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, Heating, and 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. Bloods are the larges 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 Bullies 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 obese snakes.
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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 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 form little to no handling as juveniles).
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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 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 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 messed with 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 tongs or hemostats to offer dead prey.
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 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).
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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