Legend of Kaa the Burmese Python
With the Jungle book out again in theaters, I thought I might shed a little light on the Burmese python (Python bivittatus), and their care.
Big Snake Breakdown
Depending on who you ask, Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus) are either the third or fourth largest snake species in the world, here’s how it plays out.
The longest is the Reticulated python (Python reticulatus), reaching 33 feet long (according to the books), but in reality, 15-24 feet would be more normal, still a very long snake.
The heaviest is the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), weighing in at 550 lbs & 44 inches in Diameter (again according to the books), reality is more like 200-350 lbs, & 12-24 inches in diameter.
Next we have either the Burmese (my choice for #3), or the African Rock Python (Python sebae).
The record maximum length for Burmese pythons (P. bivittatus) is held by a female named “Baby”, who lived at Serpent Safari, in Gurnee, Illinois, for 27 years. Shortly after death, her actual length was determined to be 5.74 m (18 ft 10 in) (supposedly she weighed 403 lbs!, in my opinion she was severely overweight!)
I personally rescued an 18 foot, 125lb Albino Burmese python (P. bivittatus) a few years ago, who now is about 20 feet, and one hundred and fifty pounds (a friend of mine has her), so this is not a snake you can trifle with. In reality, a normally fed Burmese python (P. bivittatus) will range between 11 – 18 feet long, and weigh between 75 – 200 lbs, the same weight as a normal human! Mistakes can be painful, and should be avoided if at all possible. A snake never stops growing, this is true, just like it said in the movie Anaconda, but while true, the first 3-4 years mean the most in length, and then they start putting on girth, just like we do.
Burmese pythons range in the Southern & South East Asia, preferring the mangrove forests, forested areas, rainforests, marshes, and grasslands, with plenty of cover to hide and camouflage in. Which is why they can survive in a small area in the Florida wetlands, the temperatures, humidity, and jungle feel, make them quite at home. While there is a wild population in Florida, they cannot leave their specialized habitat. As with all reptiles, Burmese pythons require quite specific temperature, humidity, and other specialized needs prohibiting their expansion (see link in Further Reading).
Most people with a single reptile pet have a glass tank for them. Simple, easy to clean, and readily available, and for a baby burm this will work, but not for long, within a year they can be 6-8 feet long, and be ready for a large enclosure. There are many ready-made enclosures which will work for them. Critter Condos, Boaphile Plastics, and even homemade enclosures work. But here is what you need: An enclosure long enough the snake can stretch out in (for a burm I recommend a minimum 8 foot long, 4 foot wide, and 2-4 feet tall), the height will not be used as much, but when trying to extract the snake, it can be helpful. You want a water soaking area ( I use the concrete mixing tubs from Home depot they are about $15 and are 3 foot x 2 foot and about 8 inches deep), substrate I recommend is either shredded Cypress, or coconut husk, this keeps the humidity up where you need it, better than most other commercial products.
Snake Hooks and Hook Training
GET A HOOK!
No matter what, when you are talking about a snake that can weigh as much as an adult human, you need to respect that animal.
Hook training is simple, easy, and WORKS! All you do, is simply use the hook to push the head away from you gently, this lets them know you are picking them up, or moving them, or cleaning, without them thinking it’s feeding time.
Start when they are young, and continue to do so EVERY TIME. Do not slack off and disrespect the snake, all it takes is one major bite and you will never forget again. But no, unlike the movies, they are not man-eaters, we are not normal prey for them, bites are typically either mistakes while feeding, or startle reflex.
Temperature, Humidity, and Feeding
Temperatures are moderate, similar to a ball python, 80-88 temperature gradient, humidity in the range of 50-70%, again similar to ball pythons. Like most snakes, regular interaction eliminates the fear, so interact with them, at least as often as you are feeding (see Treating Snake Aggression in Further Reading).
Feeding can get a little tricky, but here are a few tips. One, DO NOT OVERFEED THEM. Most people overfeed their pets, and a fat snake is not healthy. A moderately sized meal 2x a month is perfect for an adult snake; babies of course should eat 3-4 times a month, but adults 1-2 times depending on the size of the meal. I tend to feed smaller meals, a little more often, while an 200 lb Burmese python, can easily eat a 10 lb rabbit a month, feeding two 5 lb rabbits every other week is more my style.
A stuffed snake is vulnerable, they can’t move fast to get away, so they become irritable in defense of the meal, and if they have to they will regurgitate it, which is no good for the keeper or the kept. A smaller meal, is easier/faster to digest, letting the snake be comfortable for the most part, which keeps their attitude in check as well.
Babies start out at around 12-18 inches long, and most can eat a medium mouse or fuzzy rat from the start. Soon they will graduate to large rats, and small rabbits. Be sure you have a steady supplier of feeder prey items. Water is a must, as they live in the jungles, a large water dish, evaporating moisture & occasional misting will keep them hydrated. Do not let the substrate mold however, you don’t want the substrate to stay wet, just moist enough the enclosure keeps the humidity up where it needs to be.
Burmese pythons can be wonderful pets, eliciting awe from your friends, and with proper care/handling, are as gentle as can be. Remember, snakes typically bite for 2 reasons, food or fear, so if you can eliminate those 2 factors, you can have decades of fun with your pet snake.