Myths and Misconceptions about Keeping Blood Pythons
By Timothy Zedi
Blood Pythons are not commonly kept in South Africa and there are many misconceptions and myths about keeping this magnificent species that may put potential keepers off purchasing one. In this article I will put to rest some of these myths about keeping Red Blood Pythons. I have added a morph list to get you familiar with some of the awesome Blood Python morphs which are just now being imported into South Africa for the first time.
1. Blood Pythons need to be kept very warm
It was assumed that Blood Pythons like most tropical snakes required high temperatures in the lower to mid 30s degrees Celcius. You give Ball Pythons a hot spot of 32 degrees don’t you? So you would obviously keep a tropical python like a Blood Python at the same temperatures wouldn’t you? Well it turns out that Blood Pythons prefer temperatures lower than most other pythons and the preferred temperatures for Blood Pythons is 26-28 degrees Celsius (my male Blood Python hides under his water bowl to keep cool the moment the cage temperatures reach 30-32 degrees due to the heat wave we have been having). The big Blood Python breeders in the USA keep their entire snake room at this temperature by heating the entire room. In a small SA breeding facility or for the private keeper our room temperatures reach perfect Blood Python temperatures in summer so no heaters are needed. In winter heat can be provided by a heat pad or heat cable regulated by a good quality digital thermostat. Also note that Blood Pythons do not need to be cooled in order to breed like most other pythons such as Ball Pythons so don’t go dropping temperatures below optimum in order to breed them. Temperatures too high or too low will cause stress for your Blood Python, so monitor temperatures carefully with the use of a digital thermometer or a temperature gun.
2. Blood Pythons Require Very High Humidity
It was once thought that Blood Pythons required very high humidity and needed to be kept in dripping wet cages with up to 90% humidity. To maintain this high humidity level, keepers added huge water bowls moist hides and damp substrate which resulted in a cage that is difficult to clean and prone to bacterial growth. Infact Blood Pythons only require a moderate humidity level of 60-70% and this is easily maintained with the evaporation from a medium sized water bowl. I hardly ever have to spray my Blood Python enclosures to increase humidity except when they are going to shed then I spray the cages daily. The substrate I use is newspaper which is not kept damp and is replaced should the snakes spill their water bowls, so the substrate should be kept dry. Clean water must be provided at all times as Blood Pythons drink a lot. I use a simple dial hygrometer to monitor humidity levels. Blood Pythons enjoy soaking in their water bowls and they can regulate their own humidity requirements by doing this. Blood Pythons more than likely enjoy a good soak as they are often found in the swampy lowlands in their native habitat.
3. Blood Pythons Need Big Meals
Although not particularly long snakes Blood Pythons have a considerable girth and an adult Blood Python can easily consume a small rabbit and Blood Pythons of all ages can take largish prey and rarely refuse food. But should they be fed such large prey? The answer is no, Blood Pythons are like the Gaboon Vipers of the python world, short, stocky and very inactive and if fed too much or too large a prey item they will quickly become obese and like in humans an obese snake is an unhealthy snake. Having very slow metabolisms an adult Blood Python can survive quite happily on a single extra large jumbo rat every two weeks. Younger Blood Pythons can be fed weekly on appropriate sized frozen thawed rats. My meter long female Blood Python is currently feeding on medium rats and is doing very well judging by her girth she looks like she could take a large rat but a smaller meal of a single medium rat is much healthier.Blood Pythons of a healthy weight should have a slight ridge on their backs their spines should not be showing as this is an indication of being too thin and they should not appear completely round like a stuffed sausage as this means they are overweight.
4. Big Pythons need big cages
You might think that a big snake like a Blood Python would require a infections, well you would be wrong. Blood Pythons are ambush predators and in the wild would stay in one place for a very long time waiting for prey so they don’t move a lot. In captivity these snakes need very little space for their size and will stop feeding if kept in a cage that is too big. My Blood Pythons stay in the same spot in their cage for days on end, they sometimes choose a spot and stay there for an entire week or more so it would be a waste of time to keep them in huge cages. The trick with Blood Python housing is to gradually increase the size of the cage as the snake grows. Start hatchlings in 8 litre plastic tubs and at around 6 months of age move them into 11 litre Addis tubs, keep yearlings in 26 litre Addis tubs, small adults up to 3 years old can be kept in the FB70 tubs from the USA if you can get them. We don’t get tubs large enough for adult Blood Pythons in SA, keep adults in a display cage measuring 1.2m x 60cm x 45cm
5. Blood Pythons are Prone to Respiratory Infections
The originally wild caught Blood Pythons were known to get respiratory infections more than likely due to the stress of capture. If you purchase a captive bred Blood Python and keep it at the correct humidity and temperatures it will be no more prone to respiratory infections than your average Boa Constrictor. The tip here is to always buy captive bred pythons and to monitor temperatures and humidity especially in winter. If you do this your Blood Python will live a life free of the “snake flu”. Blood Pythons sometimes puff when handled, this is normal and does not mean the snake has a respiratory infection.
6. Blood Pythons are Super Aggressive
Back in the early days of Blood Python keeping when most Blood Pythons in the pet trade were wild caught adults they gained the reputation as being very aggressive and Blood Python keepers got the nickname ” blood donors” due to the number of bites they received. Now that most Blood Pythons are captive bred this reputation is changing. Captive bred Blood Pythons are much calmer and most are very easy to handle, don’t get me wrong they are not pet rocks like Ball Pythons and some Blood Pythons can have a bit of an attitude especially as hatchlings. I was very supprised at how calm my imported captive bred Blood Python is. She was kept with a US breeder for two years and never handled and I was expecting a demon of a snake instead I got a puppy dog tame python that is a pleasure to handle, so even with minimal interaction on the part of the keeper these pythons can be calm snakes .Always support your Blood Pythons body and do not drape them over your shoulders as these heavy bodied snakes do not like the feeling of hanging in mid air. Support your adult Blood Python using both hands. Hold the Blood Python under the front of its body using one hand and use your other hand to support its mid body. Do not handle your Blood Python after feeding, before it sheds or if you have been handling rodents. Note that the same phenomenon happened with Reticulated Pythons. Reticulated Pythons got a bad reputation for being aggressive due to wild caught animals entering the pet trade and once captive bred pythons became available these individuals have a much calmer attitude and can be handled easier just like with the Blood Pythons.
7. Why is My Red Blood Python not very red in colour?
Normal red Blood Pythons are red with yellow blotches and sometimes with a stripe running down the back. The best quality red Blood Pythons are stunning snakes which are bright blood red with clear crisp yellow markings. Many of the red Blood Pythons in South Africa are actually crosses between Red Blood Pythons and Borneo Short Tailed Pythons. This results in a snake which has dull reddish brown and tan yellow coluration and which looks much less appealing than a pure Red Blood Python. Blood Pythons start out as chocolate or rust brown with dull yellow markings and only get the full red colouration at 2 years of age. Blood Pythons are like a fine wine they just get better with age. Pure high quality Red Blood Pythons are being imported into South Africa and babies from these imports should be available for sale in the near future. Expect to pay more for a pure bred Red Blood Python or their offspring than you would for a Blood Python that was bred from stock that has been in the country for a while as the pure Red Blood Pythons look so much better and therefore demand a higher price.
Bonus Info Morph List
Matrix Blood Pythons can be difficult to tell apart from normal Blood Pythons if you dont know what to look for so it is best to purchase them from a reliable breeder. Matrix Blood Pythons have what can be described as a pixilated pattern with the markings looking block like. Matrix Blood Pythons also have a more tan coluration and speckeled sides. Matrix Blood Pythons are a co dominant morph which means if you breed a Matrix Blood Python with a normal Blood Python half the babies will be Matrix and half the babies will be normal.
Ivory Blood Pythons look nothing like a normal Blood Python. An Ivory Blood Python is 90% white with a few dark speckles on the body. Ivory Blood Pythons are the super form of the Matrix Blood Python and are the result of breeding two Matrix Blood Pythons together. Breeding two Matrix Blood Pythons together will result in 25 % of the babies being Ivory Blood Pythons.
Albino Blood Pythons are lacking the dark pigment melanin and are orange, red and cream and have a caramel colour to them. Albinism is a recessive trait and to get an albino you can breed two albino Blood Pythons together to produce an entire clutch of albino Blood Pythons or breed an albino Blood Python to a normal Blood Python to produce hets and then breed the hets together to produce a clutch containing some albinos and some hets and possible hets. There are both T- and T+ albino strains of Blood Python. The T- strain is much lighter in colour almost yellowish while the T+ strain is darker in colour with more visible patterning.
High Grade Red Blood Pythons
Some breeders have been working on line breeding Red Blood Pythons for several generations to produce high red animals. One of these lines is the VPI line of Red Blood Pythons. This VPI line is a bright red colouration often with striping. With the VPI line this striping has proved to be genetic and stripe adults will produce striped babies. These high grade Blood Pythons are often refered to as ” trophy bloods” and are well worth the investment.