Pet Burmese Python

 

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In response to many requests for information concerning the captive care of this popular pet snake RainForest Adventures is providing the following suggested guidelines for the captive care of the pet Burmese Python.

A true giant, the Burmese python has long been kept by both amateur and professional pet keepers around the world.   Often the favorite of the true giants, (Burmese, Amethystine, Reticulated, African Rock Python) As a rule Burmese are regarded as having a much more docile personality than the other giants.  Like all animals personalities can vary greatly between individual snakes. 

In this article we will address the basic needs and requirements to successfully keep a pet Burmese Python. The primary areas that will address here are:

A native of much of tropical Southeast Asia, the Burmese Python is full grown at approximately 12-18 feet, with individuals growing larger in some cases.  One of the heaviest of all living snakes the Burmese Python attains a girth similar to the Green Anaconda from South America.  There is generally significant dimorphism between the males and females with females tending to be much longer and considerably more heavy bodied than males. 

 

Snake Ownership Regulations:  One factor to consider before proceeding with the purchase of a new pet is the applicable state, and or, local laws that apply to the area you live in.   Laws vary greatly from state to state as well as within individual city limits.   What may be legal in your area may be illegal just a few streets away!  The best source of this type of information is your local pet shop.  An honest pet shop will always be abreast of the applicable laws governing not only sale, but the ownership of animals. 

Ironically it is becoming increasingly more difficult to own "exotic" animal species as a result of misguided laws.  Under the guise of "protecting" the citizens laws are passed prohibiting the ownership of certain animals. 

A quick review of any major search engine will result in vast amounts of information on the millions of bites that occur annually from domestic pets such as dogs and cats.  Literally billions of dollars are paid out on an annual basis by the major insurance carriers to cover attacks, including fatal attacks, by our beloved puppy dogs and kitty cats.   

In spite of a mountain of evidence that would suggest if we are interested in "protecting" citizens from animal attacks it would only make sense to start with the animal that attacks most frequently, our politicians will frequently ban the ownership of animals they perceive to be dangerous.

 

 Choosing Your New Pet

There are essentially two types of baby Burmese pythons offered for sale; wild caught animals, and captive born babies.  We will take a look at both options here are provide our opinion on which we feel is best. 

Burmese Pythons are still imported into the United States from Myanmar (Burma) in moderate numbers.     The babies all arrive at roughly the same time every year.  Often priced very inexpensively the baby Burmese Pythons are generally available for several weeks per year.    It is our belief that you should not purchase newly imported babies as the pressure placed on the wild stocks of animals is having substantial negative impacts.   

The skin, or leather trade, represents a more significant threat to the wild stocks now that captive breeding is producing such large quantities of babies for the pet market.

The other Burmese Pythons that are available are those that are actually born in captivity.  Typically these pythons are hatched by individual hobbyists, or breeders and then resold to the pet stores.  In some cases the babies are available for resale by the breeder themselves at pet shows and other similar events.    This is by far the best way to support not only your local pet store or reptile show, but also is a much more "eco-friendly" way to obtain your new pet snake.

From a health perspective baby Burmese Pythons that are born in captivity are generally much less likely to contain parasites, illnesses etc.  These pythons are generally much healthier and adjusted to feeding than a wild caught animal.   Care should be taken to observe fecal matter for worms and other basic husbandry techniques

When choosing your new pet look for obvious signs of health such as clear, bright eyes, a clear nasal area and overall bright coloration to the skin. 

Determining the sex of your new baby is only accomplished by "probing" the young snake.  If you have no experience at this procedure it is best left to an accomplished individual to determine the sex. 

 

 

Housing

It is always a wise idea to have your new pet's habitat set and ready to go before you bring any new pet home.  While this snake does not require highly specialized environments there are certainly some basic criteria that must be met for the overall health and well being of your new snake.

The single largest consideration when choosing this species as a pet snake is the future housing needs of the adult snakes.  While young animals can be easily housed in aquariums the adult snakes housing needs can only be met with large enclosures. 

Each home is different, the ambient air temperature, location of the enclosure and other factors may require a day or two for you to ensure the temperature and humidity factors are stable before brining your pet home.  Always try to determine the temperature of the enclosure both during the day and night to ensure the enclosure is not too hot or too cold. 

The ideal day time temperature range for your snake is 82-95 degrees.  An enclosure should have a basking spot, or warm end that is a higher temperature than the rest of the enclosure.  This will allow your snake to move from a warm area to cooler one (thermo regulate).  Nighttime temperatures should not be allowed to drop below 74 degrees.   Burmese pythons appear to be particularly susceptible to respiratory infections.  Cool temperatures are generally the cause of the respiratory infection and related illnesses.

Humidity is not as large a concern for this species as with others, but every effort should be made to  maintain the relative humidity higher than the normal humidity found in most homes.  A relative humidity of 70-80% is ideal, 50-60% can be tolerated for periods of time.   Lower humidity is being linked more closely to the respiratory infections in some Burmese Pythons.  Humidity that is too high (constant wet conditions) can result in several skin maladies. 

The relative humidity is a larger factor in allowing the animal to shed it's skin properly.  Proper humidity conditions have a direct impact on the Ecdysis process more than virtually any other health issue.   A large water bowl that the snake can soak in will significantly aid in both maintaining the humidity and providing a bathing spot for the snake.

Appropriately sized habitats for hatchling, or young, Burmese Pythons may be a 30-gallon-long or a 55 gallon terrarium.  As the animal grows so must the available space the snake has to move about.   Custom built enclosures are almost always required  Burmese  Pythons can be housed together but are generally solitary creatures except when breeding. 

 

Burmese Python Diet

Most Burmese Pythons eat rodents such as gerbils, mice, and rats, although some prefer birds (chicks) when the snakes are small.  The diet will change significantly as the animal grows in size.  Caution should be taken to avoid the temptation to over feed your snake or attempt to feed the animal grossly oversized food items.  Smaller, more frequent meals are much easier to digest and are generally healthier for bowel movements etc.

The vast majority of snakes will gladly consume pre-killed rodents.   The vast majority of Burmese Pythons are aggressive feeders.  Some individuals may be shy, and some very seasonal feeders.  These traits are found much less commonly among Burmese pythons than with many other species of snakes. 

The most critical component of feeding any pet snake is to ensure the environment is correct and free from excessive stress.     If your snake refuses to feed review all of the housing and husbandry practices to ensure the snake has adequate temperatures and humidity requirements.  Also make every effort not stress the animal prior to feeding by handling etc.

It is highly recommended that you kill the food items prior to feeding any snake.  Rodents posses very strong jaws and sharp teeth.  A misplaced strike by a snake can result in the rodent having it's mouth free to bite the snake during constriction.  This will not only result in open wounds that are subject to infection, but can result in serious injury to the skeletal structure of the snake.  Death is not an uncommon result of a snake who is bitten in the spine or other critical area by the rodent.  On occasion a snake may need some encouragement to eat a prey item that is not moving about on it's own.  We typically "trick" the snake into eating it's first few meals by simulating movement of the rodent by simply dangling the food item in front of the snakes face.  Be careful not to be be too aggressive in dangling the food item as this may intimidate a  shy young python. 

One major benefit to purchasing pre-killed mice, or buying live mice and killing them your self is the storage of frozen rodents.   Rodents can be placed in zip lock bags and stored for months in a suitable freezer.  This convenience allows you to purchase many months of feeder rodents at a time.  In many cases your cost of feeding your animal will go down as the quantity of rodents purchased will allow you to take advantage of savings. 

Most  Pythons, including the Burmese, will generally take four or five days to digest a meal and prefer to do this in a dark, warm place, i.e. "hide-box".   Temperature, size of the meal, and other factors have an impact on digestion time.   Water should be provided in a large heavy bowl, so that the Python has plenty of room to soak and cannot tip the container over. 

Burmese Pythons will defecate approximately 5-7 days after eating a meal.  It is equally as important to monitor your snakes defecation as it is to monitor the animals feeding schedule.  Pythons occasionally become constipated and will not pass a bowel movement.  This can lead to serious complications, a warm soaking bowl will generally encourage a snake to defecate.  If your snake does not defecate within 14 days of a meal do not continue to feed the snake until defecation takes place. 

The  Burmese Python has an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years in captivity.

Feeding Response: One of the most frequently asked questions by potential pet keepers, or their parents, is: Does this snake bite?  Any animal has the potential to bite.  There is an animal in the United States that will bite 5,000,000 people this year, send 800,000 to the hospital, killing at least 15 people....sounds like a real dangerous animal....that creature is the puppy dog.   Man's Best Friend will literally disfigure, maim, and kill people in the United States.  The animal will also cause great financial loss to all of us this year, and every year!  But we rarely hear a call for anyone banning dogs now do we?  Or is the question asked when picking out your new puppy....Does he bite

The greatest risk you face in handling your new pet is a phenomenon known as a "feeding response".  A feeding response occurs when a pet snake is handled with the scent of a food item such as a rat or mouse on the hands of the pet owner, or when the snake believes it is going to be fed.  A defensive animal will strike and release, this strike is simply a warning to potential predators to leave me alone! 

The snake that believes it is going to be fed will grab and hang on!  The photo shown here is a common Kingsnake who grabbed a zoo keeper's finger in the mistaken belief that the finger was a snake!  The Kingsnake got that "signal" from it's own tongue, the keeper had just handled other snakes and the scent of the previous snakes were still on his fingers prior to picking up the Kingsnake.