Royal pythons are understandably popular pet snakes. They have the same beautiful proportions and markings of the larger pythons yet reach a far more manageable size at adulthood. They’re also typically very docile snakes ideal for handling, and are reasonably easy to care for in captivity.
Selecting A Royal Python
Many years ago most royal pythons for sale were wild caught or captive farmed individuals which suffered from a variety of problems. They often came with a variety of parasites, easily got stressed when being handled and would regularly refuse to eat for months at a time.
These days not only are royal pythons regularly available as captive-bred specimens but specialist breeders have also managed to create all manner of different colour morphs with some of the rarer, and hence more expensive, morphs selling for thousands of dollars.
So the first step in selecting a royal python is to ensure you buy a captive bred specimen.
When you have found a pet store or private breeder the next step is to select the right individual from those available and this choice shouldn’t just be based on which one’s markings you like best.
A full health check should be carried out on any python you are considering buying, starting at the head and working your way back along the body until you reach the tail.
Starting at the head, take a look at the nostrils to ensure they are clean and free from any fluid. Try to listen to the snake to ensure it isn’t making a wheezing noise which might suggestion respiratory problems.
Check that the eyes are bright and clear, and take good look inside the mouth with the help of the breeder. This should be a gentle pink colour. Reddened tissue, or a cheesy secretion in the mouth may be indicators of ill health.
When you are happy with this, slowly work back, checking the snake for any missing scales, irregularities in the spine or lesions, ending up at the vent on the underside of the snake which should be dry and clear from any mess.
Assuming all is in order, and the snake generally appears docile, lively and interested in what is going on around it then your snake should be safe to purchase.
Even with all these checks it is advisable to seek out a qualified reptile vet so they too can check over your new snake for any problems. Be aware that reptiles can do downhill very quickly on the health front so the sooner you catch any problems the better.
Housing Royal Pythons
Most of the reptile vivariums available are suitable for a royal python assuming it has suitable space to move around. Personally I found a 2 foot long tank worked well for my hatchling, and adults should be housed in vivariums of at least 4 feet in length, ideally longer. A general rule of thumb is that a royal python cage should be at least as long as your snake when stretched out.
Like all snakes, royal pythons are natural escape artists and will work their way round the tank and find any weaknesses so a tight-fitting lid or door is essential and for larger specimens I like to use a cage lock as much to prevent the snake escaping as from anyone getting in.
Personally I use a glass-fronted wooden vivarium which is set up with dry substrate on the base for my python. Pythons can suffer in damp conditions from breathing problems or skin conditions so a dry substrate, with a suitably sized water bowl to drink from tends to work best.
I use beech chips personally but a range of reptile-safe substrates are available from reptile stores, and some reptile keepers even opt to use newspaper as it is cheap to get hold of and can be disposed of on a regular basis, though is far from absorbent if any water gets spilled.
Royal pythons can be quite shy at times and like a place where they can feel safe so a hide is essential. Hides can be made from pieces of cork bark available from reptile specialists, to specially-made ceramic hides through to something as simple as a cereal box. Try to place at least two hides in the cage – one at the warm end and one at the cold – to provide some choice.
Like all snakes, royal pythons will need some supplementary heating if they are to remain healthy and a reptile heat mat is a cheap, easy and reliable way to provide this and is likely to be perfectly adequate for smaller snakes. For my large python I also provide a heat lamp at one end of the cage, suitably shielded so the snake cannot burn itself, and with a thermostat attached to control the temperature.
Feeding Royal Pythons
Captive-bred royal pythons are generally reliable feeders when kept warm. A snake that stops feeding is often coming up to moult or is being kept too cold. A snake that is coming up to moult seems to lose some of it’s colour and the eyes will go “milky” as the outer skin begins to detach from the skin underneath so keep an eye out for these signals whereupon your snake will probably stop feeding for a few weeks.
Royal pythons will normally eat dead rodents of a suitable size though in my experience sometimes prefer one type to another. For example my python, whilst large, finds adult mice far more interesting than weaner rats, even though they are a similar size.
For hatchlings, pinkies and then fuzzies (fluffs) should be fed, once or twice a week, while adults can be fed on proportionately larger prey.
Be aware that royal pythons can be lazy and have been known to get overweight, so keep an eye on your snake to ensure it isn’t eating too much and gaining excessive fat which may lead to poor health and a shorter lifespan.