Nature Mikey

Nature Mikey

Friday, March 11, 2011

Species of the Day: African Rock Python

Scientific Name: Python s. sebae
Family: Pythonidae
Adult Size: can get up to 16-20 feet long and weigh between 120 and 150 pounds
Range: Guinea and Senegal on the west coast of Africa, across central Africa to the east coast of Ethiopia, southern Somalia, Kenya and northern Tanzania
Habitat: Prefers savannas and grasslands 

    The African rock python is a large constricting snake with care requirements similar to the Burmese or reticulated pythons. While many people have satisfactory experiences with this snake, there are a number of cases on record in which people have been attacked or killed. Many of these attacks were due to poor feeding procedures, while others were due to letting the animal roam free through the house. The bottom line is these snakes are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Keeping large constrictors requires a very strict attention to husbandry and safety principals. They should never be allowed free run of the house. These snakes have strong instincts and can attack unexpectedly if they feel threatened or smell food. They have voracious appetites to fuel their large, fast-growing bodies, and holding back food from them to stunt their growth only makes an already ugly-tempered snake even more irritable.
    Rock pythons, which grow to 16-20 feet long, should be respected for their strength and treated accordingly. They should only be handled when necessary, such as when their habitat needs to be cleaned. It is very important for there to be another experienced handler to help, and it is recommended that you have one handler for every five feet of snake. One reason that these snakes can be so dangerous is that their sense of sight is very poor, and they rely primarily on their sense of smell and the heat sensors that line their upper lips to find food. If it smells food on or near the keeper, the snake is likely to assume that the keeper is food. Their instinct to constrict their prey and eat is so strong that it can kill you before it realizes that you are too big to swallow. Experienced snake owners call unsafe feeding practices "Stupid Feeding Errors" or "SFE's." These are almost always involved when there is a report of a large snake attacking its owner. Proper feeding requires that you wash your hands before feeding the snake, and then use long handled tongs to hold the pre-killed prey. Any warm blooded animals, such as cats and dogs, can set off the feeding instinct, and should be kept at a safe distance. 
    In addition to these considerations, the rock python can live for 25 years and requires large prey items such as large rabbits when they reach their adult size. If you get one and find out after a few years that it is more than you can handle, you will not have an easy time getting rid of it. They may seem "cool," but not that many people want the job of taking care of a big snake. The best way to get used to all of these routines is to get your snake while it is very young. This way you can learn how to care for your snake correctly while the risk is still fairly small. Handling a young snake properly will help it be less defensive later on. Correct feeding methods should always be used even when it's small. Never handle the snake when it is in a mood to eat or right afterward. While a 55-gallon aquarium can make a suitable starter enclosure, it won't be long before you'll be forced to build your own large cage. The African rock python is very strong, and can easily escape from most enclosures. Its caging requirements are focused mainly on space and sturdiness, which is why converting a small, escape-proof locked bedroom in your home is the best way to go. Substrate, or floor covering, for the habitat can be newspaper, paper towels, or butcher paper. When you've made sure the snake doesn't have mites and it has settled into its new home, you can use bedding such as commercially prepared cypress bark in the room. Don't use cedar or other wood shavings as bedding though because the oils can adversely affect the python's health. Soiled bedding needs to be removed and replaced with clean material. Also, Astro-turf can be cut to fit the room, and then rolled up and carried out for cleaning. Have two pieces of Astro-turf ready, and you can use one while washing the other. A rock python will appreciate having a hiding place in its enclosure. This can be as simple as a cardboard box with a door cut into the side.  It will also like a large natural rocks and ledges to climb and bask on.
     The temperature inside the snake's enclosure should have a gradient of  80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius). There are a variety of ways to add warmth to the pen. Light bulbs set on 12 hour timers work very well for this, but must be placed accordingly so that the snake will not burn itself. A good option with large snake is large is a veterinary heating pad called a "pig blanket." This rigid fiberglass mat can be equipped with a thermostat and adjusted to the appropriate settings.
A rock python will enjoy soaking in its water bowl. It will need a tub when it gets bigger, and may eventually have to be bathed in the bath tub. Be sure to follow safety precautions if this is necessary, including having a willing partner or two to help handle the big snake. Bathing is particularly helpful during shedding. Make sure you keep the snake's water bowl clean with fresh water always available.
     Your young rock python will benefit by having a short daily period of handling, but keep in mind that these can be very aggressive snakes. Don't start these handling sessions until it has settled into its new home, and never handle it after eating. Always remember it will slither away and escape when it can, so keep track of it. Move gently and never suddenly. If the snake wraps around you, start at the tail end to gently unwind it. Try not to let it wrap around your neck. Keep disinfectant available for the occasional bite most large python owners eventually get.
     While these snakes are awesome beautiful creatures, think twice before adopting an African rock python into your home. They should not be brought into any home with young children or elderly people in residence. The responsibility of keeping a potential killer is tremendous. To keep things in perspective, however, it's worth noting that more people are killed by people's pet dogs than by large pet snakes. Still, getting one is not a decision to be made lightly.



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