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Royal Python Care (all you need to know)!

This section of our website will give you all of the information you need to know about keeping your Royal Python happy, healthy, and thriving under your care. Please note that the majority of this information is directed at adult specimens. For information about young hatchling Royal Pythons, please see our Hatchling Care page.

Housing Your Royal Python

Royal pythons (python regius) are a family of snakes found across West Africa, commonly found living in termite mounds and mammal burrows. With this in mind, we advise trying to replicate these conditions in captivity, with various pieces of equipment and techniques to help achieve this.


First and foremost, your royal python will need a secure habitat to live in. There are a variety of different enclosures to be used when keeping royal pythons, but we recommend wooden vivariums. We have found that for an adult male, a 36” x 18” x 18” wooden vivarium provides enough space to keep your snake happy. For adult females, a 48” x 18” x 18” wooden vivarium seems to work better, as they do grow slightly larger than males.


Inside the enclosure, it is essential that multiple hides or caves are available for your snake to escape line of sight, which provides a feeling of safety and security to the animal. These tight fitting, snug areas of their habitat are crucial for managing stress, and allowing your animal to resort to a "safe zone". It is recommended that there is at least two hide available, one placed on the "hot spot", and one placed in the "cool end" (more on the temperatures later).


Another essential item for the habitat is a water bowl for your snake to drink from, and occasionally take a soak in. Water should be replaced at least every two days, ensuring that the bowl is cleaned and disinfected once per week. Water bowls can also be strategically positioned within your vivarium to help maintain the correct humidity levels (more on this later).


Other decor can be added to your vivariums, such as branches, cork bark, logs or rocks, which can provide your snake with some form of exercise and exploration. Ornaments can also be used as caves or hides, allowing you to get creative, and design a real masterpiece.


Temperatures

As the royal python is a sub-tropical species, specific pieces of equipment are needed to maintain the correct temperatures. There are multiple ways to achieve these temperatures for snakes kept in captivity. The first thing any reptile keeper should know, is that a thermostat is a MUST HAVE to provide safe heating, and without, your animal could potentially be at risk of over-heating, burns, and potential fire risks.


Royal pythons require a temperature gradient, with one end of their enclosure offering a "hot spot", and a cooler end to offer the opportunity to escape the heat. We aim to maintain a steady hot spot of 32°c - 33°c, a cooler spot of 25°c - 26°c, and ambient temperatures of 28°c - 29°c. This ensures that your snake has the ability to thermoregulate, which is crucial for keeping your animal in good health and stress free. We also recommend placing a hide on the hot spot, and a hide in the cooler end. This also provides a feeling a safety when your snake moves from one end to the other to thermoregulate.


Thermostats

There is more than one type of thermostat on the market, all of which have their own benefits, depending on what heat source you choose to use. At JW Royals, we use a variety of different thermostats and heat sources. Below you will find our recommended combinations with details on how they work, and how they're best used. Thermostats are a must have piece of equipment, and under no circumstances should any reptile be kept without.

Dimming Thermostats

Dimming thermostats are probably the most expensive type of thermostat, and work with most heat sources. Dimming thermostats work by supplying incremental power to the heat source. Basically, the thermostat provides power to the heat source until the set temperature is achieved, and slowly reduces the amount of power to maintain the set temperature. When the temperature drops below your setting, the thermostat will again increase the amount of power being supplied until the set temperature is achieved once again. Dimming thermostats can be used with ceramic heat emitters, light emitting bulbs (basking bulbs), heat tape, heat mats, and heat cable. Dimming thermostats are by far the most accurate, due to the constant feedback and power adjustment, this type of thermostat can maintain steady temperatures and eliminates fluctuations.

Pulse Proportional Thermostats

Pulse proportional thermostats are also a great way of maintaining the correct temperatures for your pet. Pulse thermostats are slightly cheaper than dimming thermostats, but can still be used with a number of different heat sources (non light emitting). Pulse thermostats regulate the amount of power by pulsing at different intensities. When the thermostat needs to reach a set temperature, it will pulse at a higher intensity until the set temperature is achieved. When the set temperature is achieved, the thermostat will pulse at a lower intensity. Pulse thermostats can be used with ceramic heat emitters, heat mats, heat tape, and heat cable. Due to the way the power is delivered to the heat source, light emitting bulbs cannot be used with this type of thermostat. Again, due to the instant feedback, these thermostats are great at maintaining steady temperatures and minimising fluctuations.

On / Off Thermostats

On / Off thermostats are the cheapest type, but are limited to certain heat sources. On / Off thermostats work by delivering full power to the heat source until the desired temperature is achieved, at which point, the thermostat will switch off until the temperature drops below your setting. This procedure is then repeated to maintain the set temperature. On / Off thermostats can only be used with heat mats and heat cable. This type of thermostat is ideal for use in racking systems, or providing a secondary source of heat within larger enclosures.


Heat Sources

There are a variety of different heat sources available to provide the necessary temperatures for all species of reptiles. Some heat sources are great for providing belly heat for snakes, and others that provide overhead heating for basking spots. There are also other types that can be used to provide secondary heat spots for larger enclosures. Please see below a detailed overview of each type and the recommendations on the best ways to use them. 

Ceramic Heat Emitters (CHE)

Ceramic heat emitters are a heat source most commonly used in wooden vivarium setups. CHE’s are similar to standard heat bulbs, apart from the fact it is non-light emitting. The basic setup would be to attach a ceramic lamp holder to the inside of your vivarium, insert the CHE, and cover with a bulb cage for safety (THIS IS ESSENTIAL). Ceramic heat emitters don’t project any light, so LED strip lights can be added on a timer, to replicate a day / night cycle for your animals. CHE’s work best with dimming and pulse thermostats if used as your primary heat source. On / off thermostats can be used with a smaller wattage CHE to provide a secondary source of heat. When using an over-head heat source, the thermostat probe should be placed directly on top of the hide. If a hide isn't being used, we recommend placing the probe halfway between the bottom of the bulb cage, and the surface of the substrate.

Heat Cable

Heat cables are most commonly used as primary heat sources for racking systems. Heat cable comes in lots of different lengths and can provide heat to multiple enclosures at the same time, all running off a single thermostat. Heat cable can be distributed over several shelves to provide a hot spot for multiple plastic tubs. The heat cable is usually taped to the shelving unit, and the plastic tubs slide over the cable, thus causing the underside of the tub to get warm. The thermostat probe should be positioned inside a tub, secured to the bottom with strong tape or zip ties, directly over the hot spot. We recommend keeping the probe in an empty tub to avoid any interference from your snake. If the snake happens to lay on top of the probe, pee or poop, spill water, or dislodge and relocate the probe, these interference's could give the thermostat a false reading, and as a result, supply too much, or too little heat to the enclosures.

Heat Mats

In addition to the heat sources mentioned above, heat mats are also a great option. Heat mats can be used to supply heat to multiple tubs in a racking system, often placed down the entirety of the back of the rack frame to make contact with the rear of the tubs. This method offers your snakes back heat rather than belly heat. Heat mats can also be used as a secondary source of belly heat in wooden vivariums already fitted with a CHE. It is crucial that the thermostat probe is secured directly to the heat mat to avoid your snake getting burnt.


Humidity

Humidity is a very important factor when trying to keep you royal pythons healthy. We aim to keep our humidity at 60% - 80%. When our snakes go into shed, we try and increase the humidity a little higher to aid the process. If the humidity is too low when your snake is in shed, this can cause difficulties when trying to shed away the old layer of skin. More importantly, low levels of humidity can cause respiratory infections, which can be life threatening if not treated promptly and correctly. If the humidity is too high, there are risks that bacteria will grow within the enclosure and can sometimes even cause scale rot. Scale rot would only occur if the high levels of humidity have been maintained over a long period of time.

 

Humidity levels can be monitored by using either a digital or analogue hygrometer. The hygrometer would be placed within the enclosure, giving you a percentage reading of the amount of water vapour in the air. As mentioned above, we recommend aiming for 60% - 80% as this most accurately mimics the levels found in West Africa where the royal python originated.

 

If humidity levels are too low, a misting / spray bottle can be used to lightly mist the enclosure. The heat will evaporate the moisture, causing the humidity levels to increase. The water bowl can also be positioned closer to the heat source to the aid and maintain humidity levels. If humidity levels are too high, extra ventilation can be added to help dry out the enclosure (providing the humidity levels outside the enclosure are less). Humidity levels will decrease over time, and often, no action needs to be taken. Humidity spikes can be seen when replacing old substrate (bark chips, soils, eco earth etc), but these usually reduce to reasonable levels within a few days.


Feeding

As do most species of snake, royal pythons diet exclusively on rodents. In the wild, royal pythons feast on African soft furred rats, but have successfully been introduced to eating our own conventional rats and mice. In the hobby, royal pythons are often given the reputation of being “fussy eaters”, which isn’t entirely true, but evidence suggests that some keepers have had difficulties establishing hatchlings, and adult snakes spontaneously refusing food. The main reason for a royal python to refuse food would be related to husbandry. Whilst these snakes will devour any prey item offered under the correct husbandry, factors such as incorrect temperatures, incorrect humidity levels, and the inability to feel safe will all play a part towards your snakes feeding response.


Typically, hatchlings are introduced to eating small mice, increasing the size of the prey item as the snake grows. Often, keepers aim to switch their snakes from mice to rats as early as possible, as eventually, your snake will outgrow the size of the largest mice. A jumbo mouse is only the equivalent to a small weaner rat. Rats also contain more fat and calcium, which if fed on a correct schedule, will benefit you royal python as they start to grow. The basic rule of thumb is to feed your snake a prey item that is roughly 1 - 1.1/2 times as wide as the widest part of their body. Again, feeding too large a prey can affect the feeding response, potentially intimidating your snake with a meal that looks too large to swallow. 

Here at JW Royals, we base our prey selection purely on size. We don’t weigh any of our prey items, but many have had success using this method. We try and coax all our snakes into eating rats as soon as possible, and once established, use the following feeding schedule…


 1. Offer one appropriately sized prey item every 7 days.

 

 2. The Prey item must be no larger than 1 - 1.1/2 times the widest part of the snake.


 3. If your snake is in shed on feeding day, a meal can still be offered, but your animal is less likely to feed until the shedding process has finished.

 

 4. If your snake refuses food, we make any necessary adjustments to the husbandry the following day, and try again on the next scheduled feeding day.

 

We always recommend using frozen thawed prey items as this poses less risk of injury to your snakes. Your thawed rodents should be thoroughly de-frosted and warmed up before feeding. There are multiple ways to heat up your rodents. We defrost our rodents in zip-lock bags, and place in hot water just before we offer them to our snakes. The process of heating the rodent enables your snake to use their heat sensing pits to locate their food. Others have successfully heated their rodents using a hair dryer, placing directly in the hot water, dipping only the rodents head into hot water, and steaming the head over a boiling kettle, but we have never used any of these methods.

 

If you encounter a “fussy feeder”, firstly, we would recommend that your husbandry is reviewed, and any necessary corrections to be made the day after offering food. If your husbandry is on point, there are also other things to be tried to help get your snakes feeding again. In the wild, royal pythons feed on African soft furred rats. These are available from any decent pet shop, but may cost a little more than a conventional mouse or rat. As these rodents have a unique smell, this can often trigger a feeding response, however, it can be difficult getting your royal python to feed on any other type of rodent once you’ve introduced African soft furred rats (multimammates).

 

Second to this, another method to get your snakes feeding again would be to “brain” a rodent. This is the process of thawing and heating your rodent as explained above, but also breaking a hole in the rat’s skull, and squeezing out part of the brain. Again, the rodent’s brain has a unique smell, which can trigger a feeding response from your snake.

 

If neither of the above actions have worked, live food would be the next step to helping you get your snake eating again. Live food can be bought from many pet shops, but again, this will be at more expense. When offering live food, it is crucial that your snake is always monitored to avoid the prey item causing injury. It is very common for rats and mice to “fight back” or defend itself whilst your snake is constricting.


Feeding can sometimes be very stressful, but patience is key.

Cleaning

Cleaning is very important when keeping Royal Pythons. We recommend setting up a proper cleaning schedule to ensure  your snakes are living in a hygienic habitat. Spot cleaning daily is the easiest way to maintain a clean environment. This entails opening your snakes enclosure daily, removing any urate, poop and shed skin. Be sure to check under any decor or hides as it's not uncommon for them to toilet within their hiding spots. Prolonged exposure to urine can cause burns, so it is essential to clean as soon as possible. We also recommend doing a deep clean at least once per month. On this cleaning day we now remove the snake from its enclosure, remove all substrate, disinfect every inch of the enclosure, hides and decor, and replace with fresh new bedding. Our water bowls are topped up daily, and cleaned and disinfected once per week.


Substrate

There is a wide variety of substrates on the market, all with their own benefits...

Aspen is a great substrate for keeping Royal Pythons. It's odourless and very absorbent, which is great when your snake uses the toilet. It's also light in colour which some keepers prefer. Aspen is great for snakes that like to burrow too. Holding humidity is Aspen's downfall, and keeping this substrate too wet can will make the enclosure messy and risks forming mould.  Aspen can also be used straight out of the bag, and there's no preparation needed. This is probably the most cost effective substrate on the market, but does have one obvious problem.

Bark chips are another ideal substrate for Royal Pythons, however unlike the Aspen, bark chips do have a distinct smell, although its isn't unpleasant. Bark chips are also great for retaining water which aids humidity. Bark chips are less absorbent, and due to its dark colour, it can often make finding poop rather difficult. Another benefit for Bark chips is that it can be used straight out of the bag... no preparation is needed. This type of substrate is dark in colour which gives a more natural effect to your enclosure.

Coco Brick is probably one of the best substrates for keeping Royal Pythons, but again, it's not without its faults. This substrate again is odourless and very absorbent which is great for toilet clean-up. Coco brick is very fine, so dries out rather quickly, so regular misting is required to maintain correct humidity levels. When this substrate dries out, it can also become very dusty. Coco brick also requires some preparation before use, soaking the whole block in water for a period of time, before breaking it down to use as substrate. Depending on the brand, this process can be very time consuming. Again, this substrate is medium-dark which can give your enclosure a more natural effect.

Now... this is just our opinion... ReptiChip Premium Coconut Substrate is by far the best substrate we have ever used. It's odourless, clean, easy to prepare, very absorbent, and great value for money. One block really does go a long way. Retailing at around £16 per block, this amounts to nearly 70L of substrate! ReptiChips absorbency is also something to behold. Toilet clean-ups are easy-peasy... it also contains the odour. This substrate is also dust free, and has very consistent sized coconut chips. Keeping correct humidity levels is also a doddle too. It doesn't require regular misting, and holds humidity longer than any of the other substrates. This substrate does however require some preparation, but again, this is easy. The block needs to be submerged in tepid water for roughly 30 seconds, and the block will expand and crumble to a substrate within the next few minutes Again, dark in colour which adds to a natural effect. You can get your own Reptichip by clicking here!