They bite. They musk. You have to keep them wet. They eat big meals. They get respiratory infections easily. They’re very aggressive!
We’ve heard a lot of comments about blood and short-tailed pythons during our decade-long obsession with them, most of which aren’t very flattering to the snakes or encouraging to interested keepers! Fortunately, captive-breeding efforts and advances in husbandry information mean that bloods and short-tails are shedding their old reputation of being moody and high maintenance. These beautiful pythons are quickly redefining many keepers’ opinions of them, and attracting die-hard fans in the process! With those who prioritize reptile health and wellness, the Blood Python can thrive under the proper conditions.
Three Short-Tailed Pythons
The short-tailed python group consists of three beautiful, closely related snakes. The blood python (Python brongersmai) comes from southwest Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, eastern Sumatra and some of the surrounding islands. It appears in a spectrum of colors from dark brown to light yellow, and is the only species of the three short-tailed pythons with a red color phase, which has led to this snake’s common name. There are also several stunning color mutations of blood pythons.
Prior to adulthood, blood pythons may go through a gradual, yet significant, color change. The most brilliant red bloods can take two to three years to develop their peak coloration, starting out as hatchlings exhibiting a somewhat boring, ruddy brown or tan color. We enjoy photographing our blood pythons regularly, to record their color changes over the years.
Borneo short-tailed pythons (P. breitensteini) occur on the island of Borneo, and vary in appearance from dark coffee brown to pale tan, with black, white and brown markings. There are several known color morphs, including stripes and “Ultra-breits,” which are beautiful, pale snakes with highly reduced patterns. Borneo short-tails are often referred to as “Borneo blood pythons,” a practice we discourage, as it causes confusion regarding the origin of these animals.
Sumatran short-tailed pythons (P. curtus) are also found on Sumatra, but in the southern and western parts of the island. They range in color from dusky brown to jet black, with black, gray or silver heads. Some have orange or yellow heads, and are occasionally mistaken for Borneo short-tails. Hatchlings are typically lighter in appearance and darken considerably with age. The Sumatran short-tailed python is often called the “black blood python,” another confusing label which we think should be avoided.
While blood pythons are considered the largest and Sumatran short-tails the smallest, all three species average 4 to 5 feet in length as captive adults. Healthy adult weight at this length is approximately 10 to 15 pounds. Older adults may reach lengths of more than 6 feet and weigh 20 pounds or more. All are heavy-bodied, terrestrial snakes, and a 5-foot-long specimen of any of the three species is a solid, impressive animal! Hatchlings are approximately 8 to 12 inches in length, and blood pythons are the chunkiest of the three as youngsters.
Choose the Source, Then the Blood Python
Most blood and short-tailed pythons available today are captive-hatched juveniles. These originate from wild-caught, gravid females that lay and hatch their eggs in captivity. The babies are then exported from Indonesia and sold throughout the reptile trade. As with all imports, captive-hatched pythons are subjected to shipping stress and other factors that may not make them the ideal choice for a hobbyist’s first pet blood or short-tail.
There are also breeders who produce pristine captive-bred-and-born hatchlings every year. They can sometimes be found in pet stores or online reptile shops. These snakes often come with complete hatching, feeding and bloodline records. Many blood and short-tailed python enthusiasts selectively breed for beautiful appearances as well as calm, docile temperaments, and they take pride in the snakes they produce. Such breeders can be excellent sources of information and support. We recommend that you ask around, get references and make contact with fellow blood python fans when researching potential sources for these snakes.D
Don’t hesitate to ask any seller plenty of questions when choosing a blood python. Ask what size and type of cage the snake has been housed in, on what substrate and at what temperatures. Ask if it is eating rats or mice, live, fresh-killed or frozen-thawed, and how often. Be up front with breeders about your current experience level, so they can help you start off on the right foot with your snake. The answers to these questions will also demonstrate how well sellers know their animals. These sound like no-brainer topics, but they’re often overlooked in the excitement of choosing that awesome new python.
When choosing a blood or short-tailed python, look for a plump, solid, alert animal. Avoid those with extremely prominent backbones, slack skin or excessively dimpled or wrinkled scales. Short-tailed pythons are vocal snakes, so while some huffing and puffing should be expected, watch for open-mouthed breathing or gurgling that may indicate a respiratory infection. Like any young snakes, these pythons may be shy or nervous juveniles — it’s simply part of being lower on the food chain. With this in mind, we still recommend skipping those that are especially defensive, biting excessively or thrashing about.
Hatchling bloods and short-tails tend to be less forgiving of husbandry mistakes. While tiny babies are absolutely adorable, they aren’t the best choice if you don’t have much snakekeeping experience. Choose a nice, established juvenile that is at least a few months old and feeding well.
Blood Python Housing
Blood and short-tailed pythons have straightforward caging requirements. A good cage is environmentally stable and escape-proof. It should also be the right size for the snake, easy to clean and will provide good ventilation.
We keep all of our pythons in reptile racks from Animal Plastics. Our hatchlings live in plastic tubs that measure 10 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4 inches tall. We melt some holes in the sides with a soldering iron to allow airflow. Shy young bloods and short-tails are easily overwhelmed by large enclosures and may stop feeding as a result. They appreciate the extra coziness provided by a smaller tub.
Within six months, hatchlings outgrow the smaller tubs and are moved into larger ones measuring 18 inches long by 10 inches wide and 7 inches tall. They live in these larger boxes for most of the next year, before they are moved into an Iris CB-70 box, a popular tub with approximate dimensions of 33 inches in length by 17 inches wide and 5 inches tall. Young adults remain in the CB-70s, while larger adults inhabit tubs that measure 52 inches long by 20 inches wide by 12 inches tall, also in rack systems. (Another popular cage footprint for adults is 48 inches long by 24 inches wide by 12 inches tall.) Adult bloods and short-tails are stout snakes, and we like to give them room to stretch out and be comfortable.
Our first choice of snake substrate is layered kraft paper. The pythons will often burrow between the layers, which then double as a hide. Newspaper is an equally effective, inexpensive alternative. We also use aspen chips in some of our cages, with a layer of kraft paper over the chips. We spot clean the aspen as necessary, ensuring that the remaining substrate is fresh and smells clean. Soiled bedding is always replaced when needed.
We maintain our collection at 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and allow the temperature to drop to 78 degrees for an overnight low. This can be measured using the Zoo Med Dual Analog Thermometer and Humidity Gauge. Bloods and short-tails of all ages thrive at stable temperatures within this range. Excessively warm temperatures can cause undue stress. Most of our snakes do not have basking spots, but those that do are given supplemental heat in the 86- to 88-degree range. Always check your cage and snake room temps with a digital thermometer or temperature gun.
Blood and short-tailed pythons drink copiously, and their water should always be fresh and clean. Changing water is our most frequent husbandry activity, and we keep spare water bowls on hand to simplify the process. Water cups are always disinfected and allowed to dry prior to being used again. We use 8-ounce deli cups to provide water to our hatchlings, 16-ounce cups that sit in 4-inch-diameter PVC holders for juveniles and sub-adults, and 9-inch-diameter, 96-ounce plastic cups for adults. Heavy duty large water dishes can also be used.
These snakes love to soak and will do so if you provide a container large enough. If your short-tailed python spends the majority of time in its water bowl, check whether the cage is too warm. Also ensure that there is an alternative hide spot available, and that the snake isn’t suffering from an infestation of snake mites. All of these factors can lead to excessive soaking.
When acquiring a new blood python, set up the enclosure and regulate temperatures so that everything is stable by the time your snake arrives. This will make the acclimation process easier on both of you.
Blood Python Water and Humidity
Correct humidity for bloods and short-tails isn’t a mystery or a challenge — it’s a simple balancing act. They don’t need soaking wet cages and may fail to thrive in such conditions. When kept too wet, they develop crinkly skin, and the chances of respiratory problems increase. On the other hand, a dry cage will usually result in retained sheds, whether in pieces or the complete skin. We maintain our bloods and short-tails at humidity levels of 60 to 70 percent. The plastic racks and tubs we use make this easy to regulate, while providing proper ventilation and fresh air.
When our pythons go into shed, we spray their tubs to raise humidity, and do so until they shed. Otherwise, the combination of ventilated plastic enclosures, ambient temperatures in the low 80s and evaporation from the snakes’ water bowls keeps ambient humidity within the preferred range.
Blood Python Food
A common misconception about blood pythons is that they must eat large meals, due to their considerable girth. Actually, these are fuel-efficient pythons that don’t cost a fortune to feed properly. In fact, blood and short-tailed pythons have enormous appetites and slow metabolisms, a combination that can easily lead to obesity if they’re overfed.
These snakes thrive on rats, from the time they are juveniles all the way into adulthood. While we start our hatchlings on live hopper mice, within a few meals they switch to pre-killed fuzzy rats offered off tongs once a week. We continue to offer appropriately sized rats on a weekly basis as our snakes mature. By the time they are 3 years old, we’re feeding them every 14 days. We feed medium or large rats to snakes that are 4 to 5 feet in length, and weigh between 10 and 15 pounds. Snakes prone to gaining too much weight are given smaller meals, or else fed every 21 days. Blood and short-tailed pythons can be conditioned to take pre-killed or frozen-thawed prey off tongs, or it can be left within the cage.
Feeding is usually a no-fuss process, but an occasional picky python may turn its nose up at first. Keep in mind that these snakes rely heavily on their supralabial (upper) and infralabial (lower) heat pits — the “holes” in their lips that are specialized, heat-receptive scales that they use to locate prey — and a dead rodent at room temperature isn’t much of a target. If your snake seems disinterested in feeding, try warming up the rodent immediately prior to offering it to your snake, by using a heating pad or heat lamp for a few minutes, or soaking the rat in hot water (either directly, or by first placing it in a plastic bag before putting it in the water). Make sure the rat is not uncomfortably hot to the touch before feeding your snake. Also, don’t leave a rat belly-down on a heating pad for too long. This can weaken the rodent’s abdominal skin, and could result in a messy, exploding rat upon constriction!
What Goes In Will Come Out, Eventually
A common concern among new short-tailed python keepers is the infrequency with which these snakes defecate. It is not unusual for them to go four months or longer without defecating, yet they’ll continue to feed regularly. We think this is another great characteristic of these snakes — we spend less time cleaning python poop and more time enjoying our pythons! Nevertheless, this may be unsettling if you’re just starting out with these species. We recommend that you keep accurate husbandry records on feeding, shedding and defecation to get a feel for your blood python’s normal behavior.
In our experience, hatchlings and juveniles may defecate as frequently as once a week. Sub-adults and adults fed on a 10- to 14-day schedule will defecate every 30 to 45 days on average, but may easily go longer without raising concerns. In the very few stories we’ve heard of “constipated” bloods, there were other contributing factors, such as dehydration, incorrect temperatures, overfeeding or a combination of these things. Healthy bloods and short-tails that are kept correctly do not normally experience problems with defecation.
Handling a Blood Python
Confident handling is important in building rapport with your blood or short-tailed python. These heavy-bodied snakes need to feel secure when handled, and don’t take well to being dangled haphazardly or draped around your shoulders. Supporting the snake’s body weight with both hands and forearms (for larger snakes) will help accomplish this. Be deliberate when handling your blood python, and don’t grab at the snake or try to restrict its head. Let your snake grow accustomed to gentle handling on a consistent basis, and you will quickly build trust with that animal.
Remember that bloods and short-tails are very vocal when handled — you can expect to hear a variety of huffs and puffs that are completely normal for these species. Keep handling sessions short, sweet and consistent when working with juveniles, and try to end them on a positive note, with the snake relaxed and calm.
The Blood Python “Reputation”
We hear reptile enthusiasts refer to the “typical blood python attitude” and think two things: “Yeah, right! Your boss gives you more attitude than these snakes!” and “You haven’t kept bloods lately, huh?”
Blood pythons initially got a bad rap, temperament-wise, due to wild-caught adult animals that were imported many years ago. Primarily from Malaysia, they were reported to be untrusting creatures that were unpredictable even after years in captivity.
Within the past 10 years, most imported blood pythons have originated from Sumatra. In our experience, they tend to be easygoing animals. We have long-term captive Sumatran bloods that are as calm and trusting as our own captive-bred-and-born pythons, which are some of the friendliest snakes we’ve ever known (sure we’re partial, but it’s the truth).
Over the years, Borneo and Sumatran short-tailed pythons have been lumped together with blood pythons and tagged with the old, negative reputation. The three snakes were actually considered to be subspecies of Python curtus up until the year 2000, when they were each given full species status. The Borneo and Sumatran short-tails are typically docile, beautiful, laid-back snakes as well, regardless of their “guilt by association” with blood pythons.
Welcome to the Future
We think that blood and short-tailed pythons are some of the most rewarding snakes to keep — in fact, they are now the only snakes we keep! They are the ideal size for most keepers: solid and girthy, but not so large that you have to fit an 8-foot cage into your home. They’re easy to feed and maintain. They are alert, docile pythons that can learn to recognize their keepers, and best of all, they’re gorgeous! Whether your preference is the inky black of a Sumatran short-tail, the creamy browns and blondes of a Borneo, or the ultimate wow factor of a knockout red blood python, there’s no denying that these are some of the most beautiful snakes around, and the growing availability of captive-bred stock and the number of enthusiastic keepers working with these pythons ensures that bloods and short-tails are here to stay!