*Children’s Python

Children’s Python

Introduction

The Children’s python is a non-venomous snake belonging to the family Pythonidae. It is a mostly nocturnal species that is found across the north of Australia from northern Western Australia to north western Queensland. The Children’s python feeds on small mammals, birds and other reptiles, constricting the prey before swallowing it whole. The species can grow to a maximum size of just over a metre but are typically smaller, they are generally a reddish brown colour, with a darker top side and can be either blotched or unpatterned.

The Children’s python is a popular pet for reptile enthusiasts and is commonly seen in zoos throughout Australia. It is regarded as a suitable snake for keeping in schools due to its size, hardiness in captivity, good nature and and it is non-venomous. Because of their size when mature, species, such as the Carpet python and Diamond Python are not recommended for keeping in schools.

A reptile expert or veterinarian should be contacted prior to purchasing snakes for schools.

Environment

Temperature

The ideal temperature range for a Children’s python is 22 – 36°C. It is important to create a temperature gradient within the python’s enclosure with a basking area at 36°C at one end of the enclosure and the opposite end from the basking area down to 22°C. This allows the animal to move from hotter to cooler areas to thermoregulate as it would in its natural environment.

The heat source can be provided by a heat lamp or a heat pad to create a basking area that enables the animal to reach the body temperature it desires. As mentioned above, the heat source should be at one end of the enclosure and not in the middle as this can reduce the range of the temperature gradient and may not allow the snake access to cooler temperatures.

A temperature gun should be used to regularly monitor the temperature in different areas of the enclosure and ensure the enclosure is not becoming too hot or too cold. Heat lamps should be switched off at night to replicate the natural daylight hours. The use of a timer for lamps and lights is recommended. If the enclosure is kept in cooler/more temperate region a heat pad should be used to provide heat to the enclosure at night when the lights are turned off.

Ventilation

Children’s pythons require good ventilation and this can be provided by installing air vents at either end or top of the enclosure, depending on its design. A plastic air vent similar to the one pictured below that can be purchased from a hardware store is ideal. When choosing an air vent it should be remembered that snakes are masters at squeezing themselves through smallish gaps and that the vents are of a size that would make it impossible for the animal to escape.

plactic vent

Lighting

Children’s pythons require a UVB light tube in their enclosure as well as a heat source, which can be provided by using a heat lamp or heat pad.

It is recommended to use light timers to ensure that lights are switched on and off to replicate the natural daylight hours.

Enclosure

Spatial requirements

Children’s pythons must be housed in an enclosure that is appropriately sized in relation to the size of the snake. For example, juvenile snakes must be in smaller enclosures and then be moved into larger enclosures as they grow and reach mature size. Adult snakes require larger enclosures.

Enclosure size is an important aspect of housing snakes as young snakes will feel vulnerable in an enclosure that is too large and hence may not thrive. Similarly, snakes that are housed in an enclosure that is too small may not thrive as they won’t be able to move around as they would in their natural habitat.

Glass aquariums with a secure mesh top can be used as snake enclosures but are not ideal as glass has poor insulation properties and can allow the enclosure to cool down too easily or over heat quickly for example if it has sun shining directly on it. Wooden custom built with glass fronts and commercially available enclosure (examples pictured below) are preferable and are recommended as they provide a safe and secure environment for both the snake and handler and also allow easy observation of the snake’s activity. Children’s pythons should not be housed in outdoor enclosure in NSW.
snake enclosure

snake enclosure on a cupboard

It is recommended to use a long rectangular shaped enclosure with a reasonable height that may allow snakes to climb onto furniture and move about easily. When purchasing juvenile snakes, it is important to consider that multiple enclosures will be needed at different stages of the snake’s growth.

The tank must provide the minimum spatial requirements for pythons and are based on the extended length from snout to tail tip of the longest animal to be housed in the enclosure.

The minimum spatial requirement for Children’s pythons can be found in the Standards for Exhibiting Reptiles in New South Wales. These standards state that the minimum spatial requirements for one specimen are (L refers to the extended length from snout to tail tip of the longest animal to be housed in the enclosure):

The enclosures must be no less than 0.25L2 (0.5L x 0.5L) or 20cm x 30cm, whichever is greater with no dimension less than 0.3L. However, for an adult Children’s Python these minimum sizes are not ideal and it is always recommended to provide more space if possible so they can move around as they would in their natural habitat.

Floor

The floor of a snake enclosure can be covered with a variety of substrates. “Butchers paper” two or three sheets thick can be used as the lining of the enclosure. Paper must be replaced as required when it becomes wet or soiled. More natural looking substrates that can be used include sand and coco peat mix with leaf litter, these can be “spot cleaned” with faeces and the surrounding substrate removed as needed. Soil type substrates must be removed and replaced at least once per term or more often as required.

Furniture

Furniture in the snake enclosure should provide the snake with shelter and areas that they can climb and sit upon and also helps enrich the snake’s environment. Although aesthetically it is nice to replicate the natural environment where the snake would typically live and take shelter with the use of natural furnishings such as rocks, branches and hollow logs, other “unnatural” furnishing can work just as well. These could include cardboard boxes, bricks/pavers and commercially available furnishings such as plastic hide boxes and plastic/terracotta plant pot/saucers (you can cut a hole in these to make an entry/exit for the snake and place it upside down in the enclosure to make a hide). It is important that snakes have multiple places to hide and have privacy in order to feel safe in their enclosure.

When providing furniture for a snake enclosure it is important to remember that some furnishings can be a cause of danger for the animal. For example, if heavy furnishings are used, they can pose a risk of crushing the snake if they somehow shift due to not securely been planted in the enclosure. Also if moving heavy furniture, the snake should be removed from the enclosure first to prevent the risk of accidently dropping the furniture on top of the snake. These can be provided using boxes or any other mostly enclosed container with an entry hole or a hollow log. Specially designed snake furniture is also commercially available.

It is important to provide a hiding area at the warm end and the cool end of the enclosure to allow snakes to move to an appropriate temperature that suits them.

Nutrition and Water

Water

Children’s pythons must be supplied with clean drinking water at all times. Water should be provided in a shallow dish that is large enough for the snake to curl up in and submerge its whole body, while being easily accessible for the snake to exit and enter. The water dish should be appropriate to the snake’s size and juvenile snakes should be provided with smaller shallow water dishes.

Water dishes should be cleaned and refreshed daily.

Snakes that are shedding may need to access water to help soften the skin that they are shedding. If a snake appears to be having trouble shedding their skin, they can be placed in a secure container with a lid and a shallow depth of warm water (25 to 29°C) to soften the skin for a period of time no greater than an hour. The snake’s keeper will then have to remove the retained skin manually (It should be noted that when soaking a snake like this the water depth in the container should be no higher than halfway up the snakes body as if it is any higher the snake will have to constantly swim and there is a risk of drowning if the snake tires.)

When a snake sheds its skin, it is also important to ensure that the skin has come away from the snake completely as sometimes it can get caught and retained on parts of the animal which can lead to constriction and health problems. A couple of the more common areas that this can happen is the tail tip and the eyes. Retained skin in both these areas can be difficult to notice, therefore after each time the snake sheds it is essential that it is closely checked over.

One of the most common issues with retained skin is if caught on the tail tip it can constrict the tail reducing blood flow that in turn leads to necrosis and the loss of the end of the tail and may also lead to infection that could be life threatening.

Nutrition

The best and most common commercially available food for feeding snakes is whole mice. These can be purchased frozen from reptile stores and some pet stores and can be purchased in quantities that will last several months and kept in the freezer until needed. Frozen mice can be purchased in a range of sizes to allow appropriate sized mice to be purchased for the size of the snake. Frozen mice must be defrosted and fully thawed prior to feeding.

Feeding live animals to snakes is prohibited in schools.

A typical feeding schedule for a juvenile snake is one appropriately sized mouse per week. An adult snake is typically fed once every 2 weeks. When snakes are going through their “skin shedding cycle” (the eyes appear a blue-grey colour and the skin becomes dull and opaque) they will often refuse to eat and do not need to be fed.

Great care should be taken while feeding snakes as there is potential for them to mistake a handlers hand or arm for their prey, leading to accidental bites. Snakes should be fed using a long pair of forceps or similar tool to ensure that the food is held away from the handlers hand and arm.

Hygiene

Snake enclosures must be spot cleaned daily to remove faeces and uneaten food. The substrate should be removed and replaced once per term or as needed and if paper is used, it should be replaced as needed and no less than once per week.

Water bowls should be cleaned and disinfected at least one a week.

A full clean of the tank should occur every term (10 weeks) including removal and replacement of substrate and cleaning and disinfecting of entire tank (if paper is used as a substrate the enclosure should be disinfected every time the paper is changed). While furniture should be removed and disinfected and scrubbed whenever it is dirty. A full tank clean will require the snake to be temporarily removed.

More

Basic Health Checks

As in humans there is an endless list of potential health conditions that could affect a Children’s Python, listed below are a few of the more common health issues that could possibly arise:

Respiratory illness – The causes of this can be a number of reasons including viruses, bacteria, extreme humidity (both too high and too low) and being kept at an inappropriate temperature. Some of the symptoms of respiratory illness may include open mouthed breathing ( caused by the snake’s nostrils been clogged with dried mucus), fluid in and around the nostrils and lips of the snake which can lead to bubbles forming when the snake breaths and the snake coughing or sneezing. If a snake shows any evidence of respiratory illness it should be taken to a veterinarian (preferably one that specializes in reptiles).

Retained Slough (skin) – As discussed above under the “Water” heading, snakes will sometimes have trouble shedding all of their skin and it may remain stuck to various parts of the animals body. Generally, it is easy to remove this stuck skin by soaking the snake in the water and if the skin does not come off of its own accord, it can be manually removed by hand.

Snake Mite – The mite Ophionyssus natricis is a parasite that feeds on a snake’s blood and is found in reptile collections worldwide. Like many parasites, when feeding on animals they can spread disease and be irritating to the host. They can be hard to see but they often congregate around the eyes, cloaca and in the groove under the chin (mental groove) of the Children’s Python. There are a few different life stages of this mite but when it is most visible it appears as a small black dot with a faint pale spot in the centre. One sign that your Children’s Python may have an infestation of Snake Mite is that it is constantly sitting in its water bowl.This is assumed to help relieve any irritation and to drown the mites. If the snake does have mites and you remove it from the water bowl in which it has been soaking, you should be able to observe a number of drowned mites in the bottom of the container.

There is a number of chemical treatments to combat Snake Mite (these should be prescribed by a veterinarian) and should involve treating the snake, the enclosure in which it resides and all furnishings. Also if the animal enclosure has a substrate this should be removed and the snake kept on paper until after the treatment has finished.

As has already been mentioned, if a snake is showing any of these symptoms or there are any other concerns with the animals health, a veterinarian should be consulted.

Handling

Handling of most snakes including Children’s Pythons should be kept to a minimum. They do not particularly enjoy been picked up or nursed and therefore most handling should be restricted to moving the snake for cleaning, health checks and other husbandry purposes.

A snake hook can be a useful tool to make first contact when picking up a snake as it is at this time that a bite is most likely to occur. This can be due to a couple of reasons. Firstly if the snake is startled by a large warm hand suddenly grabbing at it, it may want to defend itself, and the other the snake assumes the warm hand entering its enclosure is food been presented to it and therefore it bites its assumed meal. When handling the snake should be supported from underneath and evenly with open hands.

Unless being restrained for a specific purpose such as a health check, the snake should never be held with closed hands preventing movement as this will cause stress to the animal and may lead to it becoming defensive. Also snakes do not like to be touched or petted on the head and this should not be done.

Also handling a Children’s Python for a few days after the snake is fed is not advised as this can cause the snake to regurgitate its meal.