Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus)
Welcome to the ReptiFiles Reticulated Python Care Sheet! This care sheet was written by a professional reptile husbandry specialist, compiled based on reputable sources such as scientific research papers, natural history data, and the experiences of longtime keepers and breeders of this species. You can find a list of these sources at the bottom of this page.
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Introduction to Reticulated Pythons
Reticulated pythons are gigantic, muscular, constrictor-type snakes with smooth scales, a diamond-shaped head, vertical pupils, and heat pits on the snout and lips. The rear portion of the head may be divided into two large bulges. Although a variety of different colors and patterns have been produced in captivity (a.k.a. “morphs”), wild-type reticulated pythons generally have striking pattern of yellow/orange, black, and white diamonds on a gray to tan background, with vivid orange eyes.
Reticulated pythons are widespread throughout southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are highly adaptable, but they can be generally considered a tropical forest snake, where they spend time in trees, on the forest floor, and in bodies of water. They are primarily active at night.
Reticulated pythons are famous for their impressive length, but there are actually three different types of retic, commonly defined by their size potential:
- Standard — 14-20′ / 4.5-6m
- Dwarf — 8-13′ / 2.4-4.9m
- Jampea — 8-12’ / 2.4-3.7m
- Kayuadi: 8-12’ / 2.4-3.7m
- Selayar — 8-13’ / 2.4-4m
- Super Dwarf — 5-10′ / 1.5-3m
- Karompa: 5-7’ / 1.5-2.1m
- Kalaotoa: 6-9’ / 1.8-2.7m
- Honey Island (Madu): 6-9’ / 1.8-2.7m
- Tombolongan: 6-10′ / 1.8-3m
The above numbers are averages; smaller and larger are possibilities. Female reticulated pythons generally grow longer and heavier than males.
Due to their beauty and impressive size, reticulated pythons are surprisingly popular pets. Part of this popularity is due to rampant misinformation about their care needs perpetuated by social media celebrities, which tends to downplay their needs for space, enrichment, and safe handling precautions. Before getting a reticulated python as a pet, it is critical to consider that these are intelligent, active, messy, extremely large animals (think of them like keeping a horse — or perhaps a tiger — in your house). Furthermore, although this reality is often downplayed by enthusiasts, the fact remains that their size makes reticulated pythons potentially dangerous animals to keep as a pet. If you wish to care for this animal, you must be aware of the risks and willing to take appropriate precautions.
It is the author’s opinion that the only reticulated pythons suitable for keeping as pets are dwarf and super dwarf varieties, with standard retics being better suited to the capabilities of professional zoological institutions. (And they do make great pets! Plan on engaging with them every day to keep them happy.)
If you pay attention to providing appropriate reticulated python care, this highly intelligent, engaging pet is likely to live 15-20 years, although 25-30 years is possible.
Supplies You Need for a Pet Reticulated Python
Reticulated pythons are giant snakes, and this makes them very difficult to properly house for most people. The following list applies to young and/or superdwarf reticulated pythons <8′ long. Information on what you would need to accommodate a larger retic can be found in the rest of this care sheet.
- 8’L x 4’W x 4’H mesh-top reptile enclosure (preferably larger)
- Zoo Med Combo Deep Dome Dual Lamp Fixture, x2
- 75w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp, x4
- Vivarium Electronics Rheostat, x2
- 48″ Arcadia Forest 5.0 Pro T5 UVB Kit
- 34″ Arcadia JungleDawn LED Bar, x2
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- 2 gallon pressure sprayer
- 80 gallons Reptichip substrate
- Large climbing branches, at least 2
- Artificial foliage
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge, x2
- Etekcity 774 infrared thermometer
- 30 gallon utility tub (or similar)
- Python aquarium siphon
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- Large feeding tongs
- Snake hook
- F10SC Veterinary Disinfectant
- Spray bottle (for disinfectant)
Recommended Enclosure Size for Reticulated Pythons
Before we get into discussing the particulars of creating an appropriate enclosure for a pet reticulated python, I must address current common practice:
At the moment it is standard practice to house fully-grown reticulated pythons measuring up to 18′ or longer in barren enclosures measuring around 8’L x 4’W x 4’H. For most pet reptiles, such an enclosure would be generous, even huge. For a standard reticulated python, however, it is the equivalent of keeping a horse in a stall or a dog in a kennel for the entirety of their life. For the horse or the dog, such housing would be immediately condemned as incredibly cruel. For the retic, such housing has been justified by downplaying the facts about this species’ intelligence and activity needs. While such misinformation certainly makes reticulated pythons easier to sell as pets, it has also resulted in countless bored and obese retics — along with all of the neurological and physiological health complications which accompany these conditions.
One goal of this care sheet is to raise awareness of and respect for the actual husbandry needs of reticulated pythons, supported by the facts of their physiology and natural history.
A snake’s enclosure should be at least large enough to allow the animal to stretch out to its full length as desired. Since reticulated pythons are semi-arboreal (meaning that they spend part of their lives in trees), you must also allow enough height for climbing/perching. Furthermore, reticulated pythons are extremely active snakes, so making sure they have as much room as possible will give you a fitter and overall healthier snake both physically and psychologically.
Since reticulated pythons vary widely in adult length based on their genetics, rather than recommend a one-size-fits-all approach, here is a formula for calculating the appropriate minimum enclosure size according to the snake’s projected adult length:
- Length = snake length
- Width = half snake length
- Height = as tall as possible (although taller than the snake’s length is likely excessive)
If you have a juvenile reticulated python, the best way to estimate its adult size is to talk to the breeder. Ask about the length of the mother and the length of the father. If you have a male retic, it will likely end up similar in size to the father. If you have a female, it will likely end up similar to its mother.
Of course, if you have a reticulated python estimated to grow 18′ long, providing an enclosure exactly 18′ long and 9′ wide or may be unrealistic, as at that point it’s generally better practice to convert a room or small outbuilding for the purpose. In this case, you can also estimate minimum enclosure size by calculating the floor space of such an enclosure (in this case 162 sq ft) and using that number as your minimum/target for the enclosure.
Here are some enclosures suitable for housing a reticulated python <8′ long. Juvenile retics grow very quickly, so if you have an individual likely to grow longer than this, keep in mind that an enclosure of this size should only be used temporarily while you prepare the larger, permanent setup.
- Custom Reptile Habitats Essential 8 Foot PVC & Aluminum Enclosure
- Toad Ranch TRC 8’x4’x4′ Reptile Enclosure
- Kages 8’x4’x4′ Premium PVC Reptile Enclosure
If you need something larger or you’re handy and would prefer to save some money, I recommend checking out DIY Reptile and Amphibian Setups on Facebook for resources and advice on building reptile enclosures.
Using an enclosure larger than the minimum is strongly recommended. Bigger is always better as long as the space is useable to your pet! Reticulated pythons have a reputation for being sedentary and sitting curled up all day, but this is a myth. Even in an undersized enclosure, retics are well known for demonstrating maladaptive behaviors such as nose rubbing, pushing, and glass surfing. When given the opportunity, retics will happily cruise every inch of any space you’re willing to give them!
Can multiple reticulated pythons be housed together?
Reticulated pythons are solitary animals which naturally live alone for most of their lives. Forcing a roommate upon them is likely to result in unnecessary stress (not to mention the immense enclosure that would be required!). In other words: No, it’s best to house reticulated pythons individually.
Lighting & UVB Requirements for Reticulated Pythons
Reticulated pythons are active during both day and night. Although generations of retics bred in captivity have proven that UVB lighting (or lighting of any kind beyond that in the room) is not necessary to survival, they are inevitably exposed to sunlight and UVB radiation during their daytime activities in the wild, and therefore likely to benefit from what these resources have to offer, such as:
- regulation of day/night cycle
- hormonal balancing
- vitamin D production
- immune health support
- neurological health support
- increased energy
- improved appetite
For these reasons, ReptiFiles strongly recommends providing daylight and UVB lighting to reticulated pythons in order to promote optimum welfare!
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day and completely turned off at night. If you wish to practice seasonal cycling, they should have 13 hours of daylight during summer and 11 hours during winter. Alternatively, you can sync your snake’s lights with your local sunrise/sunset times.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. The basking branch should be placed as follows. Given distance is from the snake’s back to the UVB lamp.
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6%
- mounted over mesh — 9-11” / 23-28cm
- mounted inside enclosure — 12-15” / 30-38cm
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 10.0 or Arcadia Desert 10.0
- mounted over mesh — 15-17″ / 38-43cm
- mounted inside enclosure — 18-20″ / 46-51″
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 2.0-3.0 in the basking area.)
Your UVB bulb must be long enough to span half of the enclosure and placed on the warm side of the setup. This bulb should be housed in an Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics reflective fixture (yes, brand does make a difference).
Halogen and UVB lamps aren’t enough to create the kind of bright light that simulates daytime, particularly not in a big retic enclosure. You will also need nice bright ~6500K T5 HO fluorescent grow lights in a quad fixture, long enough to illuminate most of the enclosure’s length.
If you are trying to maintain live plants in your retic enclosure, you’re likely to get better results with LEDs rather than T5 HO fluorescents. The Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar and the Bio Dude Glow & Grow LED are both good choices. One of these lamps is roughly equivalent in brightness to 2 T5 HOs of equivalent length.
Heating Requirements for Reticulated Pythons
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Reticulated pythons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures in order to regulate their body temperature. This is the range that works best for keeping reticulated pythons healthy:
- Basking surface: 88-92°F (31-34°C)
- Cool end/air temp: 76-80°F (24-26°C)
- Nighttime: 74-78°F (23-25°C)
In captivity, using incandescent heat bulbs is the best way to replicate the way the earth is warmed by the sun. Because reticulated pythons are large and require a warm tropical environment, ReptiFiles recommends using a cluster of at least 4 75w halogen flood bulbs such as:
- 75w PAR30 generic halogen flood heat bulbs
- 75w Arcadia Halogen Flood Heat Lamp
- 75w Zoo Med Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp
This combination is likely to deliver the best results by heating the snake’s body evenly with high-quality short-wave infrared radiation.
If your heat lamps are mounted inside of the enclosure, make sure to cover them with bulb cages to prevent your snake from accidentally getting a nasty burn!
How to measure temperature in a reticulated python enclosure:
Measuring basking temperature is easy — all you need is an infrared thermometer (also known as a temp gun). Industrial-grade temp guns such as the Etekcity 774 generally work much better than the infrared thermometers marketed toward pet owners, in my experience. To use it, simply point the laser at the basking area (or anywhere else in the enclosure that you want to measure temperature), and “shoot”.
Humidity Requirements for Reticulated Pythons
Reticulated pythons are a tropical species, and they are often found near bodies of water (remember, this species spends a significant amount of time in water in the wild). This means that they need high levels of humidity in their enclosure. According to measurements taken from their native range, this should average between 65-90%. Occasional brief fluctuations higher and lower are fine.
Just because retics need high humidity and like water doesn’t mean that they should be kept sopping wet. In fact, keeping them too wet can be just as bad as keeping them too dry! The key is to keep their enclosure humid but well-ventilated enough that it is capable of drying out a bit between mistings.
Ambient humidity should be tracked via a digital hygrometer placed in the middle of the setup.
How to humidify your reticulated python enclosure:
Given the size of even a “small” reticulated python enclosure, it takes a lot to spray one down. You will need at least a gardening-grade pressure sprayer, or better yet, install a Mistking automatic misting system with nozzles every 2′ along the enclosure walls.
At minimum, the enclosure will need to be misted 2-3x/day, depending on your local humidity levels and how well the enclosure ventilates. Using an automatic misting system connected to a humidistat is arguably the best way to keep your humidity levels within optimal range, but make sure to keep the probe on the ground on the cool side to reduce the risk of flooding.
Creating a “pond” for your retic
Reticulated pythons naturally live near bodies of water in the wild, and they are excellent swimmers. Furthermore, spending time in water helps provide support for their heavy bodies, helps them feel safe from predators, and the water helps keep the enclosure humid. For these reasons it’s best practice to provide a sufficiently large, deep basin of water on the floor of the enclosure (it also doubles as a water bowl!). At minimum, this should be big enough for the snake to coil up and soak in with some room to spare. Optimally, it should be big enough for the snake to swim in a bit.
Large plastic stock tubs and pond liners make great ponds, but they do take a while to clean. Alternatively you can build a bathtub-like basin and connect the pool to your home’s plumbing to make routine cleaning easier.
Change out the water once weekly or whenever it gets soiled. Give the basin a good scrub with veterinary disinfectant such as Rescue or F10SC before refilling. Using a Python siphon makes emptying the basin easier.
Substrate Options for Reticulated Pythons
Reticulated pythons are likely to be healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that resembles the conditions of their natural habitat and facilitates high humidity. An additional consideration you need to make is cost-effectiveness and how easy it is to replace, as retics can be very messy!
Good options for reticulated substrate include:
- DIY tropical soil mix: 40% plain topsoil + 40% coconut fiber + 20% play sand (by weight)
- Coconut fiber
Provide a substrate layer that is at least 4” / 10cm deep to cushion your snake’s heavy body and help maintain healthy humidity levels. In an 8′ x 4′ enclosure, this will take at least 80 US gallons of substrate to achieve. A generous layer of clean leaf litter on top will also help with humidity and provides a source of sensory enrichment for your snake!
Feces and urates should be removed immediately, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced as often as needed. In other words, it will be best to keep plenty of extra substrate on hand!
Décor Ideas for Reticulated Pythons
Decorations play an important role in your python’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items are not optional — they are essential to promoting positive welfare for your pet! Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help stave off boredom. Pertaining to reticulated pythons specifically, it’s important to support their natural proficiencies in both climbing and swimming!
- hollow logs
- sturdy branches
- thick and/or braided vines
- large, sturdy live plants (ex: ficus, dracaena, schefflera)
- large, sturdy artificial plants
- plastic dog kennels (for hiding)
At minimum, you will need a couple of sturdy branches and foliage for cover. However, I encourage you to go well beyond the minimum to optimize the amount of usable space in your pet’s home.
Finding décor items large enough for even a dwarf reticulated python is going to be almost impossible if you stick to pet stores. Try reptile expos or wholesalers for large branches and logs, or go foraging in chemical-free areas. Landscape supply stores can also be helpful. It’s also smart to brush up on your DIY skills, such as making homemade climbing vines.
All climbing objects should be firmly secured to the walls or floor of the enclosure to prevent them from falling and potentially injuring your pet!
Feeding Your Reticulated Python
Reticulated pythons are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Here’s a potential feeding schedule to help keep your pet in healthy, lean body condition:
- Hatchlings (<1 year old) — every 7 days
- Juveniles (1-2 years old) — every 1-2 weeks
- Subadults (2-4 years old) — every 2-3 weeks
- Adults (>4 years old) — every 4-6 weeks
Meals should be roughly between 10-30% of the snake’s weight. Use a longer interval between feeds if the previous meal was large, and a shorter interval if the previous meal was small. A “small” meal is a prey item roughly the same girth as the snake at its widest point. Two small prey items can be offered in one feeding to add up to the equivalent of a larger animal.
Although reticulated pythons can have relatively fast metabolisms, beware of feeding too often (“power feeding”), as this may result in a larger adult, but it also strains their body and may cause organ dysfunction, obesity, and a shortened lifespan.
Although rats and mice are the most common feeders, retics generally need to more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your reticulated python is VARIETY, the way they eat in the wild (ex: rodents, bats, cats, nesting birds, waterfowl, lizards, boar, deer, cattle, sun bears, etc.). Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier snake!
Prey ideas for reticulated pythons:
- African soft-furred rats
- domestic rats
- guinea pigs
- goat kids
These can generally be purchased from high-quality breeders such as Layne Labs, RodentPro, and Reptilinks. Talk to your local butcher or connect with a livestock farmer for access to larger whole prey.
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to pet snakes. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to around 100°F/38°C before offering.
Make sure to offer prey with a long pair of feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes! Alternatively, you can simply toss the prey into the enclosure. Because dwarf and standard-sized reticulated pythons are large snakes, ReptiFiles strongly recommends having at least one other person in the room during feeding to help you out in the event of an accidental bite and/or wrap.
As an additional safety precaution, it’s wise to do some simple training with your retic to help it distinguish between feeding time and non-feeding time. Something as simple as just tapping with your fingernails on the door of the enclosure every time before feeding (and not tapping for handling/maintenance) goes a long way toward preventing accidents.
Reticulated pythons can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but using them every few feedings or so can be a good way to help deal with any nutritional deficiencies the prey items may have. Lightly dust the prey item with an all-in-one reptile supplement before thawing. Arcadia RevitaliseD3 and Repashy CalciumPlus LoD are both good options.
Your snake should be able to use its “pond” as a water bowl, but if for whatever reason you can’t provide a pond for your reticulated python, make sure that it has a large bowl of clean water available at all times. These snakes drink a lot!
Handling Your Reticulated Python
Handling is an essential part of owning a pet snake. Whether you prefer to keep it as a display animal, companion, or educational animal, getting it used to handling makes chores such as taking it to the vet and cleaning its enclosure a lot easier for both you and the animal, as it diminishes the stress of the experience. Regular handling, when done correctly, can also be a beneficial source of exercise and enrichment for your pet.
Considering that a full-grown standard reticulated python will be effectively larger and stronger than you are, making the effort of taming and even training is extremely important for your own safety in caring for this animal. This is even the case for dwarfs and super dwarfs, although they are certainly more manageable.
After bringing your new reticulated python home, place it in quarantine for at least 3 months to monitor its health and easily administer treatment if necessary. Once quarantine is finished, you can move the snake to/set up its permanent enclosure.
During quarantine, wait for the snake to be eating regularly before attempting handling. Before this point, you can start ‘tap training’ at feeding time and get your pet accustomed to you through daily enclosure maintenance. This is also a good time to learn about target training and “choice-based handling” techniques, which is one of the best ways to develop a relationship of trust with a pet reptile — I recommend learning about this from professional snake trainer Lori Torrini on Youtube!
Your pet may require a readjustment period after being moved to its permanent enclosure.
Some additional handling tips:
- If your reticulated python is 10′ long or larger, make sure to have at least one other person in the room with you during handling!
- Before you get your snake out of its enclosure, wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you are particularly smelly/have been spending a lot of time around other animals, it’s best to also change clothes.
- Once your hands are clean and don’t smell like potential food, use a paper towel roll on a snake hook to gently tap the snake on the head. This helps let your pet know that it’s time for handling.
- Use both hands to pick up the snake. One hand should be behind the head, and another should support as much of the rest of the body as possible. Then drape the snake around your body, supported by your shoulder on one side and under your arm on the other side. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can cause severe damage to their spine!
- Since snakes don’t have hands or feet to help them climb, they use their powerful muscles to wrap around objects for stability. During handling, your reticulated python will treat you like a tree, wrapping around your body, arms, legs, etc. so it doesn’t fall. Use your hands to guide its movement, and don’t let it wrap around your neck.
- Children should not be allowed to handle snakes alone.
- Always wash your hands and arms or apply hand sanitizer after handling your snake.
Enrichment ideas for reticulated pythons
Enrichment should never be optional, but it is particularly necessary for keeping reticulated pythons happy in captivity. Remember, these are highly intelligent, active snakes with a strong need for engagement! Here are some ideas of things you can do to keep your pet sharp:
- Hidden food/food puzzles
- Rearrange objects in the enclosure
- Put something smelly in the enclosure (sweaty shirt/socks, clean leaf litter, grass clippings, etc.)
- Supervised free-roaming
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The ReptiFiles Reticulated Python Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care manual. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care manuals. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.