There is a Ball Python craze going on at the moment with Ball Pythons selling like hot cakes. Sometimes I wonder if the expos are turning into Ball Python fairs as there are so many be sold with every second person walking out with a newly purchased Ball Python. But let’s not forget that there are about 30 different species of python, many of which make really great pets. This article is for those reptile enthusiasts who want to add some diversity to their python collection.
There are three different species of Blood Pythons also known as Short Tailed Pythons. The Red Blood Python, the Black Blood Python or Sumatran Short Tailed Python and the Borneo Short Tailed Python. These snakes grow to an average size of 1.8m long but they can get longer with the maximum stated length of the Red Blood Python being 3m, however most specimens will not exceed 2.5m. The Red Blood Python is the largest species growing longer on average than the other two species. Blood Pythons are extremely stocky snakes and while they lack the length of the giant pythons they make up for it in girth with adult females weighing up to 20kg. Blood Pythons were first available as wild caught adults and gained a reputation for being hyper aggressive, poor feeders and prone to respiratory infections. Luckily captive bred Blood Pythons are now available and are completely different from the wild caught specimens being docile, great feeders and easy to maintain in captivity. Blood Pythons are ambush predators and dislike large open spaces and they do well in rack systems. Unfortunately adult Blood Pythons get too big for the tubs available in South Africa and will have to be moved into a display style cage. Blood Pythons are a great alternative to those who want something much bigger than a Ball Python but don’t have the space for a Burmese Python or Reticulated Python. Blood Pythons are still relatively uncommon in South Africa but this will change as new blood lines are imported in the next few years and as the imported pythons are bred by dedicated keepers. Blood Python morphs such as albinos, ivories and matrix are being imported into South Africa. Blood Pythons are considered an intermediate species and are best suited to the people who have successfully kept a few snakes already.
Carpet Pythons are a semi arboreal python species found in Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are several subspecies of Carpet Python including the Jungle Carpet Python, Coastal Carpet Python, Inland Carpet Python, Diamond Python, Darwin’s Carpet Python and Irian Jaya Carpet Python. These pythons range in size from 1.8m -2.5m long depending on subspecies. Carpet Pythons are active snakes and require large cages preferably containing branches to allow them to climb. Carpet Pythons can be aggressive especially as hatchlings and juveniles but often tame down as adults. Carpet Pythons make great display animals due to their active nature and impressive coloring. Several morphs exist such as Jaguar Jungle Carpet Pythons, Zebra, Granite, Axanthic, Caramel and even albino. Carpet Pythons are a great alternative to Ball Pythons for those who want a large, attractive and active snake that will explore its surroundings rather than just lie curled up in a ball in its hide box. Carpet Pythons are readily available in South Africa with the exception of a few of the more rare subspecies and some of the high end morphs.
Angolan Dwarf Python
Angolan Dwarf Pythons look similar to Ball Pythons and have the nickname Ornate Ball Pythons overseas. These pythons do have several differences from Ball Pythons being larger growing to a maximum length of 1.8m and these pythons have slightly granulated scales which give the snake a unique appearance. Angolan Dwarf Pythons also known as Anchieta’s Dwarf Python occurs in arid regions in both Namibia and Angola and are rarely found in the wild. This species is fully protected in Namibia and most specimens available in the pet trade will be captive bred. Angolan Dwarf Pythons are occasionally available in South Africa and have a high price tag at present, although some Ball Python morphs are as expensive. This interesting python is great for snake keepers who want to stick to the Ball Python theme but want a rare and unique species in their collections.
Bismarck Ringed Python
The natural appearance of Bismarck Ringed Python hatchlings rivals the most colourful Ball Python morph. These pythons hatch out bright orange with large black spots that can form bands which encircle the whole body. Unfortunately these colours dull down as these snakes mature with adults being brown with subdued orange rings. Bismarck Ringed Pythons are medium sized snakes with adults reaching a maximum length of just under 2m. These pythons require humid conditions but other than this are easy to keep. If the Bismarck Ringed Python retained its hatchling colours into adulthood it would probably be the most sought after pet python of all. Breeders are attempting to produce adults with increased orange banding through line breeding which is the practice of breeding pythons with increased orange together to produce pythons which have much more orange as adults. Line breeding can take many generations to achieve so adult Bismarck Ringed Pythons with bright orange bands will take a very long time to produce but when this happens these snakes will most definitely become very popular. Bismarck Ringed Pythons are a nice alternative to Ball Pythons for those looking to produce great looking snakes through an intense and interesting breeding project.
The Children’s Python Complex
The genus Antaresia are a group of small Australian pythons that include the Children’s Python, Blotched Python, Stimson’s Python and the Anthill Python. All these pythons stay small with all the species growing to less than 1.5m long with the Anthill Python rarely exceeding 60cm in length. Their small size makes them very manageable pythons that only require small cages, small food items and are easy to handle. These snakes are more active than Ball Pythons and make a great pet python for those keepers looking for a miniature version of the larger pythons. These pythons feed well on rodents as adults. Hatchlings are very small and may prefer lizards at first, so make sure the babies you buy are feeding on pinkie mice before you bring them home. I have seen all these species for sale with the exception of the Anthill Python. There are some colour and pattern morphs of these pythons in Australian collections, however no wildlife can legally be exported from the land down under, so unless the laws change ( which is highly unlikely) these morphs will remain in Australia forever.
Green Tree Python
Green Tree Pythons are completely arboreal and spend all their time in trees and bushes in the wild and require a vertically oriented cage in captivity to allow them to spend time above the terrarium floor. Adult Green Tree Pythons are bright green as adults but babies are lemon yellow or brick red and turn completely green by 2 years of age. Some individuals retain a portion of their juvenile coloration as adults and these specimens are highly sought after. This difference in colour is known as an ontogenetic colour change and is due to the fact that babies and adults have different habitat types and require different colours to camouflage themselves. Green Tree Pythons naturally occur in Australia and Papua New Guinea. All Green Tree Pythons in captivity originate from Papua New Guinea and several locality types are available. These locality types have slight differences in appearance and temperament. Green Tree Pythons are aggressive snakes that require specific conditions to thrive in captivity and are best suited to the advanced snake keeper. Green Tree Pythons are great display snakes for the advanced hobbyist who wants more of a challenge than your average Ball Python can provide.
Macklot’s Python and Other Water Pythons
The genus Liasis contains several species which enjoy being in and around the water. These species include the Macklot’s Python, Savu Python and Olive Python. These species naturally occur in mainland Australia in the case of the Olive Python and Indonesia in the case of Macklot’s Python and Savu Python. The Olive Python is a large snake reaching 4m in length that has an aggressive temperament and is unsuitable as a pet for most snake keepers. The Macklot’s and Savu Python are much smaller reaching an average adult length of 1.8m and although they are known to be aggressive they make manageable pets. These pythons can be tamed down with regular handling but some may not tame down completely. The Macklot’s Python and Savu Python have an iridescent sheen to their skin which shows best in naturalistic light, this along with their active nature makes them interesting display snakes. This python makes a good alternative to a Ball Python for keepers who want an active snake with some attitude.
The two most commonly available giant python species in South Africa are the Burmese Python and the Reticulated Python. Both of these snakes can exceed 5m in length and as adults require an experienced and dedicated owner. As adults these pythons cannot be safely handled by a single person, require huge cages and lots of large prey items. For these reasons I don’t think the giant pythons are as popular as they once were especially with the availability of smaller python species, but they do have a place in the hobby. Owning one of the large python species is the ultimate challenge for the python keeper and they can make very rewarding pets as long as you understand the commitment required to take care of a 6m long snake that can live for more than 20 years. Both Reticulated Pythons and Burmese Pythons come in a ton of morphs with the albino Burmese Python being one of the very first snake morphs to be produced. There are dwarf forms of Reticulated Pythons that originate on islands off the Asian mainland. The smallest of these dwarf Reticulated Pythons reach a maximum of 3m which still makes them large snakes but a lot smaller than the mainland Reticulated Pythons which have a maximum recorded length of 9-10m. Burmese Pythons and Reticulated Pythons are an alternative to Ball Pythons for those keepers who like things supersized.
For me the hallmark of a great snake collection is diversity. You cannot enjoy the snake keeping hobby to the fullest if you only keep Ball Pythons no matter how many different morphs they come in. Pythons show a huge variety of different behaviors and inhabit a lot of different habitat types and come in all different body shapes and colours. So do yourself a favour and add some different pythons to your snake collection. After all variety is the spice of life.