Black-headed Pythons (Aspidites melanocephalus)

The Black-headed python is one of the more unique and unusual pythons that are being kept and bred in captivity today. Black-headed pythons, along with the better known Woma pythons, belong to the genus Aspidities, which is a genus known to be one of the most ancient of all pythons. Both of these pythons are considered primitive, mainly due to the lack of thermoreceptive labial pits along the upper and lower ‘lip’ scales, which are found in every other python. Besides these primitive features Black Heads, as the name suggests, have a striking appearance with a pitch black head and a banded pattern across the rest of their body. These bands can vary greatly in width and in spacing, and the general overall base colour can range from light brown through to brilliant white or banana yellow. The purpose of the black head is poorly understood but there are some suggestions that this colouration is perhaps used as camouflage in order to enter burrows that are very dark in search for prey. It is also thought that this colouration is beneficial in basking in cooler temperatures where they can bask with their head exposed from the burrow while the rest of their body is protected within. Another amazing thing about these pythons is that they can go through a rare colour change during early adulthood at about 5 to 7 years of age. These colour transformations happen over a short period of time where the dark pigments in the banding are replaced with pastel shades of red, pink and orange.

Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) native to Australia. Dajarra locale, female.
Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) native to Australia.
Dajarra locale, female.

Housing Black-headed pythons

Black Heads are generally considered medium sized pythons, with adult males typically reaching lengths of 1.8m to 2.4m and weighing 2.7kg to 4.5kg. Females are generally larger, averaging lengths of 2.4m to 3.7m and weights of 5.5kg to 9kg. These pythons do well in captivity and are quite forgiving of errors on the keeper’s side. Their temperament is generally quite good. As babies they will often

be a bit more jumpy than most snakes, and will flatten their heads and necks and hiss with their mouths open. Even when striking, Black Heads rarely ever bite. As they get older they calm down and tolerate handling very well and make a truly beautiful display animal that can be handled easily.

Baby Black Heads can be housed in a common racking system setup, where they can progressively be moved into larger tubs as they grow. When they are around 1.2 to 1.5m feet long they can be moved into an enclosure that has a floor space of around 1500 x 90cm. All that is required to keep Black Heads all they need is a thermal gradient, a suitable substrate and a water bowl, and they will thrive. As regards to climate Black Heads can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. The best is to provide a basking spot of 35 ̊C for your Black Heads and a cool temperature on the other end of around 27 ̊C. A box that has a top hole entry is enjoyed by Black Heads as it provides them with the security of a subterranean burrow. Black Heads will do well when kept on a substrate of newspaper. Avoid using substrates that contain lots of small debris when keeping Black Heads.


Feeding Black Heads never seems to be much of a problem, they are always eager to feed and can grow at quite a rapid rate. These pythons can be feed purely on rodents, from mice when they are younger to medium rats when they are older. If raised correctly Blackheads can reach maturity within 21⁄2 – 3 years. When Black Heads are growing you can feed your snakes every 5 -7 days and as they get older they can be fed a medium sized rat every two weeks or so.

Breeding Black Heads

In their natural habitat these pythons experience a dramatic climate change from long warm summer days to cooler shorter winter days. These conditions can be easily replicated by using timers in your snake’s enclosure. During summer the heat source should be on 24 hours and the lights, if you are using any, will be on for a 16 hours.

During winter slowly start reducing the temperature and lighting until they are experiencing only 6 hours of light and 18 ̊C – 20 ̊C nights. Early into this cooling period males begin to get restless and will start wandering around their enclosures in search for females, at this time you can put the male and female together and mating usually begins shortly. As breeding and courtship continue through this cooling period you will notice that the female will start showing signs of follicle swelling slightly below the mid body point. Males must be left with the females during this period until ovulation has occurred. At this point heat can be restored and the male removed.

Once the female has ovulated it will be around 60 days before egg deposition. During this time it is important that the female has a heat source and you will notice the female will be basking extensively. At times you will see she will be fully inverted from head to tail. Females will lay around 7 – 10 eggs, although clutches of up to 20 eggs have been recorded.

Incubation of Black-headed python eggs has posed a problem in the past. The key is to provide the correct humidity whilst making sure that the eggs are kept on a dry surface and do not come into contact with moisture. An effective way to achieve this is by using a typical setup of plastic containers with a few small holes with damp vermiculite (water to weight ratio 1:1) at the bottom. On top of the vermiculite you can place a plastic grid on which the eggs can then be placed so that they don’t come into direct contact with the vermiculite. Be sure to keep an eye on the vermiculite and make sure it doesn’t get too dry during the incubation period; also make sure to oxygenate the eggs frequently by opening the lid every couple of days or so and making a quick visual check on the eggs. Temperatures should be maintained at around 30 ̊C – 31 ̊C and at these temperatures the eggs should pip after 62 to 65 days.

Babies absorb a large amount of yolk when they hatch and will not require feeding for the first 6 to 8 weeks. After this period you can offer them rat pinks. Frozen/thawed meals are best offered just before lights out and any uneaten food items must be removed first thing in the morning.

In the end keeping and breeding Black Heads is a very rewarding experience. These ancient pythons from Down Under can make a great addition as a pet or to add to a collection. Although they still sell at a high price in South Africa they are well worth the investment.

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