fuzzies. As they grow larger, you can feed them adult mice.
How Often Do Blood Pythons Eat?
Despite being larger around the middle than other species, blood pythons don’t need to eat more frequently. They feed infrequently in the wild, but this is offset by the fact that they eat large meals each time.
They have a slow metabolism compared to other snakes, so you have to be careful when feeding them. This is in part because they don’t move much. They are ambush predators, which means they don’t actively hunt. They wait for prey to come to them.
They don’t move when they’re hungry, and all snake species stay quite still when they digest. This is why you should feed your blood python once every two weeks.
Which Rodents to Feed a Blood Python
With juveniles, start by feeding them pinkies and fuzzies. These are the smallest rodents. You can buy them frozen, and allow them to thaw before feeding. However, wild-caught snakes often won’t eat pre-killed food.
As an adult, a blood python will enjoy large portions fed infrequently. You should move them on to rats as soon as they are capable of eating them. You could either feed large rats infrequently, or medium rats more frequently.
While they are big around the middle, blood pythons aren’t big enough to eat larger prey. Don’t feed them chickens or rabbits. They would be too big for the snake.
The food you feed your snake should be enough that it leaves a noticeable lump in their belly. And snakes can eat food that’s bigger than their head, so don’t worry if it looks too big before they eat.
If your snake can’t eat larger portions, feed them the equivalent in weight, but in smaller portions.
Are Blood Pythons Picky Eaters?
Blood pythons are known to bite and musk frequently, and to be picky eaters. However, this reputation is not entirely deserved.
Until recently, mostly wild caught. Wild-caught snakes of any species are more prone to being aggressive and difficult. They aren’t used to people, and they aren’t used to eating pre-killed food.
Many of today’s blood pythons in private collections are captive-bred. Captive-bred snakes are easier to handle, easier to feed, and more comfortable around humans. They have been raised to be easy to feed and care for.
Pre-Killed vs. Live Food
If your blood python is wild-caught, they won’t want to eat pre-killed food. Snakes eat by reflex, and certain things trigger their feeding reflex. One of these things is movement. They are also attracted to warmth in food.
It is possible to simulate live prey with dead prey. Take the prey and allow it to warm to room temperature. Waggle it around in front of their nose using tongs. This may fool them into thinking it’s live.
If they look at what you offer, and it doesn’t tick these boxes, the snake won’t strike. It can’t decide to strike; it has to strike through instinct. You can’t encourage them to eat.
You may want to consider feeding live food. Feeding live is difficult because:
- While small, the prey will fight back, and could harm your snake with teeth or claws
- Live food is more difficult to source, although you can breed your own mice and rats.
- You may find it distressing to feed live food to your snake
But if it’s the only way to get your snake to eat, then that’s what you’ll have to do. Alternatively, you could try braining the food. This is where you take a sharp knife and expose some brain tissue. When the snake smells it, they may be triggered into striking and feeding.
How to Feed a Blood Python
Allow the prey to warm to room temperature. It should be completely thawed before feeding. It doesn’t have to be left in a sunny spot, provided it warms up entirely. Don’t microwave the prey.
When feeding a blood python, be careful. While they may appear fat and slow, they have a fantastic striking reflex. They move much faster than you might expect.
You should feed them with tongs the first few times you feed them. Take the tongs and hold the prey item in front of the snake’s face. If they don’t strike, jiggle it from side to side.
Once the snake is used to eating frozen and thawed prey, this should be unnecessary. You can put the prey in the enclosure, and the snake will eat it sooner or later.
If you feed live prey, leave it in the enclosure for a small amount of time. If the snake doesn’t eat it, take the prey out of the enclosure. Leaving it in there would allow it to harm your snake, e.g., by biting its face and eyes.
Blood Python Not Eating
If your blood python still isn’t eating, try them with live prey. If they don’t take it, then you will have to try different snake feeding techniques. Force feeding is possible, but a last resort.
Try braining the food. When the snake sniffs/tastes it with their tongue, it may trigger their feeding reflex. Use a sharp knife to achieve this.
If this doesn’t work, check that the snake’s environment is up to standard. Feeding problems are caused by environmental issues, such as:
- The temperature is too cool for them to digest, so the snake ‘knows’ not to feed.
- The snake has mouth rot, and pain prevents them from eating.
- The snake has pain elsewhere in their body, and so is generally in a bad mood.
Confirm first that there are no health issues through observation. If none are apparent, then take them for a vet visit.
How to Force Feed a Blood Python
If not, consider force-feeding the snake. This is a stressful process for both the snake and its owner. But if the snake refuses to eat otherwise, it has to be done. Follow this process:
- Hold the snake firmly behind the head.
- Tap the food item on the side of their mouth. This may make them strike.
- If they don’t, begin to push the food at the side of their mouth.
However, it must be emphasized that this is a last resort. You may break their teeth, and you teach the snake not to like you. The underlying issue stopping them from feeding can be identified.
How to Tell If a Blood Python is Overweight
Blood pythons are notorious for their size. They don’t get any longer than other pet snakes. But they are very large around the middle, so much so that even normal snakes look overweight. As such, spotting an overweight blood python is difficult.
Unlike other snakes, therefore, the only way to spot an overweight ball python is by weighing them. The average weight of an adult blood python is between 10 and 15 lbs. Older adults can reach 20 lbs, as snakes continually grow at a slow rate throughout their lives.
The best way to tell if a snake is overweight is usually their backbone. A snake with a prominent backbone, visible ribs, and sides that are caved in is underweight. However, blood pythons often appear to have a prominent backbone, even when not underweight.
How to Tell If a Blood Python is Underweight
The best way to tell if a blood python is underweight is to weigh them. You can take a pair of kitchen scales to weigh them. Or you could take them to a vet for a more accurate measurement.