Carpet Pythons in Captivity and Nature


Carpet Pythons - these Australian beauties weave a spell over all who see them.

Carpet Pythons In The Wild

by Charles Acheson

Australian carpet pythons are unquestionably popular pythons among the general public, and most Australians have at some stage seen one of them in the wild. Usually, these people can recollect seeing one while on holiday - often, unfortunately, as roadkill. Throughout much of Australia, people in the countryside report seeing carpet pythons on ceiling beams in old sheds, in chicken roosts or even draped over their balconies.

As a "Sydneysider", I regularly get calls from people in the suburbs adjoining bushland, asking me to remove diamond pythons (Morelia spilota) from their dwellings. I've found carpets under residents' roofs and even basking at poolside, enjoying the morning sun. Ironically, the majority of herpetologists who live in diamond python areas have seen relatively few in the wild. Like the eastern  blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides), these pythons are more often seen on the fringes of suburbia than they are when purposely sought in the wild.

Carpet pythons are usually seen in the wild, either basking during the cooler months in an attempt to get warm, or at night during the summer. It is quite common to see carpet pythons in Northern Australia basking in "windows" of sunlight on the forest floor, or with a few coils hanging out of a tree hollow.

Types Of Carpet Pythons

Several species of carpet python have been identified across Australia, including Morelia spilota, M. macdowelli, M. variegata, M. cheynei, M. imbricata, M. metcalfei and M. bredli. The "type species" in the carpet python is actually the diamond python; this is due to its having been first described rather than to any revolutionary theory.

Morelia spilota has a limited range on the coast of New South Wales (NSW), from Port Macquarie on the midcoast to the border of Victoria in the south. Considered by some to be one of the most beautiful pythons in the world, the diamond python varies considerably throughout its range. It inhabits dry and wet sclerophyll forests and sandstone escarpments throughout its range.

In general, it exhibits less patterning in the south, with increasing degrees of mottled pattern as it reaches its northern extralimital range. The juvenile diamond is colored like the carpet python as a neonate and develops its "diamond" pattern as it reaches maturity. Around the midcoast of NSW, the carpet/diamond distinction becomes vague. Often the animals are clearly a mixture of both forms, ranging from predominantly carpet to mostly diamond. This coastal area is officially known to have natural populations of hybrids. These animals are fertile and reproduce readily in captivity.

Morelia macdowelli inhabits southeast Queensland and finds its way down into NSW, to the "hybrid" area of the mid-coast. The "coastal carpet" is the biggest of the carpet python species, occasionally reaching lengths nearing 10 feet and regularly attaining about 8 feet. It is common within its range and does not appear to be secretive like the diamond python. It exhibits a dark, mottled mustard, brown and black pattern, in general, which is an extremely effective camouflage. Once again, these snakes inhabit forested areas.

Morelia variegata, the top-end carpet python, is the most widespread of the carpet pythons, ranging from Cape York in the north of Queensland to the Kimberley Ranges of northern Western Australia. The types of forest that these animals can be found in is variable. Within their range they can be found marauding in most habitat areas. This species' coloration is often lighter and more colorful than its southeastern relative's.

Morelia cheynei, or the jungle carpet python as it is more commonly know, is a very distinctive creature not only because of its striking coloration, but also because of its nature. The jungle carpet comes in two main color phases: the cream and brown phase (less well known) and the spectacular and popular gold and black phase. These animals predominate in the Atherton Tablelands behind Cairns in Queensland, making their way in some areas to the coast. Within most of its range the winter overnight temperatures can be in the low-30-degree Fahrenheit range. Strangely, they are occasionally seen in undulating farmland, as these areas were once regal stands of rain forest. Along with its striking coloration, the jungle carpet is also known for its secretive, sometimes "snappy" nature. Herpetologists have found this snake to be an occasionally finicky feeder, particularly straight out of the wild.

Morelia imbricata, or the southwestern carpet, has, as its name implies an imbricated pattern (that is, its scales appear to overlap, like roof tiles). It is found in Western Australia to the south and on some islands off the southern Australian coast.

Morelia metcalfei, the Murray/Darling carpet, is named after the two rivers that transect the region in which it is found. This species inhabits areas adjacent to these rivers in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. It is a smallish python, rarely exceeding 6 feet, and is known for its good temperament. Its creamy mottled pattern, particularly around the head, is clearly different from its counterparts. This creamy gray coloration continues down the dorsal surface in blotches.

Morelia bredli is a striking python, distinctly different in its coloration. Isolated by thousands of miles of desert and not commonly seen, it inhabits rocky areas and dry riverbeds of central Australia, where it lives in hollows or rock crevices. This snake exhibits some magnificent shades of red and is favourite of many herpetologists.

All the carpet python species eat a variety of food items, including mammals, birds and bats, as well as lizards. Neonates in captivity prefer to eat small lizards, although they can be coaxed into eating pinkies quite readily.

Carpet Pythons: Winter In The Wild

In general, carpet pythons seek north-facing rocky outcrops, tree hollows or fallen timbers in which to spend the winter months. During the overnight drop in temperature they will withdraw into their crevice or hole to retain their body heat as possible.

A common way to see carpet pythons in Queensland is to walk along the "windrows." These are stands of trees that have been felled by property owners in the process of clearing lands. These trees are then bulldozed into rows ready burning. Often, windrows are left untouched for years and become microhabitats for many snakes and other animals.

During winter, one might discover the coils of a carpet python extending out of a burrow within the windrows, soaking up some sun. This lends itself to effective thermoregulation as the snake can simply maneuver itself around from time to time to maintain its exposure and vulnerability. These areas are also a haven for rodents and other mammals that provide food for carpet pythons and a multitude of other predators.

Old barns are another wintertime "hangout" for carpets. In Australia, corrugated iron is still a primary roofing material. Carpet pythons regularly inhabit the roofs of barns where they use the sheet iron as a sort of radiant thermal pad. Many times, I have entered an old shed to see loosely wrapped coils of carpet pythons draped over beams. Usually, these farm sheds are quiet places and harbor a ready supply of rats and bats as food items. Even on an overcast winter day in the Atherton Tablelands of northern Queensland, when the daytime temperature may be only 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it only takes a few minutes of sun on some sheet iron roofing to allow a carpet python to warm up markedly.

In warmer areas - for example, Darwin, in the top of the Northern Territory, where the overnight lows during winter may only drop to the high 60s and the days may still be over 80 degrees - carpet pythons are more likely to be seen loosely coiled on the forest floor or in hollows.

In spring, most readily found carpet pythons are male, due to their tendency to patrol the forest floor looking for mates during breeding season. Sub-adult specimens are often mobile and easily discovered, as they are yet to establish territories. Females are more sessile in nature, although they will move to various habitats throughout the year to facilitate thermoregulation and egg laying.

Females usually lay eggs on the floor or in hollows and then carefully guard them for the duration of the incubation process. A female may release herself from the clutch in the early morning to bask and then return to her eggs. Depending on the species and the size of the individual, a clutch may number as few as six (in the case of young adult M. cheynei) or more than 20 eggs. While coiled around the eggs, the female can "shiver up" her body temperature above ambient to maintain an optimal temperature for the eggs (as mentioned in the captive care section).

There have been sightings of aggregations of diamond pythons in the spring, where numerous males will collect around a single female in an attempt to mate with her. According to those who have witnessed such spectacles, it can come as quite surprise to an unsuspecting bushwalker, although I must stress that this is not commonly seen.

Generally hardy in captivity, the carpet python is the species that's most commonly kept by Australian hobbyists.

Carpet Pythons In Captivity by Bob Clark

Carpet pythons are slender, medium-sized pythons with prehensile tails. They have proportionately large heads and narrow necks. Carpet pythons have an extensive range across Australia and in neighboring New Guinea and Irian Jaya. Adults range from 4 to 9 feet or more, depending on type. There is also considerable variation in color and pattern among the different varieties and within each type. They make great captives and have become very popular in recent years.

Popular Python

A major reason for their popularity is the carpet pythons seem especially well suited to life in captivity. The very large number of this species currently being kept and bred in this country is a testament to this. I got my first pair of carpet pythons in 1980, but before that time, I'd never seen a live one!

Although most of the non-native reptiles that became established in captivity were, and continue to be, imported in large numbers, this is not true for the carpet pythons. Australia has not allowed the export of its wildlife since the 1960s. The animals in captivity in this country today are descended from only a very few animals that have found their way to America, probably as imports from other countries. The fairly recent availability of the Irian Jaya carpet pythons is more typical of the way new types of pythons become established in captivity. First a few are imported, followed by increasing numbers as the buying public becomes familiar with them. Eventually, some of the animals acclimate well enough to breed and these form the basis for the captive-produced population.

Part of my job as a breeder and seller of snakes is to answer questions and give advice on how to care for animals I sell. I noticed recently that even though I deal with many species of boas and pythons, the information I gave was remarkably similar for all of them. Most members of the family Boidae thrive in captivity under fairly similar conditions. Carpet pythons can be maintained under the same conditions that are suitable for most other boas and pythons.

Enclosure Basics

Let's start with the snake's cage. The enclosure serves several purposes. First, and most obvious, is to keep the snake confined. Second, the cage must comprise an environment suitable for the snake. The enclosure must also allow easy viewing of its inhabitant. As long as the cage fulfills these requirements, the specifics of its construction are not important.

I favor some of the plastic cages with sliding glass fronts. These cages are easy to clean, readily available - and someone else has made them already! I'm not especially handy, so the ready-made aspect really appeals to me. Those with ability in this area can construct enclosures from plywood. Paint the wood and seal the joints to help maintain humidity. Allow for ventilation, but be aware that too much ventilation will make it difficult to maintain a proper environment inside.

I like to have a couple of small vents in the sides of the cage, as vents place on the top of the cage can cause the cage to lose heat unnecessarily. Adding additional heat not only wastes energy, but it also dries the cage's interior. Glass aquaria are adequate if they are fitted with a solid top; screen tops are generally not suitable because they do not retain moisture. Act Natural

We keep snakes because we like them. We are interested in their behavior and all aspects of their lives. For this reason, I like enclosures with a large viewing area. The snake's perspective on this, however, may differ a little. In the wild, a snake may not spend much of its time out in the open during daylight. This exposes the animal to predators and makes its search for food less effective. Although our captive snakes are not in the wild, they are still programmed by instinct to behave in and react in certain ways. Departures from a snake's expectations or "programming" may stress the animal and ultimately interfere with its health.

A large viewing area is great for us; for the snake, however, the loss of privacy may be a source of excessive stress. Providing the snake with a place to conceal itself is a compromise that can work for both parties. A snake that feels secure in its cage will be more likely to exhibit normal behaviour, including feeding and even breeding, if given the opportunity. Many husbandry and acclimation problems can be traced back to improper caging.

How Big Is Big Enough?

The size of the cage depends on the size of the snake. But contrary to popular opinion, bigger isn't always better. I start my baby carpets in plastic containers measuring 13 inches by 7 inches by 3 inches. It is easier to maintain a warm, humid environment for the little snakes in small enclosures, and it's more likely that they will have frequent contact with food items during their first few feedings. Larger snakes will require larger cages, of course. Most adult carpets will be comfortable in a cage measuring 48 inches by 24 inches by 18 inches.

As a commercial producer of reptiles, I have objectives different from most snake keepers', but as long as the minimum requirements are met, the snakes do well. At my facility, accommodations are fairly Spartan. Enclosures are the minimum acceptable size and sparsely furnished to say the least: Each size has a water bowl and a hide box, and that's all. Even under these conditions, the snakes will thrive and breed.

Temperature and Humidity

Carpet pythons, like most boas and pythons, are from tropical areas. They require conditions of temperature and humidity that are higher than most of us would consider comfortable in our homes. To keep them successfully in captivity, we need to provide them with the proper conditions. This will, in most cases, require supplemental heat in the enclosure. Cages can be heated by a variety of means, including light bulbs, heat pads or tape, or ceramic heaters. As long as the proper temperatures are provided, the heating method doesn't really matter.

In the wild, snakes can choose a desired temperature. A snake seeking warmth can bask, for example. A snake that wants to cool off can retreat to the shade or to a burrow. We can give captive snakes some choices as well. By placing the heat source on one end of the enclosure it is possible to provide the snake with the maximum thermal gradient. The snake can choose a position near the heat source if it wants to be cooler. A temperature range of 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal.

In some cases, the heat source itself will be much warmer than 90 degrees. The temperature directly over a heat pad or under a light bulb may be much warmer. As long as the snakes can retreat to a cooler place, there is benefit in making the choice available.

Although we must, at minimum, reproduce the essential aspects of a snake's habitat to be successful in maintaining it, reproducing some of the non-essentials might enhance the captive experience for both the keeper and the kept. Carpet pythons will utilize a cage's vertical dimension if given opportunity. Providing branches for climbing makes watching the snakes more enjoyable, and I like to think that the snakes think it's a good thing as well. variously sized branches, logs for hiding and artificial foliage might serve to make the snake's environment more attractive, but they make it more difficult to service the enclosure and keep it clean. Naturally planted vivaria with soil and live plants are nearly impossible to maintain for snakes the size of carpet pythons.

Feeding and Breeding

Captive carpet pythons eat the full range of available warm-blooded food items. Baby carpets can be started on pinkie or fuzzy mice. As the snakes grow, they will eventually take adult mice, small rats and eventually large rats. Some of the larger individuals will take small rabbits.

Generally, if a baby carpet can eat a couple of pinkies it can easily take a fuzzy mouse. If it can eat more than one fuzzy mice it can probably take a weanling mouse and so on, until you are offering the largest rat. I don't worry much about trying larger and larger food items. It it's too big, the snake won't it eat, and no harm done.

Often the snakes don't know either and try to eat something that is too big for them. We all learn as we go.

Breeding carpets is simple and straightforward. As with most boids, they respond well to a slight drop in temperature at night in the fall. Copulation occurs between sexually mature animals throughout the winter. In my facility, carpets lay eggs in April and May; the eggs hatch in June or July. Clutch size varies from 6 eggs to 25 or more. Incubation time is relatively short for pythons, lasting 55 days or less. Carpet pythons are what we humans would classify as "good mothers." Females coil around their eggs during the entire incubation period, leaving only occasionally to bask.

Carpets are able to increase their body temperature during incubation. The process of shivering thermogenesis is similar to shivering humans: Small muscle contractions generate heat that is used to incubate the eggs. Carpet pythons may also bask during the incubation period, absorbing heat from the sun and then transferring it to eggs.

Even though they are cold-blooded animals, female carpet pythons can keep their eggs at a fairly constant temperature throughout incubation. Alternately, eggs can be incubated artificially in damp water vermiculite at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Good results can be obtained with either method. If the necessary temperature and humidity requirements are met, the eggs will hatch. Hatchling carpets are about 15 inches long.

These pythons make great captive subjects and are becoming increasingly available in the pet trade. Carpets can be obtained in reptile specialty stores or from any of the many breeders of the species. Carpet pythons are interesting and attractive animals.

Road Testing Aussie Pythons


A Short Guide To Snake Selection Text & Images (except where indicated): Doc Rock

Australian Pythons: Southern Cross Reptiles


Since I can remember, the late summer and early autumn months have been traditionally the busiest time for python sales in Australia. It is a period when young newly-bred pythons are starting to feed and breeders are keen to reduce their cleaning and husbandry responsibility by selling the fruits of the last 12 months labour.

The aim of this article is to provide a timely and brief overview of the traits, husbandry quirks and personalities of the various types of python as a quick matchmaking guide when faced with the onslaught of options which are presented to the reptile shopper these days.

Types of Australian Pythons

Australian pythons can be split into a number of groups. The largest group is the genus Morelia which includes the carpet pythons, the green tree pythons, rough scales, the Oenpelli python and Australia's largest snake, the scrub python. Carpet pythons are the most popular Australian pythons in captives. They include the coastal, jungle, diamond, in-land, south western, and north western forms, as well as the centralian carpet which is a different species and often just called by its scientific name of "Bredli".

The second most popular type of captive python belongs to the Children's group which includes the spotted python pr maculosus, the large-blotched python pr stimsoni, and the Children's python or childreni. The taxonomy of these snakes has been in perpetual change for decades with various author's placing them in the genus Antaresia, Bothrochilus, and Liasis, so don't be confused if you see any of these names used as the snakes are still the same. These pyhtons are not large animals and include the world's smallest python, the ant-hill or pygmy python (also called perthensis) which is currently uncommon in captivity.

The third group of snakes belong to the genus Liasis which contains the popular olive and water pythons. these quite large and robust snakes are closely related to the Children's group (they used to belong in the same genus.)

The fourth group and final group occupies the genus Aspidites. This genus includes the spectacular black-headed python, often called BHPs for short, and the woma. They used to be uncommon in captivity because of the difficulties in keeping wild caught animals and then in getting them to breed. Today, having passed through a number of captive generations, they are bred in increasing numbers and their popularity is rapidly growing.

Australian Pythons: The Carpet Group

When considering how best to summarise the various forms of carpet pythons for this article, I decided to start with the ones that we have found the easiest to keep and then work through to the ones that can be more challenging to maintain and breed.

Inland Carpet Python Morelia spilota metcalfei

Without a doubt and by almost any yardstick, the inland carpet python (Morelia spilota metcalfei to some) is a stand out captive python among australian pythons. Typically found along the inland river systems and surrounds over the eastern half of inland Australia, they are a medium sized carpet which has a lovely placid nature once adult size and is extremely hardy in captivity. I have captured numerous inland carpets through my involvement in various research projects and I'm always amazed at how placid they are as wild caught adult animals.

We have kept the Murray-Darling form of inland carpet for the last two decades and have found nothing easier to keep and to breed. They handle cold well, not minding if their environment gets down at night to a few degrees in winter as long as they have somewhere to bask for an hour or two during the day. If their cage gets a bit hot, they don't seem to mind either. They are not very sensitive to humidity and providing they have something to drink and the cage is not soaking wet they seem to thrive.

Inlands are also excellent subjects when learning to breed snakes. They will mate with minimal fuss, their eggs are extremely resilient to ignorant abuse and their babies are generally quick to start feeding. About the only thing negative I could say is that they are snappy as babies (like most pythons), but they quickly settle down.

Australian Pythons: Coastal Carpet Python Morelia spilota mcdowelli

For many years, the most numerous Morelia in captivity were the coastal form of carpet python (Morelia spilota mcdowelli to some). This is probably because they are the most common non-venomous snakes encountered in the wild around densely populated areas and so were easy to source for captivity. Coastals live along the central to northern coast of Australia and can vary markedly in colour and size, but generally they are one of the largest carpets with animals in excess of nine feet not uncommon. In March of 2002, a coastal carpet was collected from the mid-north coast of NSW that had a total length of 3.47 metres (nearly 11.5 feet) and weighed in at 22.3 kilo making it the third heaviest snake caught in Australia!

We have kept many coastals and if I was to try and sum them up, I would have to say "highly variable." I have known some placid beautiful giants and some unattractive, weedy little so-and-sos. While some feed happily in captivity, I have known far too many that are patience-testing nightmares when it comes to being finicky. We have also found that they are less tolerant to extremes of temperature and humidity than their inland compatriots. Similarly, while temperament is highly individual, as a general rule they are also a more nervy and irritable snake. From a breeding perspective, they are not difficult and their eggs are fairly forgiving. One strong point in their favour is that they are about the least expensive pythons on the market.

Centralian Carpet Python Morelia Bredli

A close second to the inland carpet for suitability in captivity would have to be the Centralian python (Morelia Bredli). These carpets tend to grow larger and to be a bit more irritable than the inlands, but on the whole they are a hardy, tolerant species. They can be a bit trickier than inlands to breed too, but still are by no means difficult and their eggs can survive quite a bit of mismanagement. I must confess that they are probably my favourite carpets not only because of their pleasant nature, but also because of their striking appearance with all the earthy colours which mimic their habitat in the red centre around Alice Springs and the McDonell Ranges.

Australian Pythons: Darwin Carpet Python Morelia spilota variegata

The north-western or sometimes NT or Darwin carpet (Morelia spilota variegata) is a medium to small member of the group that is quite slender to suit its arboreal nature. They have a reputation for being an aggressive snake and like many northern species they certainly are inclined to be quite highly strung and assertive in nature. We have kept numerous coastals and most have been willing to bite when given any provocation. The flip side to this coin, however, is that they are generally great feeders and are not terribly difficult to breed.

Darwin carpets like warm humid conditions and will not tolerate prolonged cold. One annoying habit shared by most is their love of soaking in their water bowl so that water is spilt everywhere and the cage is constantly wet. However, they do not handle ow humidity and will have trouble shedding if their cage becomes too dry. Some NT carpets can be very attractive with their bright orangey markings. Recently, we developed the albino form of this carpet which displays bright yellow/gold and white banding. For a reason completely unknown to me, these albino carpets generally have extremely placid natures, even more so than the inlands and Bredli.

Australian Pythons: Jungle Carpet Python Morelia spilota cheynei

When it comes to an irritable nature, few snakes can top a narky jungle python and gold jungle for natural good looks, they can be both the beauty and the beast all wrapped into one. We have been breeding jungles for 15 years now and have been selecting them for colour, pattern, and temperament. While the strain has definitely got more placid over time, it seems that the better looking the snake the greater the tendency for them to be stroppy with their keeper.

Like the NT carpets, jungles require a cage with reasonable humidity to do well. Unlike the NTs, they do not like their cages kept too warm and can become temperamental if not kept in conditions that allow them to escape the heat sometimes. For this reason, we keep all our jungles in the lowest and coolest cages in our main breeding room. To finish on a positive note, jungles are generally good feeders, quick growers and will breed in captivity.

Australian Pythons: Diamond Python Morelia spilota spilota

The last of the carpets I will cover is the Diamond Python (Morelia spilota spilota) which is kept in large numbers in Australia. Diamonds are a medium to large carpet. They are a challenge to breed indoors in captivity and keep healthy and even more of a challenge to breed indoors. Because of this, the majority of diamonds are kept and bred in outside aviaries, or at least in cages that have access to an outside enclosure. When kept inside they tend to suffer from a condition which has become known as "Diamond Syndrome". This syndrome can express itself as problems with feeding and/or shedding, a reduced immune system and in extreme cases neurological and muscular disorders which invariably result in death.

Many years ago, we kept diamonds in our main breeding room only to watch them die one by one. Since then, and after much research and experimentation, we learnt that they cannot handle constant warm conditions. You may hear that they need UV light or that they must live outside, but this is not our experience. As long as you keep them cool most of the time and only provide basking temperatures for short periods during the day, they can thrive. We have kept them for nearly 20 years and they now flourish indoors, although we have been selectively breeding our stock from animals that tolerate the indoor life best. Currently, we have a beautiful female that is 10 years old and breeds regularly indoors (we have a clutch of eggs in the incubator as I write). Needless to say, breeding diamonds regularly indoors is not an activity for the novice though.

Australian Pythons: Water and Olive Pythons

Olive Python Liasis olivaceus

Before describing Olive Pythons (Liasis olivaceus) in captivity, I must declare a possible conflict of interest and confess that my favourite pet snake in the world is my male olive called Brutus. He is big, powerful, alert, inquisitive and as gentle as a snake of his size can be. In my view, a large placid olive python is very difficult to beat as a scaly companion.

However, anyone contemplating buying an olive must allow for the fact that they grow very quickly (still a youngster at 2 metres) and that they can easily reach three to four metres and weigh over 15 kilo in captivity. My wife, Diane, is also fond of Brutus, but will not handle him unless I am within screaming distance just in case he makes a mistake and thinks she is food instead of a friend. Although he is yet to make that mistake, he can get very excited when hungry and he would be a handful if ever he wrapped around a human neck with thoughts of juicy rats on mind.

Not all olive pythons are gentle giants either. We have kept a number and one of them is particular considered that its role in life was to rip the face off anyone that came near its cage - and that's a lot of face ripping snake to control. So to some extent, it is a bit of a lottery when you buy a baby olive. Although by far the majority turn out to be gentle giants, the odd one that doesn't will be a snake to remember.

Unless you live in a place like Darwin, olives can be very challenging to breed, especially if you live in the southern half of Australia like we do. It took as many attempts before we were able to breed them consistently in Adelaide. When we questioned some of the most successful breeders of olives about how they did it, there seemed to be no commonly agreed method and most had little idea why individual snakes bred some years and not others. While I just love olives, they are not an ideal snake for the first time keeper, for a child, for a home without the room for decent cage or for someone to learn how to breed snakes.

Australian Pythons: Water Python Liasis Fuscus

I must also confess that I am rather fond of water pythons (Liasis Fuscus) too, although we don't keep any these days. Compared to other pythons, they are a medium length, heavy bodied snake and are often called "rainbow pythons" because their skin is highly reflective and has a prismatic effect on light. The first species we ever bred was a water python and that is a testament to just how easy they are to breed. We knew nothing at the time about any aspect of breeding and I shudder at the way we incubated the eggs, but in the end half the clutch hatched and we managed to raise a whole lot of baby waters.

Back in this dim, dark past, we learnt that there are two distinct types of water and that they are like chalk and cheese to keep. Firstly, there lovely bright yellow belly which come from Queensland. Then, there are the more brownie coloured ones with white bellies from the Northern Territory. The Queensland ones are usually quite well mannered. In contrast, our experience is that the NT waters are generally spawn of Satin and will bite and scent their keeper (i.e. smear foul smelling tail secretions on you) at the drop of a hat.

Often, I'm asked about python bites and which ones I think are the worst. Putting aside scrub pythons, I would say that for power and determination it's hard to beat a big BHP and for razor sharp teeth and deep penetration it's hard to beat a large GTP. However for all round deep penetrating power and tenacity, there is nothing worse than a large NT water python. I have caught many bites in my life, but remember my few big water python bites above all others.

I do not want to put the reader off his species by talking about bites. Water pythons can be beautiful, well-handling snakes which some argue are much more interesting and active than the Morelia group. However, bloodline is important when buying a L. fuscus, because as the advert goes "waters ain't waters."

Australian Pythons: The Children's Group

Australian Pythons: Spotted Python Antaresia maculosus

When it comes to describing the Children's group of pythons in captivity it is probably best to discuss the spotted pythons (maculosus, or sometimes just maccies) separately from the Children's and Stimson's pythons which are both very similar to keep and to breed.

Maccies are found in the wild from north-eastern NSW to the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Although relatively small compared to other pythons, they are the largest of this group and average about 75 to 90 cm with the biggest reaching well over one metre. On the positive side, spotted pythons are generally good feeders, breed easily, maintain their bold markings throughout their life, are hardy and can thrive in most cage setups. On the negative side, they are generally the feistiest members of the group and often can take quite a bit of work to quieten down sufficiently to stop them constantly snapping and scenting their keepers. However, once settled into their captive home, they can be an excellent snake for responsible keepers of any age or skill level to keep.

Australian Pythons: Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Australian Pythons: Stimson's Python Antaresia stimsoni

Children's pythons are found along the top part of Australia from the Gulf of Carpenteria though to the Kimberly district of Western Australia. Stimson's pythons are found from the West Coast of WA through central Australia to the area east of the Great Dividing Range. They are both small pythons with childreni averaging a slightly larger size than the stimsoni, but with either exceeding one metre often. The colourful patterns on childreni tend to fade more with age than those on stimsoni, so that as adults stimsoni are usually the more attractive snakes.

Both these snakes, and particularly the Stimson's pythons, are more challenging pets to keep and to breed than their maculosus cousins. Many varieties are extremely difficult to establish as feeders when babies. We have force fed non-feeding Stimsons for three years before finally giving up. If they are sold when too young and before they are feeding well, they can go off their feed and be almost impossible to start again. If they get a little too cool in their cage environment (because of the cage itself, or the place they choose to hide), they can stop eating too. So, vital pre-requisites when buying a young Stimson's or Children's python, are firstly to make your object of desire is feeding and growing well and secondly to take careful note of the cage conditions and temperature regime it is being kept under successfully. Providing this advice is taken, then these snakes are a joy to keep. Once grown up, they rarely bite and can become very relaxed even with frequent handling.

The Children's group do not like to bask in the open, but prefer to position themselves in a tight warm hideaway. For this reason, their cages are extremely easy to set up and all they need is thermostatically controlled heat tape, a water bowl and something to hide under which is a warm at one end and cool at the other. A plastic tub with tape under it and newspaper inside as a substrate and for hiding under is all they require to thrive.

One of the other great advantages of the Children's group is that, because they are small and thrive in compact vivaria, you can have lots and lots of them in a small area! These days there is an enormous variety of forms in captivity and a keen collector can have a dozen different forms from a range of habitats on a few shelves instead of the half a house that larger species would require.

Australian Pythons: The Aspidites Group

Australian Pythons: Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus

Black-headed pythons Aspidites melanocephalus are found across the northern third of Australia and would have to be one of the most impressive looking pythons that our country has to offer. Their large size, shiny jet back heads and striped bodies look very imposing and to the average, snake-uneducated member of the general public they are safe, or that there is no food on offer, then they are generally pussycats.

However, the trick with BHPs is getting them into your hands without mistakes. One of their quirks is that they love to sleep on their basking site. When they are touched in this state, they almost jump out of their skin and can go immediately into a full defensive threat display. Once picked up they will usually calm down straight away. Alternatively, sometimes when they are touched, they assume food is on offering - and a hungry snapping BHP is a site to behold. One day I opened the cage of a very large female BHP and upon being woken from a sound sleep she decided that I was food and, rushing out of her cage at head height, she proceeded to try to grab me. She succeeded in forcing me back into the cages behind where upon she nailed my hand (which was protecting my face) and then set about hauling me back into her cage for digestive purposes and without having a say in the matter. "Diane,#$%@# .......Help me,%$#@!"

Research has shown that in the wild BHP prey consists of a high proportion of reptiles. Probably for this reason, frequently they can be nightmares to start feeding as babies. Like the Stimsoni pythons, my strong advice when buying a BHP is to make sure it has been feeding well and consistently for some time. We won't sell ours until they have been feeding well for at least two months and have shed a couple of times.

Summing up BHPs, while they are beautiful snakes and will handle well, they are not for the faint hearted and not to be taken lightly when approaching them in their cages. Once feeding well on rodents, they are easy to maintain in captivity, although they are one of the harder snakes to breed consistently. Also, being natural reptile feeders, they are not a snake you should keep with others of their kind if you wish to avoid accidents.

Australian Pythons: Woma Aspidites ramsayi

The final specie in this short guide to snake selection is the Woma (Aspidites ramsayi). My partner, Diane, adores womas. We have ended up with so many types and forms now that by number they are the most numerous type of snake we keep after carpet pythons.

Womas are found all over central Australia and the coastal region of the Pilbara in WA. They are wonderful captive snakes for many reasons; they are a stocky and compact terrestrial python with very simple cage needs; feeding problems are rare; they are not difficult to breed; they are inquisitive animals and put on great feeding displays with frantic caudal luring and head bobbing behaviours and; they redefine the concept of being laid back. Once they are more than six months old, womas become completely relaxed about captive life. They are a joy to handle and as long as they know there is no food on offer, they are safe in the hands of the whole family.

Diane loves them as babies because "they are so feisty with great threatening displays but don't bite and only head butt you say stay away". Sine Di does 90% of the husbandry care these days, she also likes them because they are amongst the most trouble free of captives.

An ordinary run-of-the-mill woma used to coast about $2,000, but recently they have dropped in price to somewhere between a half and two thirds of this price. This trend is opening up the species for more people to enjoy. The majority of State Authorities (not SA) classify them as specialist animals and place all sorts of restrictions on keeping them. This is understandable given that there were very few in captivity until eight or so years ago and their needs were poorly understood. However, today with 3rd and 4th generation captives readily available, they are one of the easiest and most enjoyable pythons to keep and are less of a specialist animal than BHPs, certainly less than many of the Children's group, and less than some of the Morelia species too. Hopefully, the authorities will catch up with advances in the hobby soon and let them take their rightful place in Australian herp society.

Australian Pythons: The Won't Bite; Cuddly Group

Snakes are predators and obligate carnivores. They don't live in a complex social structure and have had no need to develop affectionate behaviour. As babies most things eat them and so being handled by a human 3.2 million times their weight is not an experience they seek out. With careful attention and patience some pythons can become quite relaxed with captivity. However, there are no snakes that won't bite on occasion and certainly there are none that like to cuddle their keeper. At best, they become indifferent to their handler and enjoy the stimulation removal from their normal cage surroundings and exposure to new stimuli.

It is not uncommon for us to receive e-mails at Southern Cross Reptiles asking which snakes won't bite and would make a lovely pet. recently, a person told us that they had to sell their baby maculosus because it was too aggressive and scared them. They wanted to know if we thought their buying a young olive python was a good idea!!

Hells, bells if you want to buy a snake, but you want it to act like a cat on valium, then be honest with yourself and ask why do I really want to take on custodial responsibility for this animal. If you want a snake to be a cuddly little pet rather than enjoy it as a the magnificent predator for that it has evolved into over the last tens of millions of years, then I recommend you would better off keeping earthworms or sticking with non-biting and cuddly type pot plants.

Australian Pythons: Summary

Pythons can be fascinating and wonderful creatures to care for and observe in captivity. Each species has its own quirks and characteristics and each snake its own unique personality. When buying a new snake you should think carefully about your objectives and be honest about your skills and abilities too. I suggest you spend time doing research about a species pr form or interest so that you know what you are getting into. Many folk that contact us are in a blistering hurry to buy "a snake". Don't be. Part of the unique attributes of snakes is their slow metabolism and the very frugal way they approach life. If you want to experience the full benefit of owning them, you need to slow down when dealing with Australian pythons and take the time to enjoy the acquisition process.

Green Python


Morelia viridis or the Green Python

This jewel of the Cape York Peninsular lives amongst the epiphytes in the forest canopy, where its green colour offers perfect camouflage. Though listed as rare, its distribution is larger than many countries in Europe. Iron Range, where this animal is found, is isolated by the wet season for several months of the year. The Green Python is also found in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. The adult Green Python is an arboreal species, preferring by day to rest in a distinctive draped coil over a single horizontal branch. In the evening they feed primarily on birds and rodents, for which they will move to the forest floor.

Juvenile Green Pythons are vastly different in colour to their adult parents. These small animals hatch out of their eggs bright yellow, brick red or brown with the colour of their body actually going through their eye pattern. As these animals reach maturity they go through a colour transformation, ending up as the typical green colour. Juvenile Green Pythons prefer to be closer to the floor of the forest to live and hunt until attaining their adult colours.

They feed primarily on lizards. The little snakes use their tails as a lure imitating a small worm, to catch these lizards. When the lizards come to eat, they become the meal. The Green Python is an egg layer, with up to 20 eggs being laid in one clutch.

Did you know...

  • This jewel of the Cape York Peninsular lives amongst the epiphytes in the forest canopy, where its green colour offers perfect camouflage.
  • Though listed as rare, the green python's distribution is larger than many countries in Europe. The Green Python is also found in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. Juvenile green pythons are vastly different in colour to their adult parents.
  • These small animals hatch out of their eggs bright yellow, brick red or brown with the colour of their body actually going through their eye pattern.

Where Green Pythons can be found in Australia:

Juvenile green python can use their tails as a lure imitating a small worm, to catch lizards.

Darwin Carpet Python


Morelia spilota variegata or the Carpet Python

Did you know...

  • Darwin carpet python dwells across the north ofAustralia.
  • Carpet python is common in urban parts of Darwin.
  • Adult Darwin carpet python eats mainly mammals, such as rats and possums.
  • Juvenile carpet python eat mainly lizards, such as skinks and geckos.

Where Darwin Carpet Python can be found in Australia:

Juvenile carpet python eat mainly lizards, such as skinks and geckos.

Albino Darwin Carpet Python


Morelia spilota variegata or the Carpet Python

Meet Tully. Tully is an albino Darwin Carpet Python. Tully's mum was found in a caravan park in Darwin about ten years ago. A resident of the caravan park saw Blondie one day. When the Parks and Wildlife Commission head about it they took Blondie to the Territory Wildlife Park. Albino animals are thought to be more visible to predators in the wild, so they are often caught and kept in captivity, carpet python is among them. Despite their supposedly more visible looks, adult albino animals are often found in the wild, showing that they can avoid predation and survive through to adulthood.

Albinism is widespread through the animal kingdom. All sorts of albino animals have been found - insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and more. An albino animal can't make melanin. Melanin is a dark pigment that is produced and stored in the skin. For instance, when you spend a lot of time in the sun you get a sun tan. The darker coloration of your skin is due to an increase in the amount of melanin. The genetic fault that prevents albinos from properly producing melanin is heritable, meaning that an albino adult carpet python can pass the albino gene onto its offspring.

Did you know...

  • Albino animals are thought to be more visible to predators in the wild, so they are often caught and kept in captivity.
  • An albino animal can't make melanin. Melanin is a dark pigment that is produced and stored in the skin. The genetic fault that prevents albinos from properly producing melanin is heritable, meaning that an albino adult can pass the albino gene onto its offspring.

Where Albino Darwin Carpet Python can be found in Australia:

Albinism is widespread through the animal kingdom, and the carpet python is no exception.

For Beginners


Guide to Pythons

by Andrew Owen

Pythons are increasing in popularity as pets in Australia and many species are now available. Keeping native species as pets is a good option ecologically and if the animals’ basic needs are met they can thrive in captivity. And so, the following discussions (guide to pythons) are strongly recommended.

Guide to Pythons: Housing

Pythons should be kept individually in a secure enclosure made from thermally efficient material (material that holds heat well like wood or plastic, not a glass fishtank). A glass front allows for viewing your animal. The diagram below illustrates a  basic python set up and minimal requirements for a healthy animal.

Guide to Pythons: Housing Hatchling/Juvenile Pythons

If you purchase a hatchling/juvenile python keep it in a “click-clack” (small, secure container) inside your enclosure until it is an appropriate size for the enclosure - this could be up to a year. Too many people get impatient and put their small python in an enclosure too early, only to have the animal escape through gaps around glass & vents, etc!

Guide to Pythons: Guide to enclosure size

Guide to Pythons: Arboreal python

(tree dwelling)

Guide to Pythons: Terrestrial python

(ground dwelling)

Guide to Pythons: Length ¾ of snake length length Length of snake
Width ½ of snake length ¾ of snake length
Height Length of snake ½ of snake length

Guide to Pythons: Substrate

Choice of substrate (the material on the bottom of your enclosure) varies. Small gravel can look nice, but cleaning time is increased. Newspaper is hygienically and practically best but not as visually pleasing.

Guide to Pythons: Feeding

Before purchasing your python make sure it has been feeding on thawed mice or rats. You may think it is boring feeding your pet the same meal but a mouse or rat has all the nutrients needed. If a python is happily feeding don’t change things.

Juveniles should be fed every 7-10 days, slowly increasing the size of the meal as your python grows. Adults should be fed a meal around 20% of their body weight every 2nd week (possibly more in summer and less or no food in winter). Pythons are predominantly nocturnal so feeding after dark is best. If your python refuses a feed, don’t be alarmed. Some don’t eat when they are about to shed and some will go off food in winter.

Guide to Pythons: Drinking Water

Drinking water should be available at all times to your Python. Refrain from simply topping up the water bowl as much as possible. A couple of times a week, remove the water bowl, empty & clean the bowl thouroughly, then re-fill with fresh water.

Guide to Pythons: Shedding (Sloughing)

Pythons shed their skin every couple of months or so, more frequently as they are growing. A sign of a healthy python in a good environment is its shed. A good, whole skin shed signals correct humidity and health. If a shed comes off in patches perhaps more cage furnishing with rough sections are required and more humidity. Greater humidity can be achieved by increasing the size of the water bowl or occasional light spraying of the enclosure with water. Any retained shed, in particular on the eyes and tail tip, must be removed.

Guide to Pythons: Handling When a new animal is purchased, introduce it to its new home and leave it alone until it is feeding and comfortable in its surroundings. If your snake is about to shed (signaled by milky eyes) leave it alone until shedding is complete. The snake’s eye sight is poor at this time and handling is stressful. After a feed leave your python alone to digest its meal and if you usually feed your python at night it is advisable not to handle it at night.

Arboreal python

(tree dwelling)

Terrestrial python

(ground dwelling)

Length ¾ of snake length length Length of snake
Width ½ of snake length ¾ of snake length
Height Length of snake ½ of snake length

Guide to Pythons for Beginners will make the task easy

Diamond Python


Morelia spilota spilota or the Diamond Python

Did you know...

  • The diamond python have the most southerly distribution of any Australian python, reaching as far south as Victoria.
  • Like all pythons, diamond python lays eggs which are then incubated and defended by the female. Once the young have emerged, the mum no longer cares for them.
  • These pythons are ambush predators with large home ranges that often overlap. They move around seasonally to occupy well-camouflaged positions or hibernate in winter months.

Where Diamond Python can be found in Australia:

The diamond python is one of the subspecies in the diamond/carpet python group.

Coastal Carpet Python


Morelia spilota mcdowelli or the Coastal Carpet Python

Perhaps Australia's best-known python, the name Carpet Python actually refers to a number of different subspecies, each found in a separate geographic location. Coastal carpet python snakes are probably the most common snake found in and around Brisbane. They do an excellent job of keeping the rat population down. Adult carpet snakes can get up to 4 metres long. At this size they feed on large possums, and maybe even unwary cats.

During the mating season, several males will often aggregate around a single female and fight with each other to see who gets to mate with her. Female coastal carpet Python lay from 5 to 50 eggs, with larger females laying proportionately more eggs. As with other Australian pythons, the female will curl around her eggs mass while the eggs are incubating, but will not care for the young after they've hatched. The row of pits on the lower jaw are heat sensitive organs, enabling the python to sense warm-blooded prey in total darkness.

Did you know...

  • The coastal carpet python is probably the most common snake found in and around Brisbane.
  • Adult carpet snakes can get up to 4 metres long. At this size they feed on large possums, and maybe even unwary cats.
  • During the mating season, several males will often aggregate around a single female and fight with each other to see who gets to mate with her.
  • Female carpet python lay from 5 to 50 eggs, with larger females laying more eggs.
  • As with other Australian pythons, the female will curl around her eggs mass while the eggs are incubating, but will not care for the young after they've hatched.

Where do theCoastal Carpet Python dwell in Australia:

Coastal Carpet Python

Jungle Carpet Python


Morelia spilota cheynei or the Jungle Carpet Python

Adult Jungle Carpet Python feeds largely on mammals (such as possums and fruit bats) and birds. The hatchlings prey mainly on small lizards. During the warmer months these snakes are largely nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. During cooler weather they can be found on the move in the warmer daytime.

During the mating season, several males will often aggregate around a single female and fight with each other to see who gets to mate with her. Female Carpet Pythons will lay from 5 to 50 eggs, with larger females laying more eggs. As with other Australian pythons, the female will curl around her eggs mass while the eggs are incubating, but will not care for the young after they've hatched. The row of pits on the lower jaw are heat sensitive organs, enabling the python to sense warm-blooded prey in total darkness.

Did you know...

  • Jungle Carpet Pythons are found on the tablelands and ranges of north-eastern Queensland.
  • The adult jungle carpet python feeds largely on mammals (such as possums and fruit bats) and birds.
  • During the mating season, several male jungle carpet pythons will often aggregate around a single female and fight with each other to see who gets to mate with her.
  • The female carpet pythons lay from 5 to 50 eggs, with larger females laying more eggs.
  • As with other Australian pythons, the female jungle carpet python will curl around her eggs mass while the eggs are incubating, but will not care for the young after they've hatched.

Where Jungle Carpet Python can be found in Australia:

Jungle Carpet Python

Rough-scaled Python


Morelia carinata or the Rough-scaled Python

Did you know...

  • Rough-scaled python was only scientifically recognized in 1981.
  • The Rough-scaled Python was found in a very remote part of the Western Australian Kimberley region.
  • The Rough-scaled Python is unique among Australian pythons in having keeled (rough) scales.
  • Living in such a remote environment has made studying this snake in the wild almost impossible. As such:

- their diet in the wild is unknown, but birds may be a large part of it. - the function of the keeled scales is unknown, but may help the snakes wedge themselves into crevices.

Where Rough-scaled Pythons dwell in Australia:

Rough-scaled Python

Olive Python


Liasis olivaceus or the Olive Python

The Olive Python is sometimes confused with the Water Python, or (often to its detriment) the venomous Mulga Snake. On closer inspection they are very different looking animals. The Olive Python grows to a length of 4 metres, with those from the Pilbara region in Western Australia reaching even greater lengths. The back is a pale fawn to rich brown or dull olive brown in colour, while the belly is a light cream. The lips are pale, finely dotted with grey or brown. 

The Olive Python is found in the drier parts of northern Australia, from northwestern Western Australia to western Queensland. They seem to be more abundant amongst the rocky hills and ranges. The length and weight of an adult Olive Python restricts its climbing to only the largest trees and rocky outcrops. As with all pythons, the Olive Python does most of its hunting at night time, feeding on rats, birds, and wallabies.

The female Olive Python can deposit up to 24 eggs per clutch. She will then wrap her coils around these eggs and produce a suitable microenvironment to aid in their hatching.

Did you know...

  • The length and weight of an adult olive python restricts its climbing to only the largest trees and rocky outcrops.
  • The olive python grows to a length of 4 metres, with those from the Pilbara region in Western Australia reaching even greater lengths.
  • The olive python is sometimes confused with the water python, or (often to its detriment) the venomous mulga snake. On closer inspection they are very different looking animals.
  • The female olive python can deposit up to 24 eggs per clutch. She will then wrap her coils around these eggs and produce a suitable microenvironment to aid in their hatching.

Where to find Olive Pythons in Australia:

Olive Python

Stimson's Python


Antaresia stimsoni or Stimson's Python

Stimson's Python is a small snake only reaching about a meter in length. As a python, they are non-venomous.

Spotted pythons occur in dry inland areas, from the coast of Western Australia through the country to west of the Great Dividing Range, preferring to live in areas with rocky outcrops. They come out at night to feed on small lizards, frogs and mammals.

The female Stimson's python lays clutches of 7-9 eggs, which the female will incubate (a typical python behaviour). Incubation should last for about 50 days but may change depending on the temperature.

Did you know...

  • These small pythons only reach about a meter in length.
  • Stimson's python comes out at night to feed on small lizards, frogs and mammals.
  • As a python, they are non-venomous.
  • Female Stimson's pythons lay clutches of 7-9 eggs, which the female will incubate (a typical python behaviour).
  • Incubation should last for about 50 days but may change depending on the temperature.

Where Stimson's Python can be found in Australia:

Stimson's Python