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.