Reticulated Pythons are looked at by many as the KINGS of the constrictor family and possibly all snakes in general. Their amazing colors, patterns, intelligence and potentially large size are all reasons why they are so popular among hobbyists. Reticulated pythons are available in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes, with new traits and trait combinations being introduced to the market monthly. Retics are very popular in the pet/collector trade due to their extremely beautiful color and pattern combinations as well as thier range in sizes, from the very small pure Super Dwarf locals to the monster sized mainlands.
Jampea Platinum Tiger Het Anery
Photo courtesy of Bob Clark
Reticulated pythons can be among the largest snakes and can potentially reach lengths of more than 20 feet and weights in excess of 250 pounds with heavy feeding. While some bloodlines of Retics can reach close to 25 feet, the claims of Retics readhing 30+ feet are rarely if ever verified and true. "Mainland" Retics stem from a larger growth bloodline and hence reach the largest sizes. If fed heavily a mainland female retic can reach 10-12 feet by year one. The average mainland female retic reaches 14-18 feet in captivity. Dwarf (Jampea) and or Super Dwarf Retics (Madu, Kayuadi, etc) are Reticulated Pythons that originate from small island populations in Indonesia. The smallest of the localities are the Madu and the Kayuadi that usually range anywhere between 6ft to a max of 12ft in pure bloodline form.
When looking into the sizes of Super Dwarf and Dwarf localities and morphs, the % of Dwarf and or SD that makes up the genetics and the feeding regiment (amount of food and frequancy of feeding) is a large factor for all the smaller sized bloodlines (Sd's and Dwarfs), with a good medium line feeding program (every 7-10 days) expect the following:
50% and higher Dwarfs: Males 6'-9', females 8'-12' with 50% and higher SD's: Males 5'-8' and females 6'-9'
In my collection and breeding groups, most of my dwarf males are in the 7'-8' range and Dwarf females around 10-11' with most of the SD breeder males around 6' and females around 8-9'.
Growth on all Retics can be rapid initially, but slows considerably after about two years of age depending on the care, feeding schedule, locality and genetics. While handling or feeding even "tame" or "manageable" large sized retics, it is highly important to have someone qualified in the household or close vicinity to lend a hand should a dangerous situation arise.
Most importantly, for the snakes safety and well being, an enclosure should safely contain the animal. Retics are incredibly strong, and many have pushed or broken out of ill equipped enclosures. Make sure to also have adequate locks on your enclosures. Retics can be very intelligent escape experts and it is not a good feeling coming home to have an expensive animal lost in your home or facility.
The size of the enclosure should be large enough to allow the snake a reasonable amount of movement, yet small enough to permit accurate temperature and humidity control. Retics are primarily terrestrial snakes that spend much of their time on the ground, so the floor space of their enclosure will be more important to the animal than the height of the cage, although many, especially when smaller sizes, will use vertically oriented enclosures when provided.
A hatchling Retic will require the space equivalent of a 10-gallon aquarium, although glass aquariums are not recommended because they lack insulating and humidity holding abilities, which are very important to a young hatchling. There is a fine line with many snake species as far as enclosure size. Snakes need to feel secure, as they spend large amounts of time, especially when young, hiding from predators, so providing an enclosure with a small enough footprint to keep them feeling secure, yet providing adequate room is important. A young mainland retic will quickly outgrow an enclosure the size of a 10 gallon aquarium and tall, open glass enclosures do not provide security to the hatchling so it is best to move them into something more suitable as soon as needed. Plastic tub and drawer type racks with belly heat are designed best to raise hatchlings or smaller individuals, they hold heat and humidity, are easy to clean, and with shallow heights, they provide the needed security to allow a young animal to feel secure. A good starter size for hatchlings can be a 12 or 16 quart tub/rack system, with appropriate size increases as the Retic grows. Larger individuals will need more space, of course. A 200-pound animal will need floor space measuring at least 4 feet by 8 feet. The cage should also have a door that allows easy access and that can be closed and or locked securely. Sliding glass doors work best to allow safe feeding, as retics can have very strong feeding responses, and sliders allow you to safely insert the food item, while being protected by the glass door to the side. Retics are incredibly strong and intelligent, and many are able to slide glass doors open while roaming the enclosure, so locks can be very important. Some ventilation is needed, although not as much as one might initially think. Heat and humidity are easily lost through vents, especially through those on the top of the enclosure. Small vents located on the sides of the cage will permit adequate air exchange.
Wood, plastic and glass are all acceptable materials for cage construction. I use enclosures that are constructed of ABS plastic, or custom built enclosures that I make out of plywood painted with high quality paints or epoxies and or covered with FRP. It is important that the insides of the enclosures have a smooth, nonporous finish that allows easy cleaning and sterilization. All corners and edges are rounded, leaving no difficult-to-clean areas. Make sure there are no sharp objects or areas in the enclosure as Retics are very active and can damage themselves on anything protruding into their space. If you are creative, you can design/construct an enclosure that has more visual appeal to you the keeper and also may function to provide a more stimulating enclosure for your animal by placing fake backgrounds, plants and or pieces of wood, etc to give your retic a feeling of security and stimulization. Make sure though, that everything is VERY well fastened in the enclosure as most retics can be very active and destructive.
Check out www.animalplastics.com, www.sentecreptilecages.com, www.npicages.com, www.arscaging.com or www.freedombreeder.com for many sizes, designs and prices of great caging options for all snake species.
There are many good cage substrates available. The two most common are paper products or cypress mulch. I prefer to use shredded cypress mulch for its naturalistic qualities, humidity holding ability and natural acidity which prevents mold growth. Cypress or a similar substrate absorbs urates and clings to deficates allowing for easy cleanup. I spot clean areas with urates or defections and swap out all the substrate when needed. Cypress is also very good for soaking up large amounts of water from tipped water bowls if you have an animal that like to spill its water. While feeding on loose substrates many worry about injesting the substrate, so you can feed on a tray if you wish. I have never experienced any problems with this method, after all they do feed on the ground in the wild. Shredded Aspen is also used, but I don't like it as much as cypress because it can mold quickly when wet and clings to the animal when damp, usually getting into the water bowl. Other common substrates are corrugated cardboard, sheet papers and or newspaper. Some companies produce good quality paper products that can be purchased and shipped to your home if looking to go that route. Check out www.uline.com for many paper products. There are a few downfalls to using thin paper products as substrate. First; paper does a poor job of insulating/holding heat and holding humidity. Second; Paper products do not absorb all urates/fecal matter so many animals end up "smearing" much of the defecation around enclosure if not cleaned up quickly. The advantages to papers are it can be free/cheap and easy to see mites/parasites and or keep very sterile conditions.
Most constrictors prefer temperatures in the mid-80s Fahrenheit. It is best to provide a temperature gradient to allow the animal to thermo-regulate, and choose which temperatures it needs at that specific time. It works best to have one end of the enclosure to be in the mid to upper 80's and the other end close to the mid 70's. This allows the animal to choose warm temps to digest food or develop eggs, yet allows them to choose cooler temps when needed.
Heating of the enclosure can be done many different ways. Most prefer to use a heat pad or heat tape underneath the enclosure. Heat pads or undertank heaters are available in many pet shops that stock reptile supplies. They provide safe, even heating for smaller enclosures. Heat tape is also available and serves the same purpose, although it allows more flexibility in heating larger areas more economically. Heat pads and heat tape has been responsible for many fires, so be sure you are installing it properly. Also available are radiant type heat panel that are usually fastened to the ceiling of the enclosure to radiate heat down toward the animal, while they can be effective, they need to be fastened securely as retics can "rip" or remove anything that is not secured. Various types of heat bulbs are readily available and are effective, as well. What ever the method of heating, remember you are trying to heat the floor of the enclosure and the air, but each hold temperature differently. Substrate or floor will hold heat differently than the surrounding air depending on surrounding conditions. The best way to tell where you are with your temps is to watch and observe your animal. If your animal is spending all its time on the warm side of the enclosure, then the ambient(air) temps are most likely too cool. If it is spending most of its time on the cool side, then the ambient temps are most likely too hot. Learning the habits and actions of your animals is a very important tool to help you keep your animals healthy.
Feeding hatchling Retics is usually fairly easy. I feed an appropriately sized meal whenever the snake is hungry (a good time period to start with is every 4-6 days). A good sized prey item
will make a slight bulge or lump visible in the snake once it has eaten. Make sure the food item is or smells like what they have been started feeding on at the breeders facility. Also make sure the food item is warmer than its surroundings. Most pythons are easier to get to feed if their meal is warmed up slightly (the easiest way if using frozen thawed food, is to thaw it in warm water. Make sure the animal is not scalding hot though, as this will not be healthy for the Retic). Pythons have sensory organs (pits) to detect the slight amount of heat generated by the body of a potential food item. A combination of these factors seems to be important in eliciting a feeding response in newborn pythons. Pinky mice and rats normally do not move in a way that interests a baby python, and although I think they must smell like the adults, they don't generate and retain body heat very well.
Frozen thawed food can be accepted right away by many pythons, although some seem to feed easier on pre-killed or live rodents. You may have to start off on pre-killed or live and then switch or transition the animal over to frozen thawed. Feeding live can be very dangerous to your retic, especially young or small animals and should be avoided unless necessary. Many snakes have been killed or injured by live prey.
As the snake grows, it will require more food. There are many factors that determine how much and how often to feed your Retic. Temperature, caging conditions, humidity, age, locality/bloodline, season/time of year, sex, etc can all have an effect on metabolism, growth and appetite. I learn my animals and adjust feeding schedule based on my observations and learned experience with the animal.
All animals should always have access to fresh drinking water and pythons are no different. A heavy ceramic bowl, like the type that's used for rabbits, works well. It is not necessary for the snakes to be able to submerge themselves in the water dish, but if given the chance they will do so.
FEEDING TIPS: Here are some tips and points to think about and consider with a new Retic and or a Retic with an issue feeding consistently.
-BE PATIENT. Retics take time to settle in and many can go long periods of time(weeks and or months) before they feel comfortable/secure enough to eat or need to eat again.
-Limit handling before and no handling after feeding. Handling stresses them out and can “turn off” their feeding response.
-Keep the Retic low stress, make sure it is always well hydrated, and has no stuck or dry shed skin.
-Try offering pre-killed or stunned live prey items as they often entice a good feeding response.
-Try offering food in the evening or at night when most Retics are most active.
-Try live rat pups or crawlers left in the tub/enclosure overnight, as they have enough movement and body heat to usually get a good feeding response and interest, yet they do not move fast enough to "spook" the hatchling and also can not hurt the snake.
-Try offering a warm temped, wet, frozen thawed appropriately sized mouse or small chick. Mice and chicks have a different smell that tends to entice a good feeding response most times.
-Try offering different types of prey, different sizes and different feeding methods.
-When feeding with tongs, move the prey in small movements, not to fast, and hold near the Retics head. Don’t spook the Retic by forcing the feeder on them or bumping them in the head/face with the feeder.
-Be sure to have the appropriate sized enclosure. Small Retics will stress out in a larger sized enclosure.
-Try using a hide box in the enclosure to give the Retic a secure place to hide.
-Do not use bright lights for enclosure heat or in the room near hatchlings. Bright lights make them feel insecure and exposed.
-Be sure to house Retics separately. Two Retics housed together can stress each other out and cause feeding issues and dangers to each other.
-When trying to switch a Retic onto a different prey type, be patient, let the Retic get nice and hungry (stretch out feeding day) and use scenting techniques (thaw the new prey type with the old/familiar prey type to scent the new prey type with the familiar prey items scent), or feed one small familiar prey item and follow it up immediatley with the new type of prey item.
-Keep stress LOW
-Let it settle in for 2-4 days after shipping with NO handling.
-Limit initial handling and when you do handle, keep it short and be gentile.
-Leave it alone with NO handling and NO constant checking on it.
-Allow the Retic to feel secure.
-Allow the animal time to adjust to its new surroundings/environment.
-Keep the animal hydrated with fresh water available at all times
-Have a proper enclosure set up and running prior to animals arrival
-Proper temps (warm side/cool side), hide box if needed
-Appropriate enclosure size (too big of an enclosure will stress the Retic out)
-Place Retic enclosure in a quiet area, without many disturbances.
-If having issues when feeding try offering different; prey sizes, types and temperature of prey.
-Try feeding in evening or at night or different times of the day.
-BE PATIENT (Retics can take weeks to settle in).
DON’T DO THIS:
-Don’t stress it out. Don’t check on it 10 times a day.
-Don’t handle with numbers of people around or in noisy situations
-Don’t set up enclosure in a noisy or frequently used room of the house. This will stress the Retic out.
-Don’t handle frequently especially for the first week after arrival, and while getting the Retic settled in
and on a feeding schedule.
-Do not try to feed on the initial day of arrival or many times even 2-4 days after shipping.
-Don’t keep near or under bright lights (bright lights make Retics stress out and feel insecure or exposed)
-Don’t keep the Retic too dry or too wet.
-Don’t house 2 Retics together, this can cause feeding issues and stress on the Retics.
-Don’t house a Retic in an inappropriate sized enclosure (hatchlings do best in small, secure feeling enclosures).
-Don’t house a new Retic in an all glass aquarium in a busy or bright room, this causes stress on them.
-Don’t spook the Retic by forcing the feeder on them or bumping them in the head/face with the feeder.
-Don’t try offering food every day. Give them a few days in between food offerings to settle back in.
-DON’T STRESS IT OUT.
-Treating for MITES: There are many methods for mite treatment or prevention, here is one method that I use:
-To treat the enclosure or substrate for mites: Spray or "gas" the tub/enclosure and substrate (snake and water bowl removed) with Provent-A-Mite (http://www.pro-products.com). DO NOT spray the snake or water bowl. Let the Provent-A-Mite dry and off-gas for a few minutes and replace the snake. Go thru this process weekly or every 4 days or so to get rid of and kill off mites and their eggs that are present. If wanting to treat for preventative measures, go thru the process at each cleaning or every month or so.
-To treat the snake itself for mites: I Use Natural Chemistry's Mite Killer Spray (http://www.reptilebasics.com/mite-killers), this is an all natural product that is designed to be sprayed/misted directly on the snake and substrate or enclosure as well. It kills mites within 24 hrs usually and I have had great results with it. Treat the snake once a week (no more than every 4 days) and be advised that it is most likely not a good idea to spray this on a snake when fresh shed, as their skin is very sensitive for 3-4 days after shedding. I also avoid treating very young hatchlings with this compound (under 1-2 months) as their skin is also very thin and sensitive to even this all-natural compound. Repeat this process once a week until no mites are dscovered on the snake anymore. Normally after this process of treating the snake and the enclosure for 2-3 weeks, most mites will be killed off and thier breeding cycle will be broken.
-Handling and interaction with a newly acquired Retic:
-Remember that even though you have started out in the best possible situation with a CBB Reticulated Python hatchling, it is still a hatchling, and almost any young snake or reptile has millions of years of instinct bred into it to make it cautious and defensive or scared of any animal larger than it or any new or stressful situation. Shipping and a new enclosure or situation can make even the most docile and "tame" Retic (hatchling or adult) unsure of its surroundings and cause it to hide, be defensive or be aggresive towards the new keeper. The positive thing about working with and getting a new hatchling Retic to adjust to handling, is that when they bite, it normally does not hurt and is a very fast "defensive" bite where they barely even make contact with you, and they almost always let go right away. To get a new or nippy hatchling used to handling, be sure to allow 3-5 days (minimum) of time after it arrives, to settle in to its new enclosure and get used to its surroundings. This time is CRITICAL to a new arrival, you want the Retic to feel secure and safe, that way it feels comfortable feeding, which is one of the most important things to maintain in a new retic hatchling. Some hatchlings settle in fine, within days, without any problems. Some Retics will eat the first day after shipping and others may take a week or two or more to settle in a feel comfortable. During this time I recommend keeping handling and stress to a minimum. Once the new arrival is feeding consistantly, then progress with small amounts of gentile handling. For handling, I reccomend using a snake hook (or any item you want to use, it can be as simple as a pencil or paint stick for a hatchling or small retic). Each time you want to handle or interact with the Retic (except feeding time) open the tub or cage and tap the Retic a few times lightly on the nose or face. This is called "hook training" and is a proven method with most pythons, to condition the animal, and get it used to handling and interaction. What this conditioning does, if done in the same manner each time, is "teach" the Retic that each time I get touched in the face, that it is NOT feedign time and handling or interaction will follow shortly. This "hook training" is also normally very effective in "turning off" the feeding response of a Retic and once the Retic becomes accustomed to the process, it normally allows "safe" interation and handling of the animal. This process can take weeks or months to become fully effective, so remember to be patient and use the exact same process each time so the Retic has a chance to become "conditioned" to the results. Be sure to know how to read your animals signs and "moods" and be sure to add this information to each interaction session to keep you as safe as possible. Remember these are wild animals, that dont interact and show emotion the way we humans are used to. They do NOT enjoy stressful situations (large crowds, noises, being shown off to friends, being set on the floor in the middle of a large open room, cuddling on the couch, large amounts of stressful handling, other pets, etc). These are all situations that can change the mood of a calm or docile Retic and should be avoided or approached with caution.
-Retics that roam or push, and how to deal with it:
-Many Retics will “push” and roam, weather it be during shipping or in their enclosures at certain times throughout their lives. Hatchlings and adults can push while stressed out from shipping or while placed in an new or unfamiliar enclosure and sexually mature males that are looking or wanting to breed are also prone to “pushing”. This can be very slight pushing that just causes some slight swelling of the face or it can be very extreme pushing that may cause permanent damage to the face, mouth and head.
-When a Retic does push, in order to stop the pushing you need to find out why the Retic is pushing in the first place and correct the issue. Many Retics will push when exposed to too high of temperatures, too high of humidity or overly wet conditions, when hungry, when feeling too exposed or in-secure in their enclosures or when wanting to breed (both males and females). To stop them from doing further damage to themselves, you need to look at each animal and the situation and try to figure out the reason that they are pushing and normally with correction of the issue and normal proper care, the Retic will stop the pushing and any damages caused to itself will actually heal up very quickly without Veterinary intervention or special treatment from the owner. Many times vet or medical treatment actually can cause more issues and stress for the Retic than good, and most times it should be avoided.
-Giving your Retic a good choice of temps available in its enclosure is the easiest way to keep them from pushing, most Retics will roam or push if they are kept too hot or do not have access to a cooler area to go once and a while when they need to slow their metabolism down. This cooling method can be also used with-in reason for males and females that are looking to breed. Dropping temps a few degrees normally helps slow the Retics metabolism down and they will return to normal behavior. Feeding heavier or more frequently will normally also help slow the tendencies for them to roam or push during this time also. Wet and damp or very humid conditions also can make a Retic roam and push and those conditions also “soften” the animals skin, which makes damage while roaming or pushing easier to cause to the Retics face and head. Lower the humidity or increase the ventilation and many times this will help or stop the pushing. Some Retics will push when they go thru growth spurts or times of fast growth when looking for more food, this is easily corrected with more frequent feeding. Feeling secure is a very important key to keeping a Retic functioning properly, and sometime a hide area or different sized enclosure is needed. Many Retics don’t do well in too large of an enclosure, and while many keepers think they are doing their animal a service by providing a large enclosure, many times a large enclosure actually makes the animal feel very exposed and will cause the Retic to roam and push as it feels in-secure. Providing a hide area or smaller enclosure or lower lighting levels will often correct the issue.
-Remember to look at the entire situation when trying to correct this issue, and sometimes patience is needed also when dealing with this issue. Try different means of correction stated above to try to correct the issue and remember that some of them take some time to “set in” with the animal and lowering the stress for the animal is the most important tool.
Retics, because of their potential large size (mainland bloodlines) and somewhat demanding requirements, don’t always make the most suitable snakes as captive animals. But they can be extremely rewarding pets if the right research is done to learn about their needs and the time is taken to set them up right. Years of captive breeding and experience with this species in captivity have helped most CBB Retics become much more manageable and suitable for captivity.
While rasing up your Retic, learn to watch and observe the many "moods" that your animal has or can have. Learn what situations effect its attitude and how to manipulate those situations to keep the Retic as stress free and safe as possible. Learning to "read" your animals "moods" will help you and the animal many times over the course of its life and it may very well save you from a bite or worse. This becomes extremely important while dealing with sexually mature or "breeder" males. Some males can become aggressive or "moody" and or "flighty" when they become sexually mature, are breeding, or are in a room or home with cycling females or other pairs breeding. This is partially due to the massive amounts of hormones that are influencing the male Retics moods and mannerisms. Some males experience this to a great extent, and become extremely aggressive, especially when handled or near other males that they can smell. Extreme caution is needed when handling one male and then moving on to handle another male, as the second male will smell the first males scent on you and can turn aggressive towards you. On the other hand, there can be other males that seem completely un-phased by these situations and remain calm and normally behaved throught the entire breeding season or process. This is where learning to "read" your animals, respecting them and acting in a safe manner can be a very important part of daily interaction.
Many of the large constrictors can “learn” to recognize their keepers and can be comfortable with being held, although while handling or feeding even "tame" or "manageable" large sized retics (10+ feet), it is highly important to have someone qualified in the household or close vicinity to lend a hand should a dangerous situation arise. It can also be important to gain experience with other python species before committing to purchasing a large Retic, while many SD and Dwarf Retics can make a great pet for the majority of keepers as long as research is done to gain the knowledge needed to care for them properly and safely.
Take the time to make an educated decision about your purchase and weather or not you will be able to and motivated to take on the care and responsibility of the animal for its lifetime (which can be 15-20 years or more), and if you do decide to add one of these magnificent animals to your family, it can be the start to a very rewarding relationship.