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Old 07-23-04, 09:32 AM   #1
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Giant Python FAQ - look here first

Giant Python FAQ

What temperature should my giant python be kept at?
I find a temperature gradient of 82 - 90/95 works well for most giant pythons. While some will tolerate cooler temperatures, special care should be taken with Burmese pythons so they are not subject to cooler temperatures too much of the time.

How should I measure the temperature?
Stick on thermometers do not work well and they only measure the ambient (air) temperature around it. To measure the temps in your cage, you will need something that measures the surface temperatures in the cage, such as a temp gun or digital thermometer with a remote probe that can be placed in various areas around the cage.

What is the best way to heat my snake?
I prefer to use a bottom heat method, such as undercage heaters or heat tape. These are the most efficient method as they cost less, last longer, are very low wattage, and since heat rises, it makes more sense to heat from the bottom than the top. You can also use heat panels, incandescent bulbs, or ceramic heat emitters – or a combination of top, bottom or side heat. .

What wattage bulb should I use?
Nobody can tell you, as it will be different with each home and enclosure. You will need to experiment to see which fits your situation best.

What should I keep the humidity level at?
All of the giant pythons come from areas where it is usually quite humid, so keeping the humidity above or around 60% is generally a good idea. Misting the large snakes and their enclosure down is a good way to give them higher humidity. High humidity, as well as good temperatures, seems vitally important to the long-term health of the Burmese python. Respiratory infections can be caused from low temperature or humidity.

What kind of enclosure should I have?
Babies can be housed in Rubbermaid’s with holes drilled for ventilation, and older snakes can be housed in custom enclosures. If using an aquarium and a screen lid (while they are young) cover most of the screen lid with a vapour barrier to hold in humidity. When the snake grows larger (which they will do), you will need a much larger enclosure. We keep our big ones in 3’ x 8’ enclosures – which takes up a lot of room. Make sure you have this room before acquiring one as a baby.

What is the best substrate?
You should avoid any softwoods, such as pine, fir, and especially cedar! These contain phenols which can be harmful to your snake, some can even be potentially fatal! Some safe substrates include, but are not limited to, newspaper, papertowel, flannel sheets, Carefresh, and cypress mulch. I prefer a mixture of cypress mulch and leaves. Substrates that should be avoided include, but are not limited to, astro-turf, gravel, soil, softwood mulch/chips, and sand. Note that most loose substrates come with inherent risk of ingestion, which can pose problems such as impaction.

How big will my giant get?
This depends on the species, but generally be prepared for a burm, rock or retic to attain lengths of greater than 16’. 20’ Retics are not uncommon.

Do males stay smaller than females – how big will my male get
I’ve seen adult male burms that were less than 10’ long, just like a boa. I’ve also seen 16’ male Burmese, as big as a large female. Sometimes males stay small, but don’t buy a male and expect it to stay smaller than the 16’ mark – be prepared for a possible 16’ snake.

How much should I feed my giant?
Any of the giant pythons, will sometimes eat anything you put in front of them. This does not mean you should feed them every day. A growing python will grow according to the amount of food, and the climate it is living in. While some people feed their Burmese python to 12’ in 1 year hoping for a really big snake, this is not healthy or normal for the snake. Babies can be fed every 5 days; sub adults once a week, and we usually prefer to feed our 3-4 year olds every 2 weeks, but some feed them weekly.

What should I feed my giant python?
Newborn babies can eat full-grown mice. Soon, they will be eating rats, full grown rats, and then it will be time for rabbits. Frozen rabbits are not as easy to find as frozen mice and rats, and a steady supply should likely be found before you purchase a baby giant. We can get 10 lb + rabbits, which are huge rabbits, and we are lucky to get those. 2 of them make an adequate meal for our large retics. Other people use sheep, goats, baby pigs and poultry. Some of the giants can get fussy on baby pigs and types of poultry, and will not eat anything else – so we don’t use them as food. Also, freezing and thawing of any large whole poultry item is a salmonella risk, to you and your snake.

Is my giant sick? What is Burmese disease?
The most common ailments in captive snakes are parasitic, bacterial and respiratory infections. If your snake is having runny defecations, not eating well, lethargic, underweight (losing weight or having trouble gaining), or gaping it's mouth; your snake may be suffering from a parasitic or bacterial infection. A fecal flotation and smear as well as a tracheal wash/culture should be done to determine the exact culprit, and appropriate medicinal treatment should be followed. If your snake is making gurgling sounds from the throat, popping or other obvious breathing sounds, blowing bubbles from the mouth, gaping his/her mouth, and congested with mucus, it likely has a respiratory infection. During treatment periods, it may be helpful to slightly increase the overall temperatures in the cage (from the above mentioned temperatures) to help "burn" out the sickness, much like a simulated fever. Low temps and humidity can cause bacterial respiratory infections.

Burmese Disease is a term that has been used for a large number of chronic respiratory infections in that species. It is a controversial topic, some people think it is a specific bacterial infection, others, and I would tend to agree, think it is from chronic low temperatures or humidity. After the first R.I., subsequent infections are easier for the snake to get, and harder to treat. Some people believe that Albino and Patternless Burmese pythons are more likely to get “Burmese disease”.

Why is my snake soaking?
If your snake is soaking in his dish a lot, there may be a few reasons. Mites are a common reason a snake may soak. Do you see little black specks in his water or crawling on your snake? Your snake may also soak if the humidity is too low in the tank and/or he is going in to a shed. Your snake may also be soaking if the temperatures in the cage are too hot. Sometimes snakes will also seek refuge in their water bowls if there are not other suitable hiding spots.

How do I get rid of mites?
There are several ways to get rid of mites, each with their own pros and cons. Some of the most popular treatments include Nix lice shampoo (available in your local pharmacy), Black Knight roach killer, Prevent-a-Mite (same ingredient as Nix), and Reptile Relief.
The 2 I trust are nix and Black Knight roach killer.
Nix can be bought at any pharmacy, Black Knight roach killer is hard to find in Canada – but is sometimes available at reptile shows. We use Black Knight for new acquisitions that we know have mites. Simply spray the snake down (keep the nozzle 3’ away, as the temperature coming out of the can is very cold) preferably outside of it’s enclosure.
Nix is my favorite treatment – and we also use it as preventative medicine. Mix 1 full bottle in 1 gallon of water (tap water works fine). Put that diluted mixture in a spray bottle, and shake well before using. Spray the snake and it’s cage. If spraying the cage, remove the water bowl for a day or 2, so the snake doesn’t ingest any of the nix. If the snake has mites, a close inspection should show them trying to find a safe spot away from the nix (usually the snakes face). If you know the snake has mites, and are treating it – I’d suggest removing the snake into a rubber tub, and heavily spraying so the water piles up on it. Then clean out the cage, and spray it heavily. Repeat this every 5-7 days for 3 or 4 treatments. If you have more than 1 snake, chances are they all have mites, and you’ll need to treat everyone and all the enclosures, as well as the nooks and cranny’s, the carpets, any racks – any place a mite can hide or lay eggs.

Safety precautions
These are big snakes, and big snakes are potentially dangerous. There are a few things we do, which we feel helps prevent our chances of injury. There are no “minor accidents” with a 20’ snake.
Enclosure design: For the big snakes, we have one door that they use to come out of the enclosure (notice, I didn’t say that we use it to take them out of the enclosure), and another door that we use for feeding. They do not associate the access door with food, but they sure know what the food door is all about. The feeding door is small, and built at the top of the enclosure so we can safely dangle a food item on a pair of tongs, and keep the door closed enough so the snake can’t get out. A large python in feeding response mode is something you don’t fully comprehend until you witness it, or have trouble caused by it.
Tongs: We use feeding tongs and python hooks for moving cage furniture, feedings, cleanings etc… - even with the “tame” giants. I have been struck at by our tamest retic when cleaning some faeces with a gloved hand, from the access door. If I had not luckily been moving my hand away anyways – typing this today would take a lot longer.
Handling: Always, Always, Always have a second person around for any giant python over 8’. Even a 6’ snake can really render 1 person helpless, so it is good practice to always have a second person around. A 16’ snake is too much snake for just 2 people, so 3rd and 4th people should be available for cases of larger snakes. Even the tamest snake is prone to a bad hair day. It only takes 1 bad minute, or second – in 10 years of joyful giant snake keeping….. Have protocol and stick with it always.
Temperamental snakes: Some retics, a few burms, and most African rocks are just not friendly snakes. You shouldn’t try to tame a 12’ snake – it is just too big to try and tame down. We have a few of these, and have had some real bad ones in the last couple of years – and their cages still need cleaning and maintenance. The easiest way to catch a snake like this is a trap box, if your snake will go in the box. Large snake baggers, or a length of sauno tube and a large bag can also be used to secure the snake. If you need to physically restrain the snake yourself (it’s escaped it’s cage) call on someone who has done it before so they can show you how to do it, this is not trial and error stuff.
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