How to Care for Your Reticulated Python
Reticulated pythons (Malayopython reticulatus) are giant snakes native to southeast Asia. They are highly adaptable and can be found primarily in forests or wetlands. They are both capable swimmers and climbers, often observed either high up in a tree or hanging out in a body of water.
Like many other pythons, reticulated pythons have thick, muscular bodies, elongated heads, visible heat pits around the snout, and vertical pupils. Typical wild-type coloration is a golden to brown base color with a black and orange zig-zag pattern down the snake’s length. The eyes are distinctive and bright orange in color. Captive breeding has produced a variety of alternative colors and patterns known as “morphs.”
As the world’s longest snake, reticulated pythons are capable of growing as large as 32’ long, but it’s more typical for them to top out between 15-20’ long. However, there are dwarf localities of M. reticulatus which are smaller. “Dwarf” retics generally grow up to 10-12’ long, and “super dwarf” retics generally stay between 6-8’ long. In all cases, males grow to be significantly smaller than females.
Reticulated pythons are very popular as educational reptiles and zoo specimens due to their immense size, but it is this immense size that makes them poor pets for all but the most dedicated and prepared keepers. They require lots of space, upkeep, and expense. Furthermore, it is essential to bear in mind that these are powerful animals capable of severely injuring and even killing humans who don’t take the right precautions!
With good care, reticulated pythons can live up to 30 years.
How much space do reticulated pythons need?
Reticulated pythons are very large animals, and as such need a very large enclosure. Although many sources will tell you that an 8’L x 4’W x 4’H enclosure or even smaller is “plenty” for this species, it is important to keep in mind that a healthy reticulated python is actually a very active animal. Space must be provided for the snake to fully stretch out, climb, explore, and thermoregulate effectively. The above dimensions are suitable only for dwarf retics.
A more appropriate “minimum” for this species needs to be based on the size of the snake. Because reticulated python length is highly variable, use this formula to determine the absolute minimum enclosure size for your pet: The length and width of the enclosure should be equal to or more than the length of the snake. Height should be as tall as possible to facilitate natural climbing behavior; at least 4-6’.
If you’re buying your reticulated python as a juvenile, make sure to get information from the breeder about the size of the snake’s parents. The father’s length will give you an estimate of how long your pet will grow if male, and the mother’s length will give you an estimate of how long your pet will grow if female.
For enclosures larger than 8x4x4, you will need to be prepared to build it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you. Expect the enclosure to end up at least as large as a shed or small room. The enclosure must also be completely secured against the potential of escape. These are smart, strong animals. As you design and build the enclosure, make sure that all possibilities for escape are fully addressed.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple reticulated pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do reticulated pythons need UVB?
Reticulated pythons are known to be able to survive without UVB lighting, but that does not mean that it’s not best practice to provide it. Your snake needs access to appropriate amounts of UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. Providing UVB lighting to your snake gives them all of the vitamin D that their body needs, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
The UVB bulb should be half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Place this fixture so it overlaps with the heat lamps. Because UVB strength declines with distance from the source, you will need to install the basking branch at a specific distance based on the bulb you’re using:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
- Mesh obstruction: 11-13”
- No mesh: 14-16”
- Arcadia Forest 6%
- Mesh obstruction: 11-13”
- No mesh: 14-16”
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0
- Mesh obstruction: 15-17”
- No mesh: 18-20”
- Arcadia Desert 12%
- Mesh obstruction: 15-17”
- No mesh: 18-20”
Assume that the snake is resting on its basking branch for your measurements. If using multiple UVB bulbs in your enclosure, it is strongly advised to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure UVB output so you don’t accidentally “cook” your snake. Target a basking UVI of 2.0-3.0.
Keep in mind that UVB wavelengths are blocked by glass and plastic, even when the materials are transparent. UVB bulbs decay over time, so you will need to replace your bulb(s) every 12 months to maintain good performance.
Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter to simulate seasonal cycles. This may promote better health in your snake by stimulating natural hormonal rhythms.
What basking temperatures do reticulated pythons need?
Like other reptiles, reticulated pythons are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Reticulated pythons should have access to a basking spot between 92-95°F. Daytime air temperature should stay between 82-90°F, dropping to 72-78°F at night. Measure air temperatures with a wall-mounted thermometer near the basking surface, and another placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Provide basking heat for your snake by imitating the sun with a cluster of halogen flood heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over a sturdy basking branch or platform. Use enough bulbs to evenly heat the snake’s entire body when coiled. Do not use colored bulbs or ceramic heat emitters, as these are not as effective.
If your basking temps are too cool, you will need higher-wattage heat bulbs. If your ambient temps are too cool, add thermostat-controlled radiant heat panel(s). If your temps are too warm, use a multi-device dimming thermostat (automatic) or rheostat (manual) to reduce the heat bulbs’ output.
Light-producing heat sources should be turned off at night. But if you need supplementary heating at night to hit the right temps, radiant heat panels can be used for this, too.
What humidity levels do reticulated pythons need?
Reticulated pythons are a tropical species, and need an average humidity between 65-85%, fluctuating lower during the day and higher at night. Measure humidity with an outdoor hygrometer placed in the middle of the enclosure. Misting your snake’s enclosure with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you need more, installing a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat can be helpful.
- Note: Reptile humidifiers should be used with distilled or reverse-osmosis water and disinfected regularly in order to prevent it from making your pet sick.
It’s also helpful to install a humid hide for your snake somewhere on the cool side of the enclosure, lined with moistened sphagnum moss and/or substrate. Replace the moss periodically to prevent mold.
Like other giant snakes, reticulated pythons like to soak and swim, so make sure to provide a tub or pool of water at least large enough to accommodate their entire body. This pool does not need to be heated, and is a good way to provide the option of cooler temps to your snake.
Keep the water clean at all times, and scrub with animal-safe disinfectant once a week. It’s a good idea to connect this pool to your home’s plumbing system if possible. If not possible, you will need a siphon or pump to help you empty and refill the pool.
What substrate is good for reticulated pythons?
Reticulated pythons require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their heavy bodies and soak up all of the urine that they produce. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
We recommend the following substrates for reticulated pythons:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zilla Jungle Mix
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate is a good way to provide enrichment!
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and kept clean at all times. Remove poop and urates daily. Contaminated substrate should also be removed and replaced. Given this species’ considerable urine output, expect that removing and replacing substrate will be one of your main chores and expenses.
What décor can you use in a reticulated python enclosure?
It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, a basking platform, and a water tub. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
Here are some décor ideas for enriching your reticulated python’s environment:
- thick, sturdy branches
- hides (dog kennels work well)
- extra-large live or artificial plants
Whatever you choose to use, make sure that the snake has plenty of cover to hide in as needed so it can feel secure in its environment.
What do reticulated pythons eat?
Like other snakes, reticulated pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Reticulated pythons are notoriously overweight due to a common practice of feeding them far more often than they actually need. Giant pythons are built to eat large meals infrequently. Here’s a rough feeding schedule:
- Hatchlings — every 1-2 weeks
- Juveniles — every 2-4 weeks
- Adults — every 6-12 weeks
Once your retic has reached adulthood, let your snake’s body condition be your guide. If it’s starting to look fat, reduce the frequency of feedings.
Prey items should be around 1.5x the snake’s width at its widest point. Feeder options include mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, and quail. Variety is the key to a balanced diet!
Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a long pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers. Pay attention to the snake when feeding, and keep another person in the room in case it accidentally strikes at you instead.
For safety, it’s a good idea to train your reticulated python to take prey slowly and gently rather than quickly and aggressively.
Snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your pet’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.
Do reticulated pythons like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and although reticulated pythons can tame down wonderfully, it’s important to acknowledge them for what they are: large, powerful predators. They are incredibly strong, and can injure or even kill a careless human. It is important to respect them for what they are and to take appropriate precautions.
Here are some general rules for handling giant pythons:
- Wait at least 2 weeks before attempting to handle your new snake.
- Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above.
- Whenever possible, allow it to climb onto you rather than grabbing it.
- Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick up a snake by its tail!
- Keep handling sessions brief at first, and always end them on a positive note, with the snake acting calm.
- As the snake gets larger, make a habit of making sure at least one other person is in the room with you during handling in case of an accident. The larger the snake, the more people should be present.
- Never let your snake free-roam unsupervised.
- Never handle your snake in the same room as other pets.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.