In this article, we will cover topics on the types of short-tailed pythons in the Background Information section as well as Size, Behavior, Handling, Feeding, Caging, and Heating & Lighting recommendations. We also have tips on troubleshooting common issues with these snakes at the end. Click each of the bolded links to jump to that section, though it is recommended to read the entire article.
Short-Tailed Pythons include three related, but separate species. These include Blood Pythons (Python brongersmai), Borneo Pythons (P. breitensteini), and Sumatran Pythons (P. curtus).
Blood Pythons are from southwest Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, eastern Sumatra, and some surrounding islands. They can be found in a wide range of colors from dark brown to light yellow, and they are the only species of the three short-tailed pythons with a red phase, which is the origin of its common name. There are a growing number of color and pattern morphs that create very unique-looking animals, including two types of albino genes.
Borneo Pythons are found on the island of Borneo. Their colors can vary from dark coffee brown to pale tan, with black, white and brown markings. There are several known color and pattern morphs including stripes, blue ghost, and Lattes (as shown at the top of the page).
Sumatran Pythons are also found on the island of Sumatra, but in the southern and western parts of the island. They range in color from dark black-brown to jet black, with black, gray, or silver heads. Rarely, they can have orange or yellow heads, and may be mistaken for Borneos. 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 that should be avoided.
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Short-Tailed Pythons range from 4 to 6 feet as mature adults, weighing between 10 and 20 lbs. Blood Pythons are the largest of the three and Sumatrans are the smallest, but all fall within that range. They are impressive, beefy animals even as young adults. They are heavy-bodied terrestrial animals, the thickest of any species of Python for their length. We like to refer to them as the Bulldogs of the Python world, as they are short and wide!
Though they are wide and heavy, these snakes should have a clearly defined ridge on their spine that tapers into their body. If this spine is not well-defined, it’s likely the snake is or is becoming obese. Refer to the feeding section below for more on feeding recommendations.
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It’s a common notion that these snakes are “aggressive,” hard to handle, and not easy to tame. This reputation has a few origins. First, wild-caught animals. Many of the cheaper snakes found on websites or at reptile expos are often either field-collected (wild-caught) or they’re farm-raised in Indonesia. These snakes are notorious for being harder to tame because of their origins. Another factor in their “aggressive” behavior is the fact that these are terrestrial snakes that like to hide under leaf litter or other detritus on the ground. They do not climb, ever! When they are scared, they hide or flatten out to look bigger and hiss very loudly. A warm-bodied predator that is 100x their size (you!) reaching down to pick them up off the ground can be a terrifying experience for these snakes. The last issue that can cause this behavior is their enclosure. They do not like wide open spaces and feeling insecure about their living environment will cause them to act out, at everything…
With our short-tails, we have found the above to be true for some animals and not at all the case for others. Consistent, calm handling has brought most of them around to being fun snakes to handle. We have a couple that are still a bit “opinionated” and require a careful approach to handling, but these were acquired as sub-adults with their behavior quite feisty already (likely due to little to no handling as juveniles). Well-bred, captive animals are much easier to handle. The babies we produce are handled frequently enough that they are relatively easy for new owners to enjoy. A Short-Tailed Python is one that may not be the best choice for someone who is brand new to owning reptiles and snakes, however, they are a fun and rewarding species to keep for those with some snake experience.
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So, how do we handle these guys to help them not be scared of us? Be slow, reach from behind, use a snake hook to lift the snake onto your hand if needed. The snake needs to be well supported, with little to no parts of its body dangling. Keep handling sessions short and positive. We handle our young snakes about 2-3 times a week to get them accustomed to it. Once your new snake is fine with being lifted and held, sit on the floor to allow the snake to crawl on your lap and explore the area around you.
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Being such large snakes, you would think they need a lot of food. However, this is not the case at all. Because of their relatively sedentary nature, short-tailed pythons have slower metabolisms. They do have enormous appetites, which can quickly lead to obesity if feeding isn’t monitored carefully. Also, due to their ambush-style hunting in the wild, they do not appreciate being handled much or moved before feeding. Many will not eat if you attempt to feed them outside of their enclosure. Always feed in their home, dropping in live prey* or using long feeding tongs or hemostats to offer dead prey. (note: there are inherent risks to your snake when feeding live prey. We recommend feeding frozen/thawed or humanely pre-killed prey to all reptiles)
Young short-tails should be eating weekly, either rat fuzzies or pups depending on the size of the snake. We keep our snakes on weekly feedings until two years of age, then move to feeding every 14-21 days depending on the snake and prey size. Move up in prey size slowly as the snake grows. The largest adults should be fed no more than a Large to XL rat (200 to 350 grams). If fed weekly, they do very well on Medium rats (100-199 grams). Breeding animals of course should be fed heavier to accommodate for the higher caloric requirements of breeding.
If you prefer to feed a varied diet, short-tailed pythons will often readily take fowl (quail or chicks), rabbits (very small!), African soft furred rats, and even guinea pigs*. All of these can be sourced frozen online or at larger reptile stores. Be sure to weigh your prey item to ensure that you are not overfeeding. An occasionally smaller meal is just fine. (note: guinea pigs are high in fat and should be fed sparingly.)
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Due to the reclusive nature of short-tailed pythons, bigger is not better. Young snakes should be kept in smaller enclosures or bin/tub cages or racks. The 26.5qt Gasket Box by Iris is a good budget-friendly option for hatchlings to juvenile short-tailed pythons (up to 2 years old) and the latches are quite sturdy in this series of tubs. Just use a drill or soldering iron to add ventilation holes 2″ from the bottom. Your enclosure should have enough room for a sizable water bowl (they enjoy soaking) and two hides*. Larger enclosures should include deep bedding that the snake can fully burrow in and ground clutter is helpful (fake vines/plants and cork flats work great). Coco husk substrate that is chunky is our preferred substrate. Cypress mulch mixed with sphagnum moss also does well. You want to use one that will tolerate the humidity requirements of these snakes and their copious amounts of urine/urates.
(note: snakes kept in racks may not require any hides if the rack is enclosed or the tub is small or opaque.)
Most adults do well in a 4x2x1 PVC, such as THIS ONE from Herptastic Reptiles, or a well-sealed wood enclosure. Smaller males or juveniles can be housed in a 3′ enclosure. They do not need or appreciate taller enclosures; 18″ is the max height we recommend. The reclusive nature of these snakes means that they do very well in rack systems with tubs that are an appropriate size and height. When coiled on a prey item, they can be too big to shut their tub, especially when using substrate. Care should be taken to choose a rack that uses tubs tall enough to accommodate them during feeding. The 85 series and larger from ARS Caging would be a good choice for adult short-tailed pythons.
Top opening glass enclosures are not recommended for Short-Tailed Pythons, at all. A DIY bin/tub cage is a much better alternative. A front-opening glass enclosure can be used, but we recommend following the instructions on the post Modifying a Glass Tank for a Ball Python.
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HEATING & LIGHTING
Short-Tailed Pythons do best in modest temperatures. We keep our snakes at 82-84 degrees on their warm side with a hot spot surface temperature no warmer than 86 degrees. Cool side temps should not dip below 75 degrees. These snakes do very well in a room kept at 80-82 degrees ambient temps without any supplemental heat or hot spot.
A heat mat or heat tape controlled by a thermostat can be used in a bin/tub enclosure or rack. A heat mat should cover roughly 1/3rd of the bottom of your tub. If using hides, be sure there is a hide over the heat and one on the side without heat. However, if your room is cooler than 72 degrees, a heat mat or tape may not be enough to raise ambient temperatures. When using heat under your snake, the thermostat probe should be placed directly on the heat source, under your bin/tub or right next to the tub in a rack using heat tape.
A heat panel is the best way to heat your PVC or wood enclosure. They provide even, gentle heat and the surface should not get hot enough to harm your snake. Heat panels should also be controlled with a thermostat. If you are using a front-opening glass enclosure, a ceramic heat emitter or deep heat projector bulb can be used in a reflective dome that has a ceramic base for the bulb. The dome should be plugged into a thermostat or a dimmer to maintain proper temps. Be sure to use a digital thermometer to measure ambient temperatures.
Lighting with these snakes is solely for the keeper. They do not do well in brightly lit conditions. When using a PVC or wood enclosure, a small strip of dimmable LED lights can be used for display purposes. The snake should have plenty of hides and ground cover to escape the light. Ambient room lighting or a window with a covering that allows light in is more than enough to create a day/night cycle. Due to their bulk and the amount of urine they produce, bioactive enclosures or live plants are not a good choice for Short-Tailed Pythons. We have a young tortoise in our SSTP/Burm room with a UVB bulb on a 12-hour cycle. That indirect light seems to keep all of the snakes in the room on a good cycle without stressing out the more shy species.
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If your snake is suddenly acting defensively, there are a few things you can check or improve.
- Temps. A hot snake is an angry snake. Use a temperature reading laser gun to check the surface temperature over your hot spot or under you heat panel.
- Security. Make sure your snake feels secure. In an open enclosure, he should have hides and deep substrate. If the enclosure is glass, refer to the post on Modifying a Glass Tank for a Ball Python.
- About to shed. Most snakes are senstive when they’re about to go into a shed cycle. Look to see if your snake appears darker or dull in color. If so, keep handling to a minimum until after it has shed.