The reticulated python epitomizes the saying "go big or go home" for reptile owners. The anaconda may get credit for being the world's largest snake, but the reticulated python is the world's longest snake. Native to Asia, this snake can grow up to 30 feet or longer and weigh roughly 350 pounds. However, most reticulated pythons in captivity stay in the 10- to 20-foot range and weigh around 100 to 200 pounds; females grow larger than males. They enjoy a range of beautiful colors, including olive green, gold, and tan, along with the diamond-like pattern from which they get their name. Perhaps the most beautiful are the albino reticulated pythons, which can be white, lavender, and purple. As pets, they can be somewhat feisty and aren't recommended for beginners. In terms of care, be prepared to spend several hours per week keeping the snake's environment clean, maintaining the heat and humidity levels, and feeding a balanced diet.
Common Name: Reticulated python
Scientific Name: Python reticulatus
Adult Size: 10 to 20 feet on average; can grow 30 feet or longer
Life Expectancy: 15 to 30 years
Reticulated Python Behavior and Temperament
Reticulated pythons are known for having a nasty temperament in the wild, but captive-bred retics (as they're nicknamed) can make great pets with the proper care and handling. But because of their spunky personality and sheer size, reticulated pythons are only recommended for those who have experience with snakes, especially those who have owned large pet snakes.
A reticulated python ideally should be acquired young from a reputable breeder or rescue organization, and it's very important to handle the python early and often to build trust between snake and owner. A retic bites when it's scared, so you should make sure the snake is active and alert before handling and not risk startling it awake.
In addition, reticulated pythons are known for their love of eating, so wash your hands before handling to avoid the retic mistaking your fingers for food. You should also show the snake your empty hand before handling it, and it's a good idea to pet the snake prior to picking it up to ensure a calmer reptile.
Young retics have a greater tendency to bite, which should reduce as they gain trust in their owner and become acclimated to handling. When holding a young snake, keep your fingers closed and palms flat to give it less opportunity to bite.
Housing the Reticulated Python
As you can imagine, the longest snake in the world will need some room to stretch out. But it's best to keep your reticulated python in a 10- to 15-gallon tank or vivarium when it's young, moving it to a larger enclosure once it reaches around 3 feet long.
A fully grown reticulated python needs housing that's at least 3 feet wide, 6 to 8 feet long, and 2 feet high. But remember that a young python can become intimidated when given too much space. Some owners choose to have enclosures of varying sizes that the snake can grow into. Outfitting the enclosure with rocks, plants, and other decor also will make it seem smaller and more comfortable for the snake.
All housing should be equipped with at least one hiding spot. For a young snake, this can be a small box with an opening. But larger retics might need something a bit more rugged, such as a hollow log. The python will also need a dish of clean water for drinking and potentially soaking. The dish should be solid enough that the python cannot tip or break it.
The enclosure should be maintained at about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit with at least one basking spot that is 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Having spots with multiple temperatures in the housing will allow the retic to balance its own temperature. There are a number of acceptable heat sources, including ceramic heaters and basking bulbs, placed outside the cage.
These snakes do not require special UV lighting. But their enclosure should have ambient light that mimics a natural day-night pattern.
Reticulated pythons prefer humidity levels between 50% to 70%. The water dish in the enclosure will provide some humidity, and you can lightly mist the area if you need to raise the humidity level. Regularly monitor the humidity with a reptile hygrometer.
The bottom of the enclosure should be lined with an appropriate bedding, or substrate. The substrate helps to maintain some humidity in the enclosure, and it can mimic the look and feel of the snake's natural environment. Options include newspaper, paper towels, and flat indoor-outdoor carpet. Replace soiled substrate as needed, and do a full change of the substrate at least every three months.
Pine and cedar mulch should be avoided as substrates because they are toxic to reptiles.
Food and Water
A young reticulated python might not care for frozen or dead food, so be prepared to feed it live prey—typically mice and rats. In fact, your python might never take to eating anything that isn't living, but most retics can eventually be trained to accept frozen or dead food.
The basic rule of thumb for feeding is to give one prey animal with a diameter that roughly matches the snake's diameter once a week. The retic can go two weeks between feedings, but it's best to keep stretches without food to 10 days maximum. It's also important not to feed the python too often. While overfeeding can help it grow quickly, it might develop health issues from this.
Live food can be dropped right into the enclosure, but frozen food should be warmed. Your retic won't enjoy an animal popsicle. You can thaw frozen food in warm water before handing it over to your snake. Avoid using a microwave or any heating source that might cook the food internally.
Try these tips to transition your snake from live food to dead or frozen food:
- Increase the time between feedings from seven to 10 days to ensure a healthy appetite.
- Try feeding your reticulated python at dusk when it's more active.
- Be careful not to force feed dead food. If the snake won't accept the food, go back to live food for a week or two.
- Use tongs to deliver the food, imitating a live animal by moving it slightly. But avoid putting the food right in your snake's face.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Reticulated pythons are prone to certain health and behavioral issues, including:
- Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases: Respiratory issues are a common ailment among reptiles, often caused by incorrect temperatures in the enclosure. They can cause the animal to wheeze when breathing. As a respiratory illness advances, it can cause the snake to secrete a cheesy substance.
- Parasites: Mites and other parasites can cause problems with any snake, so it's best to clean their housing on a regular basis and always wash your hands both before and after handling.
- Inclusion body disease: IBD is a deadly virus that can affect pythons and boa constrictors. Signs of the disease include the inability to constrict and the snake being unable to right itself when turned over.
- Mouth rot: This is an infection in the snake's mouth that often results from bacteria buildup plus a weakened immune system. Symptoms include loss of appetite and pus or drainage from the mouth or nose. It's important to have a veterinarian treat mouth rot promptly before the infection spreads to other parts of the body, such as the esophagus and lungs.
- Pushing: This is a behavioral issue, but it can lead to health problems. Reticulated pythons that regularly push their head against their enclosure can injure themselves. It can cause the head to swell, as well as other issues, such as mouth rot. If you notice pushing, clean the enclosure and make sure the temperature is correct. Retics tend to push when they are uncomfortable.
Choosing Your Reticulated Python
Aim to acquire a young reticulated python from a reputable breeder or rescue that can tell you about its health history. It's easy to choose an animal based on its coloring, but first and foremost, you want a healthy pet. Expect to pay around $200 to $500 for a young python.
Here are some signs to look for in a snake:
- The snake should be alert with its tongue flickering.
- The eyes should be clear, though they might be milky before shedding.
- There should be no visible cuts or bruises on the snake.
- There shouldn't be sores on or around the mouth or bubbles coming from the nose.
- The snake should be even-tempered. Retics are notorious for being defensive while young, but given a selection the calmest of the bunch might be the best choice.
Similar Species to the Reticulated Python
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Bacterial Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual
Simard, Jules et al. Prevalence Of Inclusion Body Disease And Associated Comorbidity In Captive Collections Of Boid And Pythonid Snakes In Belgium. PLOS ONE, vol 15, no. 3, 2020, p. e0229667. Public Library Of Science (Plos), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229667
Bacterial Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Medicine