Overview: Caging, substrate, temperature, humdiity, hides: creating the correct captive environment for your blood or STP.
In a nutshell, we subscribe to the “K.I.S.S.” school of thought when it comes to keeping our bloods & short-tails - in other words, Keep It Simple, Stupid! We feel that less is more in terms of providing a comfortable, low-stress environment for the snake, and ease of maintenance for the keeper.
We're far from saying "you have to go set up your snakes exactly like this or you’re going to fail!” In fact, what works well for one keeper in one situation may not work at all for another keeper in a completely different setting. The information we offer here is based on our personal experiences in keeping blood and short-tailed pythons, as well as some ideas that can be easily modified to suit just about any snake or keeper. Fortunately, snake keepers tend to be a creative bunch, and there are lots of options available for choosing a setup that meets your needs. To help with this, we've solicited input from a wide range of blood and short-tailed python keepers who are willing to share their setup pictures and information here to help you. In addition to the caging gallery, there's a thread on our forums with a great collection of setup photos (registration required for some sections).
There are many different types of snake-specific cages available in the reptile market, and just as many caging ideas that utilize containers modified by resourceful keepers. No matter what kind of cage you use, a good enclosure should have the following qualities:
- Supports stable environmental conditions
- Secure & escape-proof
- Appropriately sized for the snake
- Provides good ventilation/airflow
- Easy for the keeper to maintain
Ultimately, your snake's cage is a husbandry tool that should make it easier, not harder, to create a healthy environment for your blood python. Think about whether or not the cage style will help you to establish and maintain the right temperature & humidity for your snake. Some cages work better in certain situations than others. Is your "snake room" a high traffic area with people frequently going in & out the door, causing temperatures to fluctuate? If so, a glass tank with screen top is apcages thprobably not the best option, due to its high visibility (causing a snake to feel insecure & stressed), and open air exchange (which can make temperature/humidity regulation difficult). If your cage temps & humidity are all over the place and you're constantly in the enclosure tweaking and changing cage settings, it's going to cause both you and your snake some unnecessary stress. Pick a cage that makes it easy to regulate temperature & humidity levels, especially when you think about where you plan to keep it in your home.
Snake cages must always be escape-proof. Snakes are accomplished escape artists, and blood & short-tailed pythons are no exception. In this day and age of ever-increasing exotic animal bans and legislative pressure, it is essential to make sure our snakes are where they are supposed to be, AT ALL TIMES. When choosing a cage, pick one that closes securely & cannot be opened by the snake inside.
Many cage manufacturers offer locks as accessories, and we encourage choosing this option when available. If you use a rack system for housing your blood pythons, check the tub fit to ensure that they can't be pushed open from the inside, as the result of an active snake nosing about. It doesn’t take much of a gap at the top of a tub to tempt an opportunistic escape artist. Once a snake has figured out how to escape its cage, that animal will most likely try again at some point in the future, and some become habitual offenders in this regard if allowed the chance to escape successfully each time.
A loose snake may be exposed to all sorts of dangers: other household pets, incorrect temperatures, potential burns (i.e. water heaters or radiators), dehydration and/or starvation...basically a slew of issues that we'd never want a python to have to endure. It is our responsibility as keepers to ensure that this possibility doesn't become a reality for our beloved snakes.
Also take your python's current size into consideration. A good enclosure will be neither too big nor too small for the snake. Just as a 4' x 2' cage is large and overwhelming for a juvenile short-tailed python, a small, cramped enclosure will not accommodate the bulk of an older subadult or adult. We'll go into more specific detail on this later, but remember appropriate enclosure size as a guideline to follow when making your cage choices.
Adequate airflow is necessary to prevent a cage from becoming stagnant. This may mean custom ventilation in a purpose-made enclosure, melting multiple holes in a plastic tote with a soldering iron, or otherwise modifying the cage to accommodate air circulation. Blood python cages should always offer some form of ventilation for this purpose, and we'll touch on this more with regard to specific cage types in a bit. Inadequate airflow allows ammonia fumes and excessive humidity4-footcage th to build up in the enclosure, both of which can make a snake sick given enough time. Even short-term exposure to ammonia and/or damp, stagnant air makes for an uncomfortable situation for the snake, and we owe it to the captives in our care to ensure that they are always safe and comfortable.
Finally, a clean enclosure is the first step towards your blood python's health in captivity, therefore cage design should allow for trouble-free maintenance. Cage openings should make it easy for you to handle the snake, remove and replace cage furniture, and clean the interior. If the cage is really cluttered or hard to get into, cleaning will become a chore and may be neglected. Also avoid cages made of porous materials & left unsealed, as they will be contaminated by ongoing contact with water, feces, urates & other organic matter. If you're going to use or build a cage made of a porous material (wood, melamine, etc), make sure it is properly sealed & cured before putting a snake in it.
Now that we've touched on good caging fundamentals, let's take a look at appropriate cage size for blood & short-tailed pythons.
Selecting the correct size of caging for your short-tailed python will help your snake feel comfortable & secure within its enclosure. While the rack systems shown here have worked well for us at TBC, keep in mind that there are several styles of tubs, totes, and purpose-built cages that are also appropriate for housing bloods and short-tailed pythons. Use the dimensions listed here as a general gauge when making your cage selections, remembering that tall or cavernous enclosures should be avoided. Bloods and short-tails don't need elaborate caging, but there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when making enclosure choices. We'll cover these according to the age and size of the python in question throughout this section.
Newly-hatched blood & short-tailed pythons are small snakes, approximately 8"-10" in length (give or take). At this size they're often shy and prefer to hide whenever possible. Therefore, the ideal hatchling cage will encourage a sense of secrecy and security, which is especially important when starting these snakes on their first meals. Secretive young bloods & short-tails are easily overwhelmed by large enclosures and may stop feeding as a result, or take longer to start feeding when prey is initially offered. In a nutshell, they get freaked out when the cage is too big, and security becomes more important than food.
Many keepers err on the side of using an enclosure that is too large, with the mindset that the snake can grow into its cage. While this can be a successful practice for older juvenile snakes that are already feeding steadily and growing well, it is not one we recommend when making caging choices for freshly-hatched bloods and short-tails.
Our hatchling bloods & short-tails are kept in individual translucent plastic tubs, housed within rack systems from Animal Plastics. These tubs measure 10" (L) x 6" (W) x 4" (H) and provide 60 square inches of floor space. The dimensions of these plastic boxes are very close to those of the 6-quart clear totes that are found at large discount stores (Target, Container Store, etc), and popular among snake keepers for raising hatchlings. We had some custom racks built for this tub size that also double as a work station, and based on the needs of our collection this tub size has served us well. Some keepers prefer to use a larger tub for babies, and for keepers with just one animal, an alternative to this tub size is the 15-quart tote, or large plastic shoebox (please don't use a cardboard shoebox). As long as secure hiding spots are provided, and the hatchlings don't exhibit signs of stress (such as reluctance to eat), the larger size may be a good solution.
Additional ventilation is provided by using a soldering iron to melt multiple small holes in the ends of each tub. An 8-ounce deli cup provides water, and also helps to raise humidity within the enclosure. Young pythons are much more susceptible to dehydration than older, hardier, well-established pythons, and this should be kept in mind when picking out cages for such small snakes.
We fold double layers of paper towels for substrate in these boxes, and our baby pythons often hide between the layers. Usually these layers of paper towel are a sufficient hide for even our most timid hatchlings, but occasionally it is necessary to experiment with other hides if a very young animal refuses to feed or seems stressed.
As you can see, these boxes are too small to create a proper thermal gradient. It would be difficult for a young blood python in a baby box to effectively move away from a basking spot if provided. Additionally, due to the small size of such an enclsoure, a warm basking spot would affect the overall air temperature of the cage, potentially pushing ambient temperatures outside of an acceptable range. Since blood & short-tailed pythons thrive at somewhat cooler temperatures, we do not offer supplemental heat beyond that of our climate-controlled snake rooms. We go into more detail on this in the temperature segment of this article.
Selecting appropriately-sized hatchling tubs for your newborn bloods & short-tails will go a long way into starting these snakes off on the right (ahem) foot. Providing these young pythons with a cage that fosters a sense of security will help them become established feeders that grow into beautiful, thriving adults, and make your job easier as a keeper.
While hatchling short-tailed pythons are quite comfortable in smaller boxes at first, they will outgrow such tubs in just a few short months of regular feeding. Once our juvenile pythons have tripled in size, we graduate them up to tubs that measure 18” (L) x 10” (W) x 7” (H). These transluscent tubs provide 180 square inches of floor space, and our pythons live in them for the better part of a year.
Substrate in our juvie boxes is either kraft paper or coarse aspen chips. When we use aspen chips as substrate, we'll sometimes offer a layer of kraft paper for the python to hide under if it so desires. Water is provided in a 16-ounce deli cup, and we often use 4" diameter PVC pipe sections for cup holders to reduce the chance of spills if a snake decides to soak. Even when using aspen substrate, water cups of this capacity provide plenty of humidity within the individual tubs. As you can see from these photos, we do not modify the tubs in our juvenile racks to create any additional ventilation. Our snakes typically shed well and without issue, and in the event that we encounter a stuck shed, we'll mist the aspen chips to raise humidity even more within the enclosure.
These tubs are somewhat roomy at first, but this doesn't seem to bother our young pythons. We monitor their feeding activity and behavior after they move into the new enclosures, and ensure that our snakes continue to feed steadily and act calmly. Snakes that show any signs of stress, such as failure to feed or constantly cruising their cages, are offered hides. On the rare occasion that a young python continues to juvie1 thseem stressed by the larger enclosure, we'll move it back into a baby box. Once that snake has taken several more meals successfully, we'll attempt moving it into the larger enclosure once again.
On a typical feeding schedule of once a week, our bloods and short-tails outgrow these boxes in approximately a year. We let them get a little big for these boxes, again, because they feel secure in a smaller enclosure and we're not overwhelming them with a hot basking spot. All of these tubs are maintained at the ambient temperatures of our juvenile snake room (approximately 82 degrees Fahrenheit), although we do have the option to turn on radiant side heat in the individual racks if that ever becomes a necessity (it hasn't yet).
Juvenile blood & short-tailed pythons are fun snakes to raise. At this size and age they tend to be relatively low-maintenance. They're fantastic feeders, shedding frequently and growing like weeds. Because these pythons grow at such a steady pace, many keepers prefer to use simple, inexpensive, yet effective enclosures in which to keep them, as it won't be long before they need a larger cage.
At the average age of 18-24 months, we once again graduate our young bloods and short-tails into larger enclosures. This time they move into racks that hold Iris CB70 cb70mtubs. These tubs measure 33" (L) x 17" (W) x 5" (H), creating 561 square inches of floor space. This tub is quite popular throughout the reptile industry and racks that accommodate it are available from a variety of sources. Here we also use coarse aspen chips for substrate, and again we may offer a layer of kraft paper under which these snakes can hide.
Water is still provided via 16-ounce deli cup, with a PVC holder to cut down on spills. As with our juvenile boxes, we do not modify th CB70 tubs to include any additional ventilation. There's a slight gap between the top edge of these tubs and the rack shelf, so they receive plenty of airflow. Due to this airflow, we always make it a point to mist the pythons in our CB70 racks when they go opaque and throughout their shed cycle. We do have the option to provide supplemental belly heat to these tubs via 4" heat tape, but typically the snakes in these racks are maintained at ambient room temperatures without additional heat.
These snakes are initially fed once a week and this schedule moves to every 10 days as they grow and mature. Our pythons will live in the cb70-2 thCB70 tubs for another year or even two at this point. This is when bloods and short-tails really start to blossom and develop intense coloration, and it's always fun to open up these tubs and dream about our future breeding stock, and what they'll produce someday!
When our pythons first move into the CB70s these tubs tend to be a little on the large side, allowing plenty of room for the snake to grow. Fortunately, we have not run into any issues with pythons becoming insecure in a larger tub, and the addition of kraft paper over the substrate has been quite useful in creating that extra sense of security that bloods and STPs appreciate.
In the rare event that we come across a shy individual, we may offer a different style hide box that creates an even darker, snug hiding spot for the snake to use. We'll go into more detail on the various options for hides, and which ones work best in different caging solutions, in the hide/cage furniture section of this article. When our snakes outgrow these tubs, they'll graduate up one more time into the largest tub size that we utilize for our collection.
All of our adult snakes live in AP racks built for Iris VE-175 tubs and generally move into them by the age of three years. These tubs measure 52" (L) x 20" (W) x 12" (H), adults-2 which is 1040 square inches of floor space. Dual radiant side heat is provided by two 11" strips of heat tape, one oriented vertically on each sidewall of the rack. This heat is set to approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit when provided. Otherwise, our adult snake room is calibrated to an ambient temperature of 82-84 during the day, and 80 degrees at night.
Water is provided in stainless steel, 96-ounce bowls, which are changed out and refilled on a regular basis. We do not modify the tubs to provide any additional ventilation, and we continue to mist our adults as they go through shed cycles to ensure good sheds.
We still utilize coarse aspen chips for substrate in these tubs, but without the layer of kraft paper for hides. These racks are very deep, and the only ambient lighting is at the front of the tub. The back of the tub is rather dark and therefore creates a sense of security, without the need for an actual hide.
VE-175 tubs are quite large and provide nearly the same amount of space as a 4' (L) x 2' (W) cage, also a popular size among blood & short-tailed python keepers. While this cage size can initially seem like overkill for some of our smaller adults, our largest blood pythons are over 6' in length and often utilize the length of the enclosure to really stretch out and get comfortable. While smaller adults may thrive in less spacious enclosures, we recommend a minimum of 48" (L) x 24" (W) for the largest bloods & STPs, to comfortably accommodate their heft and bulk.
While it is not necessary to create this exact setup to successfully keep bloods and short-tails, we do recommend the aforementioned cage sizes as a guideline to follow when selecting the best setup for your python. Enclosure size impacts a variety of factors, such as your snake's overall comfort and security, and its ability to thermoregulate properly. Keep in mind that the cage you choose for your blood python should make it easier for you to control these factors and create a proper environment.
For additional enclosure ideas, remember to stop by our caging gallery, as well as the enclosure thread on our forums.
In this section, we've established some guidelines for selecting the right cage size according to your python's size and age. Next let's discuss a variety of substrates that work well for all three species, as well as some to avoided for use in blood and short-tailed python enclosures.
Substrate is simply the bedding in your blood python's cage. In addition to absorbing any waste your snake passes, substrate may also serve as a hide, and can aid in maintaining humidity within the enclosure. While one's choice of substrate is largely a matter of personal preference, there are a few key points to keep in mind when selecting a substrate for your blood or STP.
What Kind of Substrate Do I Need?
Choice of substrate is usually pretty straightforward. First of all, determine whether you prefer a sheet type substrate like newspaper, or a particle substrate such as cypress mulch. Particle substrates allow for spot cleaning, where the soiled areas are removed and replaced with fresh bedding, and complete bedding changes are performed only as necessary. Sheet substrates must be completely changed when soiled. Both types of substrate can double as hides: blood pythons can burrow into a particle substrate, or sit between layers of a sheet substrate to feel secure. Additionally, sheet and particle substrates can be misted to help raise cage humidity, although some types hold up to moisture better than others.
Ultimately, your substrate of choice will probably hinge on aesthetics, ease of management, and cost. Some keepers can't stand the appearance of newsprint in their cages, while others appreciate its low cost and widespread availability. You may be the kind of keeper that doesn't mind paying a little extra for double-milled cypress mulch due to the more natural appearance it creates in your enclosures. If you maintain a large collection, you may prefer a particle substrate that allows for simple spot cleaning; on the other hand, your collection may be so big that free newspaper from friends & recycling bins may be your most cost-effective method. These are all points to keep in mind when making your substrate selections.
Sheet Substrates: Types & Considerations
While this is not an all-inclusive list, here are some commonly-used sheet substrates. Click on each photo for pros, cons and comments on each substrate:
Particle Substrates: Types & Considerations
Again, not an inclusive list, but a good selection of particle substrates (some common, others not so much). Pros, cons and comments in photo captions.
Substrates to Avoid
Just as there are many substrates that work well for blood & short-tailed pythons, there are also a few that we feel should be avoided. Some are toxic, some are irritants, and others simply aren't effective substrate solutions.
• Cedar Shavings - The oils in cedar are toxic to snakes. This substrate should be avoided completely.
• Pine Shavings - Pine is extremely dusty, and its oils can be very irritating to a snake's resipiratory tract.
• Orchid Bark or Reptile Bark - These chunks of fir tree bark are not as asborbent as substrates made up of smaller particles.
They also present a hazard if swallowed during feeding.
• Astroturf, "Reptile Carpet" - Not as absorbent as other choices; may be difficult to effectively clean/disinfect.
• Sand - Heavy, dusty, may accumulate between scales and cause irritation. Repeated ingestion may cause impaction.
Fortunately the list of safe, frequqently-used subtrates is much longer than those that should be avoided. With a little planning and common sense, it is easy to select a substrate that works well for your blood python and your caging solution, as well as your budget and preferred level of maintenance.
There are almost as many different types of effective substrates as there are caging solutions. You may need to experiment with a couple of different types to find the one that works best for your setup. It's pretty hard to go wrong with paper substrate, like newspaper or kraft paper, and we've used this extensively throughout our snake keeping experience. For discussion on different substrates, you can also visit our caging subforum, part of the husbandry forum on our message boards. Threads specifically pertaining to substrate will be tagged with that heading.
Now that you have a good idea of the pros and cons of various substrate, let's address an extremely important aspect of creating the right environment: proper heating, and temperature control.
While it's no secret that snakes are exothermic, providing the correct temperatures for blood & short-tailed pythons seems to be a mystery for some keepers. As with other aspects of their husbandry, misconceptions around the best temperatures for these snakes are varied and widespread. Throughout this segment, we'll help to clear up some of these misconceptions, and suggest environmental guidelines for successfully maintaining bloods and short-tails in captivity.
Understanding Correct Temperatures
One of the biggest misunderstandings in blood & STP husbandry is the best temperature at which to keep them. For years, it was assumed that since these snakes come from the steamy tropics of Indonesia, they need to be kept hot and wet. Recommended temperatures for all three species ranged anywhere from 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, with 90%+ humidity. An accompanying misconception is that if bloods and short-tails aren't maintained within this temperature/humidity range, they'll eventually develop respiratory problems and fail to thrive. As a result many keepers have gone to great lengths to create jungle-like conditions, often to the frustration of snake and herpetoculturist alike.
As it turns out, short-tailed pythons thrive at lower temperatures than previously suggested. A range of 80° - 84° Fahrenheit suits all three species well. As such, our snake rooms are calibrated to 82 degrees on average, with an overnight low of 79-80°. Some of our adult pythons prefer warmer basking areas, whether gravid females or snakes that have simply shown a preference for more heat. These pythons are provided a basking spot of 86° Fahrenheit, using radiant side heat within our snake racks. Since the pythons in our juvenile snake room are not offered basking spots, we allow the temperatures to run slightly warmer - 80° for the low, and up to 84° for a daytime high. At these temperatures, our blood and short-tailed pythons thrive. They eat without hesitation or issue, they're calm and comfortable within their enclosures and during handling, and show no signs of stress.
Blood and short-tailed pythons that are exposed to incorrect temperatures for extended periods of time - whether those temperatures are too high or too low - run the risk of developing health issues. At high temperatures, these snakes are often very irritable and reactive, frequently cruising their enclosures looking for a way to escape. Stress from constant exposure to high temperatures can leave pythons susceptible to illness. At low temperatures, they may regurgitate their flood, act exceptionally sluggish, and develop symptoms of respiratory illness as a result of compromised immune systems.
As with many aspects of husbandry, finding and maintaining the best temperatures for your snakes is a balancing act, and we recommend the above temperatures as a good place to start when setting up enclosures for your snakes. Observing your pythons in their enclosures and making note of their activity will help you understand what your snakes prefer on an individual level. If you offer a basking spot and your snake is always sitting in the warm area of the cage, that snake may prefer to be warmer overall. In this case, look at the difference between the ambient (background) and basking temperatures, and determine whether they need to be adjusted. If you offer a basking spot and your python is most frequently found in the cooler areas of the enclosure, consider reducing the basking area or eliminating it completely. Monitoring temperatures and how your snake responds to them will help you to create the best environment for your short-tailed python.
Creating Correct Temperatures
So how does one go about creating and maintaing the correct temperature range for his or her blood python? This is where your choice of enclosure can have quite an impact on making this task harder or easier. If you're among the fortunate keepers who have a dedicated room for their snakes, it is much easier to create proper ambient temperatures by heating the entire room. Many keepers choose to do this with an oil-filled, radiator-style heater, combined with a fan (ceiling or floor) to help circulate air and encourage even temperatures throughout the room. Whatever your favorite method for heating an entire room, please ensure that it is thermostatically controlled, preferably with an external thermostat. We've heard horror stories of built-in thermostats on a variety of space heaters failing, and strongly recommend the use of a separate thermostat regardless of heating method.
If you don't have the ability to heat the entire room where your snake is kept, think about the caging you use and how well that cage will maintain correct temperatures. For example, a thin plastic tote in a 68° room probably won't retain the warmth necessary to keep a blood python happy and healthy, even with supplemental heat. Additionally, the heat source that you choose for providing a basking spot should not be expected to heat the entire enclosure when ambient temps are simply too low. This is often a source of frustration for new keepers, when they discover that a heat mat set to 90° (F) doesn't heat the cage properly, and also creates a basking spot that is entirely too hot to keep a blood python comfortable. Take these factors into consideration when you initially research your choice of caging and heating methods, and you'll save yourself some frustration - and money - in the long run.
Some of the thicker, expanded plastic cages specifically built for keeping reptiles do an efficient job of maintaining correct temperatures when coupled with an additional heat source (i.e. basking spot). Frequently, these purpose-built cages will accomodate heat sources like heat tape, heat cables, or radiant heat panels, which can be controlled with a thermostat or dimmer to create optimal temperatures for your blood or short-tailed python. Since we can't expect an exothermic python to adapt to cooler household conditions, it is our responsibility as keepers to provide enclosures for our snakes that help to maintain the right temperatures to keep them healthy.
The most common methods for creating basking spots are heat mats (or heat tape), and basking lights. Others include heat cable and radiant heat panels. Heat mats, heat tape, and heat cable all create belly heat for the snake, and are usually installed underneath the enclosure to heat the floor of the cage. Basking lights and radiant heat panels create a warm area in the cage and direct heat downward, heating the snake's back.
Of all these methods, we discourage the use of basking lights for bloods and short-tailed pythons. Basking lights can be difficult to regulate, often run very hot, and as a result tend to dry out a cage. It's difficult to provide a basking light that is close enough to the snake to be effective, without being too close for comfort and potentially causing burns. Light bulbs also have a much shorter lifespan than other methods and must be replaced whenever they burn out. On the other hand, many heat mats, tape or cables will run for several years, and require replacement far less frequently.
Heat tape, heat mats (not human-use heating pads), and heat cable are all available from herpetocultural supply vendors. Heat tape may be sold pre-wired, but more often the purchaser is required to wire it. If you're unfamiliar with this process, have an experienced herpetoculturist advise you the first time. As an alternative to heat tape, there are thin, flexible heat mats available in a variety of sizes that are not only wired, but also UL safety-listed. These make a great alternative for herpers who aren't comfortable wiring their own tape. All of these heat sources may be affixed to the bottom of the cage using adhesive foil tape.
Some purpose-built snake cages even have grooves or slots for the cable or tape. Not only does this set the heat source into the floor of the cage for more efficient heating, it keeps the heat source from being sandwiched between the cage and the surface on which the cage rests. If your snake's enclosure doesn't have a groove or slot that allows for airflow between the heat source and whatever the cage rests on, you'll need to put spacers under the enclosure to create this airspace. This is necessary to avoid excessive heat build-up around the heat source, which could result in a heater malfunction and even a potential fire hazard.
Depending on the style of cage you use for your python and the location of that cage, these heating methods may provide enough warmth to create the ideal environment for your snake. If not, you may need to make other adjustments, such as considering an alternative caging method or turning up the ambient room temperature. Since caging and heat controls tend to be a keeper's biggest investment next to the cost of his or her snake(s), we really recommend doing a lot of research and talking to other keepers to help determine the best solution for your husbandry situation, especially if you're somewhat new to snakekeeping.
Once you have decided upon the right heating method for your blood python's enclosure, the next question is, "How should I control this heating device?" Very few heating elements are plug-and-play, meaning they cannot run safely without a thermostat or rheostat (dimmer) to ensure that temperatures remain within an optimal range. There are heat controllers available in just about every tax bracket, so depending on your budget and the features you prefer, with a little research you should be able to find the ideal device for your needs.
Proportional thermostats are an extremely popular choice among herpetoculturists. These work by providing a constant energy supply to the heating device, and raising or lowering that energy supply to maintain temperatures within a desired range. The heat source plugs into the thermostat, and the thermostat utilizes a temperature probe to measure temperatures in the heated area, and adjusts them accordingly. They typically include a digital display that shows current temperature at the probe location. Proportional thermostats range from basic to fancy; some models have multiple probes and controls for monitoring and regulating several cages or racks at once. Others have alarms that can even auto-dial your phone should temperatures rise too high or fall too low. Spyder Robotics and Helix are examples of well-known, popular proportional thermostats available in the herpetocultural trade.
On/off thermostats perform exactly that function. These devices turn power to your heat supply completely on or off in order to maintain the desired temperature. These thermostats also use a temperature probe to measure and regulate heat. Like proportional thermostats, the on/off variety may include a digital temperature display. They tend to be basic, straightforward units, and may have digital or analog controls. Ranco and Johnson are two models of on/off thermostats commonly found in herpetoculture.
When using thermostats, placement of the thermostat probe is an important consideration. Many purpose-built reptile cages and racks now include a groove to accommodate a probe. For those enclosures that don't have this feature, you must be careful to secure the probe in a way that the snake can't move it around. Some keepers drill small holes in the floor of the cage and thread cable ties through them and around the probe to keep it from moving about. Other keepers sacrifice a little bit of space when using a snake rack, and set up a "control tub" that mimics the other setups in the rack. Instead of putting a snake in this tub, the thermostat probe is located there to establish even temperatures throughout the rack.
Some keepers locate the thermostat probe directly over the heat source underneath the enclosure (i.e. with a heat mat or heat tape). In this case, the thermostat is usually set to a higher temperature in order to create the intended basking temperature through the floor of the cage and any substrate covering it. For example, to achieve a basking temperature of 88 degrees within the enclosure, the thermostat may actually be set to 91 degrees in order to heat through the substrate. If you use this method, be especially diligent in monitoring temperatures to avoid overheating & potential danger to your blood python.
If the enclosure you select doesn't easily accomodate a thermostat probe, talk to other keepers with similar caging and find out what methods have been sucessful for them.
Another option for regulating your cage's heat source is a rheostat, or dimmer. This simple device consists of a power receptacle that the heat source plugs into, a dial for turning temperatures up or down, and a power cord. They do not include a temperature probe or a display for temperature readout. A dimmer controls the power level to the heating source, but does not adjust it; any changes to the temperature level must be made manually by turning the dial up or down. Dimmers work best when ambient (room) temperatures are maintained at a consistent, steady level since these devices do not auto-adjust to compensate for temperature fluctuations.
Even with a thermostat or dimmer in place to control your heating device, it is still necessary to monitor temperatures regularly and diligently. Not only will this practice help to alert you to potential problems, it will give you an understanding of your python's behavior at various temperatures. Heat tape can malfunction. Thermostats can fail. Heat cables may develop hot spots. Any heating device can burn out over time and cease to function. If you're not in the habit of checking temperatures on a regular basis, disasters can occur, whether the loss of a single animal, an entire collection, or even someone's home. While there are dozens of thermometer styles that can be used for regular monitoring, only a few give you the greatest flexibility and ease of use.
One of the best tools ever adopted for herpetocultural purposes is the temp gun. Temp guns are utilized in a variety of industries, and it's a no-brainer to see how they come in handy in your reptile room. Simply point, shoot, and get a digital readout of the surface temperature in any specific area. Whether you want to check the basking temperature available to a gravid female python, the range of temperatures throughout your snake room, or the coldest spot in your python's cage, a temp gun gives you the ability to do so at any time. Like thermostats, temp guns are available as basic models or with multiple features. Some include laser pointers to help you zero in on a specific point to measure. Popular models of temp guns in herpetoculture include the Raytek Raynger MT4, and the ZooMed Repti-Temp. When you consider that a decently functional temp gun can be purchased for as little as $15, there really is no excuse not to have one in your supply of herpetocultural tools.
Get into the habit of checking your snake's cage, your snake room, incubators - anywhere that temperature makes a difference - so that you can immediately recognize when there is a problem starting. This practice also gives you an opportunity to monitor your python's behavior on a regular basis. Once you have a good idea of what is normal behavior for your snake, you can determine what isn't - i.e. pacing the enclsoure or acting listless and lethargic. This will allow you to identify and address small problems before they turn into much bigger issues for your short-tailed python.
Temp guns also come in handy when checking the accuracy of thermostats and other thermometers. Digital thermometers can give inaccurate readings when their batteries start to die, so using a temp gun as a backup will help ensure your python's continued safety. If you breed your pythons and use artificial incubation, a temp gun can help you identify hot or cool spots in your incubator that could be detrimental to developing eggs. When feeding frozen-thawed prey, a temp gun easily allows you to determine the surface temperature of the prey item, and whether it needs to be warmer or cooler for your python to readily accept it. There are so many scenarios in which a temp gun comes in handy that it almost doesn't make sense to go without one. Get a good temp gun, take care of it, replace batteries according to the manufacturer's instructions, and you'll have a tool that lasts well throughout your herpetocultural adventures.
The digital indoor/outdoor thermometer is another tool that can serve several purposes in one's snake room. These units are available at home improvement stores, garden centers, herpetocultural supply vendors, and via Internet order. Typically this is a battery-powered plastic thermometer with a digital display, and a temperature probe/sensor attached to a long cord. The cord & sensor provide the "outdoor" temperature reading, while an input at the top of the thermometer provides the "indoor" temperature. Some models are wireless, others measure humidity as well. These come in handy for providing temperatures at a glance, whether in a cage, room temperatures, or in an incubator. We still recommend using these in conjunction with a temp gun instead of relying strictly on digital thermometers for monitoring temperatures.
Analog (dial) thermometers also come in handy for a reliable way to gauge temperatures within a specific area. They don't have batteries to replace or cords or wires that can be chewed by escaped feeder rodents. They're simple, straightforward, and provide another layer of security in terms of monitoring temperatures. A large-face weather thermometer can be placed on your snake room wall to give an general indication of ambient temperature. Dial thermometers can be used in an incubator for additional backup. It's worth noting that the small, stick-on aquarium thermometers often sold in pet stores do little but show the air temperature in the specific area where the thermometer is located. Don't rely on these units to give you an accurate reading of your python's ambient or basking temperatures.
Food for Thought
Creating proper temperatures for your blood or short-tailed python is one of the most important aspects of successful husbandry for these species. Not only is there a variety of heating sources and tools to help create the best environment, the information regarding ideal captive temperatures has come a long way as well. As mentioned earlier, establishing that ideal environment for your python is a simple balancing act. The ability to monitor and adjust temperatures as necessary to provide a consistent, even environment for your short-tailed python, paves the way for a healthy snake and confident keeper alike. Understanding your python's needs and individual preference for warmth, and developing good temperature-monitoring habits will allow you to correct small problems and prevent big ones, further adding to your experience and enjoyment as a blood python keeper.
We're off to a great start with proper enclosures and temperatures. Now we'll cover the various choices available when it comes to selecting the right container for providing water to your short-tailed pythons.
Blood pythons and their short-tailed kin drink copiously, and fresh water should be made available to them at all times. Like substrate, the type of water bowl you provide for your blood python is mostly a matter of personal preference. Depending on your husbandry situation, some water containers may work better than others.
Do You Want To Supersize That?
What size water bowl should you offer your blood python? This mostly depends on the size of the snake in question. Regardless of your snake's size, all water containers should be easily entered and exited, since these snakes frequently enjoy soaking. It's not at all uncommon to open a short-tailed python's enclosure only to find the snake coiled in a water bowl.
water1th Hatchling bloods & STPs need relatively shallow water cups. If the water bowl is too deep, a small hatchling may not be able to exit and could eventually drown. For perspective, we use 8-ounce deli cups that are 4" in diameter, and about 1.5" deep for our hatchlings, and have never had a mishap (knock on wood).
Older juveniles can easily manage larger water cups, again, provided that the containers aren't excessively deep. We use 16-ounce deli cups for our bigger juveniles, and these cups are also 4" in diameter. While this size works well for our cages and our setup, any sufficiently-sized water bowl that the snake can easily enter and exit may be used.
Nearly any size container can be used for sub-adult and adult bloods, again provided that it is easily accessible for the snake. When considering large containers, think about whether or not it will be easy to remove from the cage and replace, especially when full. Water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon, so keep that in mind when contemplating a big water container for your adult short-tailed python. Never allow changing water or handling cumbersome containers to become a neglected chore, as fresh, clean water is essential to the health of your blood python. It should go without saying that a water container should be changed whenever the water is stale or fouled (whether by feces, sheds or substrate), and fresh water provided to the snake.
If you provide a container large enough for your python to soak in, it will do so. At some point, your snake will most likely defecate in its water bowl and may shed its skin in the water as well. Additionally, full water containers plus large, heavy blood pythons can easily equal displaced water swamping your snake's enclosure. While using awater2th smaller water container won't completely eliminate any of the above from happening, it will reduce the odds. Is this something that will have a major impact on your husbandry routine? Doubtful. By the same token, it's something to think about when considering potential water bowls. It's also worth mentioning that snakes may soak excessively due to snake mites, high cage temperatures, or a lack of places to hide within the enclosure. Since bloods and short-tails are frequent soakers, it never hurts to check periodically and rule out these factors as a good husbandry habit.
So in a nutshell as long as the water bowl is safe for the snake and easy for you to manage during routine husbandry, the sky's the limit in terms of choices available to you.
No matter what type of water container you choose, make sure it is one that can be easily disinfected (more on that under Maintenance). Some soft plastic surfaces are easily scuffed or scraped, and can create nooks and crevices for bacteria and other nasties to hide. Glass or ceramic water bowls are easily cleaned, but they tend to be heavy and will break if dropped. Stainless steel is another alternative. These bowls are simple to disinfect, sturdy, and come in a variety of sizes, though they do tend to be on the expensive side. Disposable plastic deli cups are another alternative - rather than cleaning & disinfecting, simply toss out the old cup & replace it with a new one. If this method suits your husbandry routine, please remember to recycle whenever possible.
If you keep multiple snakes, you'll have multiple water containers on hand, especially if you use spares for ease of cleaning/replacement. If this is the case, keep in mind your storage space available for extra containers, and whether or not your choice of water bowl will be easy to stack in that space. Large, heavy ceramic or plastic crocks water don't stack well and take up a lot of space due to that fact. This may seem like a minor point to cover, but it can make a big difference when you're organizing and minimizing clutter in your snake room or storage space.
Some herp supply vendors now offer lidded water cups for hatchlings, usually lidded deli cups with a hole cut in the lid for access to water. We've known keepers with larger collections that utilize these to minimize spillage and evaporation, thereby cutting down on maintenance time. Many times these lids fit very tightly, and the access opening can be dangerously small. We've heard of several occasions where a young python entered the water bowl & then became stuck or was otherwise unable to exit, and therefore drowned. Be very careful if you choose to use lidded water bowls, and make sure that lids do not fit too tightly. The minor reduction in maintenance time from using these bowls isn't worth the life of your blood or short-tailed python.
In this section, we've covered various containers for providing water to your blood python. Now it's time to unravel another of the common misconceptions about bloods and STPs: What are proper humidity levels for these snakes, and how does a keeper effectively provide them? Read on for more info...
If blood python husbandry myth #1 is "You have to keep them hot," then myth #2 must be, "You have to keep them wet." Since we've covered ideal captive temperatures & how to create them, let's now address the issue of humidity. We'll cover understanding humidty in a captive environment, how to control and maintain it, problems that may occur from keeping a blood python too wet or too dry, and how to remedy such issues.
Humidity is more than just water in a cage. It's the amount of moisture in the air within that cage. Warm air holds more moisture than cool air. In a snake enclosure, thisamount of moisture is influenced by ambient humidity in the room, evaporation from the snake's water bowl, and even from your python's respiration. It is also influenced by the amount of ventilation in your python's cage or tub, and direct actions like misting the enclosure with a hose or sprayer.
As with proper temperatures, correct humidity levels for blood & short-tailed pythons are often greatly misunderstood. The prevailing misconception regarding humidity for these species is that it must be exceptionally high all the time, such as 80%-90%. Even though these snakes hail from an area of the world with 70% average annual humidity, is it really necessary to provide such high levels under captive conditions? Actually it isn't, and like many other aspects of blood python husbandry, proper humidity is all about creating a happy medium.
Blood & short-tailed pythons in captivity don't require wet cages, beaded with condensation. In fact, 60% average humidity seems to suit them just fine. It's not necessary to go to extreme measures to create this level of humidity when you're using an enclosure that easily supports stable temperatures & has sufficient ventilation. You don't even need fancy equipment to check humidity levels - your short-tailed python's shedding habits are a great indicator as to whether or not humidity is too low. If the enclosure is consistently too dry, your python will most likely have stuck sheds or heavily dimpled skin & spectacles. If it is too wet, the snake's skin will take on a crinkled, shiny appearance from prolonged exposure to excessive moisture.
When you think about it, the stories of blood pythons needing hot, wet enclosures and being susceptible to respiratory problems make a lot more sense - what was intended to be the "cure" was actually the problem in this common husbandry mistake. Constant exposure to high temperatures = stress = compromised immune system = lowered defenses against opportunistic bacteria & fungi growing in a wet environment = sick snake. Since illnesses in snakes are much easier to prevent than to cure, that balancing act of "not too wet, not too dry, but just right" is an important aspect of effective husbandry.
Creating & Measuring Humidity
So how does one go about establishing the correct level of humidity for his or her blood python? As previously mentioned, with the right caging this isn't too difficult. For starters, we take the approach that it's safer for a python's cage to to be too dry than too wet. This not only reduces the chance for health problems, but is also easier to correct. It's much simpler to soak a snake with a stuck shed, or lightly mist a cage with water than completely strip and dry an enclosure that is sopping wet.
Our adult and juvenile snake rooms are calibrated to approximately 60% relative humidity year-round. To maintain this level, we run humidifiers for roughly 6 months out of the year. Our Midwest winters are extremely dry and sometimes last well into mid-March or even later. Without the use of humidifiers during this time average humidity drops to approximately 25%, which we feel is uncomfortably dry. While we do prefer too dry over too wet, it is important to note that extended exposure to very dry conditions can also prove detrimental to blood & short-tailed pythons by irritating the resipiratory tract. The use of humidifiers during the driest months helps to ensure that conditions are consistent all year long.
Aside from this, we don't go to great lengths to raise humidity in our pythons' enclosures. We don't spray them daily, nor do we provide particularly large water bowls that would allow for greater evaporation. Since the individual tubs in our rack systems maintain humidity at a level slightly higher than the room average, we don't feel that there's a need to increase this level under normal circumstances. When our pythons enter a shed cycle, we mist them to marginally increase the level of moisture in the enclosure. We don't shower the tubs, but lightly mist them with the sprayer attachment on our snake room hoses. Is this process absolutely necessary? No. There have been plenty of times where we haven't misted throughout the shed cycle, and our snakes shed just fine as a general rule. This method does help to ensure great sheds, and we enjoy the extra interaction with our pythons, as well as opening a tub to see a perfect, freshly-shed trophy with gleaming new skin.
Depending on the type of enclosure you choose for your blood or short-tailed python, you may not have to do much in the way creating additional humidity. A purpose-built cage with paper substrate, and a water bowl situated on the warmer side of the enclosure is usually sufficient for maintaining humidity levels. Most snake racks and cages make this easy to accomplish without too much effort. Other cages, like glass aquariums with screen tops, make humidity and temperature regulation difficult, we discourage this type of enclosure.
If you live in a very dry climate, a humidifier may be necessary to help boost the ambient humidity in your reptile room. Misting your python's cage is another alternative; handheld sprayers work well for this purpose and are available online, as well as through home improvement stores and gardening centers. The use of multiple layers of newspaper or kraft paper for substrate can promote higher localized humidity. Blood and short-tailed pythons like to sit under the layers of paper, and the snake's respiration will raise humidity between them. Shredded wood substrates, such as aspen or cypress, also retain moisture well and hold up to repeated misting better than paper substrate. Substrates of this nature require more maintenance, but may be worthwhile if your local climate is on the dry side.
On the other hand, if your python's cage stays very damp on a regular basis, you may need to consider additional ventilation. The most common sign of excessively high humidity is copious condensation build-up on the glass of a cage, or walls of a tub. In a tub, it's easy to melt holes for ventilation using a soldering iron, or drill them using a small-gauge drill bit. It can be more difficult to retrofit snake cages with extra ventilation, so we recommend ordering extra vents and vent covers when you first buy your cage if you have this option. It's much easier to close extra vents than it is to install or cut new ones unless you are experienced with power tools.
While we do not use stand-alone hygrometers for measuring humidity, some of our digital indoor/outdoor thermometers have this feature. If you choose to purchase a hygrometer be aware that discount units are often inaccurate or calibrated incorrectly. One method for testing the calibration of your hygrometer is known as the "salt test", and is frequently used among cigar aficionados when setting up a humidor. To salt-test your hygrometer, you'll need a Ziploc bag or clear, airtight container, a bottle cap (one from a 20-oz soda bottle works great), table salt, water, and your hygrometer.
Step 1: Fill the bottle cap 3/4 full of table salt.
Step 2: Add enough water to the salt to saturate it, but not so much that it is soupy. You basically want a cap full of wet salt, but not so much water that the salt dissolves.
Step 3: Place the bottle cap & your hygrometer into the bag (or clear container), and leave it for a minimum of 6 hours.
Step 4: After 6 hours, check the reading on your hygrometer. It should read 75% RH. Whatever % your hygrometer is off from 75% is the amount your hygrometer should be recalibrated if you have this feature. If not, keep this margin of error in mind whenever referencing your hygrometer.
Alternatively, NIST-certified hygrometer models are available from various online vendors. They're more expensive but much more accurate for gauging humidity. Ultimately, we don't consider hygrometers among our must-have, can't-live-without husbandry tools. It's nice to have one on hand for reference, but the overall health of our snakes and the consistency and quality of their sheds is a better indicator of proper humidity. Developing a good feel for correct humidity and optimal conditions will benefit a herpetoculturist more than fussing with inaccurate hygrometers.
Food for Thought
So as it turns out, proper humidity for blood and short-tailed pythons is nowhere near the rocket science that some keepers have indicated in the past. As with many aspects of general reptile husbandry, it is simply a matter of understanding a snake's needs and tolerances and creating conditions in an acceptable range to meet those needs.
Hopefully, this section has debunked some common myths regarding blood python husbandry and humidity. Next, let's review various methods for creating hiding spots in your short-tailed python's enclosure.
While your blood or STP's enclosure should play a major role in making your snake feel safe & secure, sometimes adding an additional hide is necessary. Whether you're dealing with new hatchlings, high-strung adults, or simply snakes that show a preference for hiding, it's a good idea to know what options work best for blood & short-tailed pythons.
What Kind of Hide Do I Need?
As with other aspects of their environment, hides don't need to be elaborate in order to be effective for bloods & STPs. As long as it meets the basic requirement of providing a safe, secure spot for the snake, and is easy to clean or replace, nearly any solution you come up with can make a good hide.
If you're using a paper substrate in your blood python's cage, adding several extra layers for the snake to hide under is a simple way to provide extra security within the enclosure. Blood and short-tailed pythons will frequently make use of paper substrate in this manner, and whether you use newspaper, kraft paper, or some other type, this is a simple, cost-effective way to provide a hide to your snake. When the paper becomes worn or soiled, simply toss it out and replace it with new layers.
A similar approach for creating hides can be also be used with particle substrates. If you use a substrate like aspen, cypress mulch, Care Fresh, or Sani-chips, providing an extra-deep layer of bedding into which your python can burrow can double as a hide. This way the snake can choose a spot warmer to the heat source (if you provide one), or basically sit wherever in the cage it feels comfortable (this is also true for paper substrates). Another option is to provide a light layer of paper over particle substrate to act as a hide. This method works quite well, especially if you don't want to use an extra-deep substrate layer, but still want a simple hide for your snake.
There are several benefits to using a substrate that doubles as a hide. It's easy to replace, doesn't require lots of additional maintenance, and doesn't force the snake to choose security over the warmer or cooler spots in the cage (or vice versa). Also, your python won't outgrow its substrate. You will probably need to provide deeper layers as the snake grows larger depending on your choice of substrate, but this is still simpler than upgrading through different sizes of hide boxes as the snake matures.
Whether for aesthetics, maintenance, or personal preference, you may want to use something other than substrate as a hide in your python's enclosure. Cork bark flats or half-rounds, overturned plant saucers, plastic totes, and even cardboard boxes can be turned into simple hide boxes. Herp supply vendors and pet stores also offer molded plastic or resin hides for reptile enclosures. No matter your choice for a hide, ensure that it is safe for your blood python, and also easy to clean. Porous materials like cork and terra cotta clay are more difficult to clean thoroughly, compared to plastic.
When selecting a hide for your blood or short-tailed python, make sure you choose the right size. Hides should provide a slightly snug fit for the snake, as the goal is to create an extra sense of security. Large, cavernous hides defeat the purpose of providing one in the first place. With this in mind, there are some styles of hides that should not be used for blood and short-tailed pythons.
Avoid hollow log, "tube" style hides. While these may be aesthetically pleasing for the keeper who prefers a more natural environment, these hides can be deadly should a blood python wedge itself in and become stuck. Cork flats or half-rounds make a good alternative in this case. The same can be said for plastic totes or other containers. Rather than cutting a round hole in the side or lid of such a container, cut an ample entrance that extends all the way through the lip of the container. This way a snake that doubles up through the opening can push its way out or pop the lid off, instead of getting stuck in a potentially dangerous situation.
No matter what your preference for hides, following these simple rules of thumb will help you create a safe and straightforward solution for your short-tailed python. If you have some creative hide ideas, we encourage you to submit them to our caging gallery to share with other keepers.
Continue reading for our closing thoughts, as well as links to our discussion forum & various resources.
We hope this section of our website provides you with ample food for thought and information to aid in your success with blood and short-tailed python husbandry. Our goal here is to help you avoid some of the headaches and husbandry mistakes that we've run into over the years, and that we've heard recounted from many other keepers. It's unfortunate that herpetoculturists shy away from working with these fabulous snakes due to rampant misinformation regarding the husbandry of these species, but we're working to change that throughout this entire site.
We encourage you to visit our message board and exchange questions and ideas with fellow keepers. Additionally, the caging gallery features pictures and setups from a range of keepers, and we'd love to add your photos if you would like to share your setup with others. Our TBC Favorites page contains links to many of the enclosures and tools found throughout this section. Finally, if you have feedback or questions regarding any information found here, please don't hesistate to contact us.