Blood python temperament gets a pretty bad rep in the reptile world. People call them “nasty,” “aggressive,” even “savage.” And as heavy-bodied adults with bright red coloring, they certainly look the part. But what if I told you that the blood python’s fearsome reputation was little more fact than the bogeyman?
This week’s post was written in collaboration with Chris Jensen! Jensen is a blood python breeder and collector with 7 years of experience and about 30 bloods and short-tails in his collection. He is the first to disagree with anyone labeling a blood as “aggressive” or “nasty.” His current breeding projects focus on Borneo short-tailed pythons.
What is the difference between a blood python and a short-tailed python?
Before 2001, the four species were all classified as subspecies together. Further DNA analysis revealed that they were much more different than previously thought, and they became the species that we know today: the Malaysian blood python (Python brongersmai), Bornean short python (P. breitensteini), blood python (P. curtus), and Myanmar short-tailed python (P. kyaiktiyo). However, they can be difficult to reliably distinguish from one another based on physical traits.
Both short-tailed and blood pythons have the same husbandry requirements and the same reputation for nastiness, although the Sumatran short tail is smaller and generally acknowledged as the best behaved. This article addresses all four species, referring to them generally as blood pythons for simplicity’s sake.
Not Aggressive, Just Anxious
No blood python, Jensen asserts, is truly aggressive — just suffering from severe anxiety. “Aggression” would be ramming the front of the tub as soon as it thinks a human is nearby. However, in Jensen’s experience, his most “aggressive” snakes flail around, attempting to escape, before resorting to striking. This is textbook defensive behavior, an instinctual reaction to a perceived predator. In other words, they are simply scared out of their minds.
When blood pythons’ basic needs are met, they actually have quite calm dispositions — in fact, Jensen stated that, all other factors being equal, one is more likely to find an aggressive ball python than an aggressive blood python.
That being said, however, years of misinformation have given blood pythons ample opportunity to earn their fearsome reputation. Although relatively short in length, blood pythons are incredibly muscular, earning them a heavy body, hard strikes, and powerful constricting ability. A bite from a blood is no laughing matter.
The Blood Python’s Secret
If the following three factors are met, the snake in question is most likely to turn out extremely docile:
- Appropriate husbandry
- Captive bred
- Good breeder
Blood pythons are advanced-level animals and, although the focus of this article is on their excellent dispositions, should not be attempted by inexperienced keepers.
Baseline Requirements for Good Blood Python Husbandry
If you meet the following husbandry requirements, you are likely to have a happy (and therefore calm) blood python. However, this is not a care sheet and should not be used as such.
(Edited on May 4, 2021 to better align with ReptiFiles standards of excellent reptile husbandry.)
Cool temps. The quickest way to a defensive blood python is to make them hot. Blood pythons enjoy relatively cool temperatures, ideally ambient (air) temp 78-82°F (25.5-28°C). Anything over 85°F (30°C) is too hot and flips a switch, irritating even the calmest snakes.
Correct humidity. Blood python breeders are finding that these snakes seem to be healthiest at 60% average ambient humidity. This can usually be accomplished with a large water bowl and a thick layer of damp moss, depending on where you live and the enclosure you are using.
Opaque walls. Tubs are the preferred enclosure used by most blood python enthusiasts because their opaque walls create a sense of security for the snake. However, opaque-walled, front-opening terrariums such as Maximum Reptile, Animal Plastics, and Kages enclosures also work well. (Editor’s note: ReptiFiles does not recommend tub setups for housing reptiles.)
Darkness. Constant light is stressful. If the enclosure has a light source, then it must be turned off at night to create a day/night cycle for the snake’s circadian rhythm, which is part of promoting overall wellbeing. Furthermore, the snake should have a dark hiding place available to retreat to whenever needed.
Adequate ventilation. Ideally, ventilation holes should be drilled in the tub close to the substrate for ammonia (by-product of urine decomposition) to escape. Otherwise the snake may develop a respiratory infection.
Small, infrequent meals. Despite their large size, blood pythons have slow metabolisms and are prone to obesity. A 20lb adult male can be fed a large rat every 3 weeks and be perfectly happy. Even yearlings should eat every 10-14 days instead of the usual 5-7.
Patience. Blood pythons do not react well to change, so allow them at least 3-4 weeks to settle in to their new home and start eating regularly before attempting to handle.
I Want a Blood Python — Where Can I Get One CB?
The current bloods and short tails on the market are roughly 50% CB and 50% WC. Most bloods and short tails sold in pet stores and at reptile expos are WC, so avoid those if you’re in the market. The only way to make sure that you get a CB baby is through a knowledgeable, experienced breeder.
Don’t spring for the first breeder you find, as not all know their stuff. Look for a breeder with calm animals that eat regularly. This means that the breeder prioritizes solid genetics, as well as uses proper husbandry. Here are some breeders that Chris recommends:
- The Blood Cell
- Philly Herpetoculture
- Cold Blooded Earth
- Juggernaut Reptiles
- Vida Preciosa International (VPI)
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Nowhere in this article does it say that blood pythons don’t bask. Like other reptiles, blood pythons need to thermoregulate, and if it is provided correctly, a blood python will utilize a basking area. However, as a species that inhabits the forest floor, they have evolved to prefer slightly cooler temperatures than average.
Blood pythons enjoy basking however