One of the more eye catching and colourful snakes of the larger pythons is the Blood Python. Unfortunately these pythons have been underrated over the years mainly because of a reputation for having a bad temperament, and this is turning out to not always be the case, as we will discuss later on in this article. Blood Pythons are also straightforward and fairly easy to house and they do not get too long or too big to control. They are heavy snakes and are very impressive to handle and their colouring and markings are also unique in the python world, which makes them an impressive captive snake. Currently this snake is very popular in America and Europe but they are still fairly rare in South Africa with very few breeders breeding them. I hope with this article to change the perception of these pythons and increase their popularity.
Blood Pythons occur naturally in most of the lower elevations in Western Malaysia, south-western Thailand, Sumatra east of the central dividing range of mountains, Bangka Island and other islands in the straights of Malacca, including the Lingga Islands, Riau and Pinang. Blood Pythons are encountered in the low forest hills and the various types of plantations that are located in the upland areas surrounding the lower wetter habitats. There are two closely related species of python which are similar to the Blood Python; the Sumatran Python (P. curtus), also known as the Short-tailed Python or Black Blood Python, and the Borneo Blood Python (P. breitensteini), which is only found on the island of Borneo.
Unfortunately, the Blood Python has been hunted in their natural habitat for many years for their beautiful skin, which is in high demand. For more than 50 years Blood Pythons were mainly caught for the reptile skin trade and rarely if ever caught for the live snake trade. Not only did they skin Blood Pythons but also Reticulated Pythons and Water Monitors. These animals were not only skinned but also sold as food to Chinese restaurants! The few Blood Pythons that were eventually imported to the U.S were large animals that were bought from the skinning businesses in the Malayan areas. The animals were large snakes as the larger the specimen the more valuable it was to the skinning companies. These large specimens were heavy, flat headed pythons with plenty of attitude. They were beautiful, of course, but would not tolerate being handled and would thrash around and bite. They were not considered pets at all, and were only kept by zoos and serious collectors. The imported animals would refuse to feed and it would sometimes take more than year for some of them to accept their first meal. They rarely calmed down and settled into captivity. Wild caught females were also extremely difficult to breed in captivity with probably less than 1% of imported adult female Blood Pythons ever laying eggs in captivity. Wild caught males, on the other hand, will breed readily, but if you want to breed these pythons it is best to raise females from captive bred hatchlings.
So, due to all these factors this species developed a solid reputation of being difficult and aggressive captives that you wanted to avoid. Now, due to captive breeding, this reputation is changing. In America the Blood Python is becoming one of the most popular python pets. This is not only due to its amazing colour and pattern varieties but also because they have undergone an attitude change. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, in the beginning most of the Blood Pythons that were acquired were of Malayan origin, and these for whatever reason tend to be more aggressive and willing to bite, even captive bred babies are not as laid-back and trustworthy as the Sumatran specimens. The wild-caught Malayan pythons would rarely settle down into captivity and would not tolerate any handling whereas on the other hand the Sumatran adults were friendly right away, and most would calm right down within six months or so and became easy animals to work with.
The second and largest reason for their change in attitude is the fact that captive bred babies are now available for sale. Although they might not be too common in S.A yet there are a few around each year, and I am sure in the near future there will be more and more. Captive bred specimens can be bred using similar techniques that are used to breed the more common Burmese python. Captive bred Blood Pythons thrive in captivity, and are ferocious eaters and the bigger they get the prettier they get. Blood Pythons are also considerably smaller than Boa Constrictors. Most adult female Blood Pythons weigh only 4.5 to 7kgs and are 1.2 to 1.6m long.
Housing and Feeding
At all ages Blood Pythons require a secure, well-ventilated cage. These can range from glass tanks with ventilated secure lids to wooden display cabinets with glass sliding doors, or plastic tubs with sufficient ventilation. Hatchlings can be placed in small plastic enclosures. It seems that the hatchlings prefer small enclosure as it makes them feel more secure. Once regular feeding begins then your Blood Python will quickly require bigger space so be ready for this. Blood Pythons can be kept very well on newspaper. When using newspaper as a substrate it is best to place a thick layer on the ground then you can loosely crumple up some larger pieces and place them in the cage which the snake can then hide under it if it desires. Other substrates can be used but none of them compare to easy to clean and hygienic newspaper. Clean water must be available at all times in a large water bowl. Blood Pythons seem to drink large amounts of water so it is important that drinking water is always available. With regards to temperatures, Blood Pythons are best kept at around 27 – 29°C. If you do have a heating spot make sure it is set to be around 32°C and not higher. Heating spots are best provided with a heating pad and a temperature control unit.
When it comes to feeding Blood Pythons, rats are their preferred delicacy, and they will eat them from the very beginning. An appropriately sized rat once per week is ideal. Be careful when feeding rats as they can seriously harm and or even kill your snake if left alive in the cage with it. The best option is to feed them dead food either thawed or freshly killed.
Blood Pythons have little trouble when it comes to shedding as long as the keeper increases the humidity levels a few days before its python is going to shed. This can be done by simply wetting the newspaper substrate. If the snake still doesn’t shed soak in water for several hours will do the trick. In humid conditions below 50 – 60 % Blood Pythons can have difficulty shedding. The problem is that in situations with high humidity and poor ventilation, respiratory infections are likely to occur. This is why the humidity is only raised a few days before shedding. Generally humidity should be maintained at around 60 – 70% with any variation occurring towards the lower side.
As mentioned, when it comes to breeding you must make sure your female is captive bred to ensure successful breeding. Males can breed from around two years of age and females shouldn’t be younger than 3 years old. Cooling for Blood Pythons has proven to be unnecessary and heat can be maintained all year around, a drop in room temperature at night during winter is a good idea but make sure to leave your heating pad on. Females can be placed with males during the cooler months of the year and can be left together for up to five months or so (May-September). Remove the male for a few days every couple of weeks and then reintroduce him to create some more interest. When reintroducing him do so in the late afternoon and spray the cage heavily. Females can lay from 4 to over 20 eggs!
When it comes to hatchling Blood Pythons they are just as, if not even more, appealing than the adults. There are two important factors that need to be considered with hatchlings with regards to shedding. Once hatched, most pythons will shed after a week or two, but Blood Pythons can take three to four months to shed! What is also interesting is that they will feed after 14 to 21 days after hatching and can triple their weight before their first shed. Pay close attention to the juveniles’ shedding patterns and make sure that there are no stuck sheddings and if there are, that they are removed quickly.
Hatchling Blood Pythons also go through a colour change as they grow. They are rarely red when they are born and will start out as a brown, tan, or orange brown when they hatch. As they grow they will begin to show their red colouring with most only showing their red colours and patterns at around two years of age.
I hope that this article has given you a better understanding of this beautiful and underrated python, and has allowed you to understand where it had developed a bad reputation that no longer applies today. That being said, this is still large snake so therefore is not ideal for a beginner. For someone that has handled and kept snakes before this impressive python is a great step up into the realm of the big snakes.
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