Blood Python, Red Blood Python, Sumatran Blood Python, Malaysian Blood Python, Borneo Blood Python, Striped Blood Python, Albino Blood Python.
Blood pythons are heavy bodied snakes. What makes this snake so unique and unlike other snakes is that its girth is huge relative to its length. A thick, muscular body makes constricting simple for this massive, yet relatively short snake. Its head is small, broad and long compared to its body size. Adults typically get their adult colors at two to three years of age.
This snake is for the intermediate keeper. These tropical snakes have very strict temperature and humidity requirements as well as a variety of temperaments. Without proper attention to their needs, this snake can take a bad turn quickly as a youngster. The most challenging part of owning this snake is, unmistakably, bringing it up from a young age. Besides needing exact humidity and temperatures, feeding can also be a challenge. The acclimation period can be most stressful because these snakes can make trying to feed a finicky ball python seem like a sunny walk in the park. Bloods get easily stressed and may react by not feeding regularly or having bad sheds. Keeping an observant and watchful eye on their behavior is necessary for identifying problems, as well as preventing them. Bloods are typically not as active as a common boa, for example, and an experienced keeper is the best defense. A common boa may give some noticeable signs that they may be ill by their activity level. The lethargic blood will give fewer signs. A few years of keeping other types of snakes would be ideal preparation before taking on a blood python.
Young bloods do very well in an appropriately sized cage. It′s very important to create a safe and secure environment for a young blood because they are very shy and sensitive, and they need to feel that confining security. A 20 gallon cage works well to start them out or approximately 10 inches wide by 15 inches long by 5 inches tall. (If you have very young blood, or newly hatched, it may be necessary to use an even smaller container for feeding.) Putting a blood in a cage that′s too big for them might be convenient for the owner, but not the blood. (I have yet to cross a blood that is claustrophobic.) For adults, a cage which is long enough for at least half of the snake′s length is adequate. Ideally, a cage which is the length the same as the snake′s length will be even better. The width needs to be wide enough to allow the blood to turn around with ease. It′s been said that a cage which allows the blood to extend to its full length helps diminish the onset of respiratory problems. Depending on the type of blood, 4ft to 6ft long by 2ft. to 4ft. wide by 10 to 20 inches tall enclosures work very well for adults. (Keep in mind, if you do use a lamp as a heat source, the height of the cage will be a factor for the actual amount of heat the blood receives. Once again, it′s very important to have a good temperature gun handy for any reptile you own.) Plastic sweater box containers (like Rubbermaid) retain humidity very well. They are also user friendly for making holes for the necessary amount of ventilation. An aquarium with a screen mesh top provides good ventilation, but obviously will not retain humidity quite as well. Pegboard works well, too. Fiberglass, wood (smooth wood, not porous; remember, you′ll have to clean it!), hardboard, PVC, pre-fabricated, plexi-glass or any other heavy duty non-corrosive material will work for an adult blood. No matter what type of material the cage is made out of, make absolutely certain it is escape proof! Bloods are 100% pure muscle. Housing multiple bloods is not recommended, but if you do decide to (and they get along), be sure to multiply the cage space by one quarter.
When cleaning, use a diluted detergent like Tide or Chlorox and/or 5% household bleach. Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly. Do not use toxic products like Lysol or Pinesol. Allow at least 30 minutes to an hour to dry and ventilate. (If you can smell something when you stick your head in the cage, wait until you can no longer smell the cleaning solutions before putting the snake back in the cage.)
Since bloods need high humidity, it is important to have a well ventilated cage. Screen (metal wire) mesh tops work well, and pose no immediate concerns to basking lamps which sit on top to be used as an additional heat source (although lamps are not needed for bloods).
Newspaper allows for easy clean up and it minimizes parasite outbreaks. Thought not visually appealing, it is by far the most easily maintained. As a drawback, it does not hold humidity well. Orchid bark chips and coconut chips will retain more humidity and be more visually appealing than newspaper, but any type of shavings will be more to clean, and give parasites places to thrive. Cypress mulch, paper towels, Astroturf, aspen bedding and paper bags also work as substrates. Do not use sand, dirt, gravel, sawdust or cedar chips. It′s highly recommended not to saturate the substrate with water, but misting it once to a couple of times a day is acceptable. A wet substrate will mostly likely lead to skin ailments. Mist the separate hide filled with moss for humidity. If the cage is cleaned every time there is a dropping, you′ll minimize parasite infestations and keep a healthier blood. Make a habit to change the water at least every time you change the substrate (at least once a week). Ideally, however, you should change the water every single day. If you use shavings for your substrate, it′s recommended to feed your reptile on a different surface to avoid ingestion. Additionally, feeding any snake in another location will help it distinguish between handling time and feeding time.
Hides / Water dishes
Bloods love to hide out in the dark. It is absolutely essential to provide a tight, snug hide for any sized blood, as well as a water bowl. Clay or plastic flower pot bottoms with a cut out in the front and or a hole at the top are ideal for both hides and water dishes. It′s usually a good idea to locate the covered hide near the heat source. If a blood wants to cool down, it can always get out, but you don′t want to make it choose between the hide and heat. (Personally, I′ve actually put the covered hide over half or a third of the heating pad, knowing that there is enough room in the hide for the snake to sit on top of or completely avoid the heat source.) As mentioned already, misting an open top plant base filled with sphagnum moss or cypress mulch will provide concentrated humidity and security (youngsters will more than likely burrow underneath the moss). (See Humidity.) The same sized plant base works well for the humidity hide as well as the covered (upside down) hide. The water dish can be the same size or bigger, as long as the entire snake can fit in it for soaking. Disinfect the water bowl weekly, and place it in the cage near the heat source to provide additional humidity. If you desire, offer a second covered hide located on the cooler end of the cage as well. The more stress you can eliminate for the blood to experience, the fewer headaches you′ll experience.
Temperatures / Heating & Lighting
Blood Pythons are not as forgiving to inaccurate temperatures or humidity as a Common Boa, for example. Day time temperatures should range from 80° to 92° (All temperatures are listed at Fahrenheit.). The basking spot should reach 92° at maximum, with a temperature gradient to approximately 80° at the opposite end of the vivarium. If an under the tank heater (uth) is used, then the basking spot should cover one third of the vivarium. Thermostats connected to a heating pad are helpful, but rarely accurate. A temperature gun (available for purchase at Radio Shack) is a cost effective, ideal tool for monitoring cage temperatures. Use a temp gun to make sure the heat source (if using a lamp) is not too hot, as they can cause burns as well. Monitor lamp height and wattage. Temps guns are absolutely essential for this. If you have a blood that only stays in its hide in increments because the lamp is directly over the hide, you may want to consider changing the wattage. Lamps at or over 100 watts should be monitored, as used sparingly, depending on cage height. Thermometers located at both ends of the cage are a must. It is essential to have a temperature gradient for most snakes. The temperature ranges will change with different snakes, but a gradient will allow the snake to thermo-regulate itself. An under the tank heater can be used in conjunction with a light for heating, if necessary, for the higher temperatures. Incandescent lights are not recommended unless absolutely necessary for heating because they reduce humidity levels more than other types of lighting. Ceramic heating elements (attached to a thermostat for regulation) (CHE) are great supplements for heat. Just as it is important to get day time temperatures correct, so is it important to make certain night time temps are correct. Night time temperatures may drop between 75° to 80°. Some studies have shown that snakes that receive too much constant temperature can suffer from heat stress, leading to a number of problems. Bloods do not need light, but a good 12 hour photoperiod with a light source is, in many cases, the most practical solution. Most of the time, 12 hours on and 12 hours off is sufficient.
Under the cage heating pads and heat tape are a good supplemental heat forms, and are sometimes used as the primary source of heat. The use of a thermostat attached to the UTH is recommended, to ensure that temperatures are accurate and over-heating does not occur.
The use of hot rocks or heat rocks is not recommended, as these have been found to be dangerous and can cause fatal burns. The only recommendation for the use of a hot rock is if the power supply is cut, making the rock a simple decoration!
It is highly recommended to give a blood a separate hide for humidity other than its covered hide. Flower pot bottoms made of plastic, clay or deli dishes work well. If you do use a deli dish, make sure there are no sharp edges. Fill the dish or flower pot bottom with moist moss. Sphagnum moss is ideal, but not the only type you can use. Cypress mulch works well also. Misting the dish filled with moss every couple of days will ensure a nice, humid hide. The hide needs to be moist but not wet, as an over saturated box may lead to skin irritations like "belly rot".
(Note: A big misconception regarding humidity is that not enough humidity will cause problems. Although this is true in some cases, too-high humidity can equally cause problems such as respiratory infections. If you hear wheezing from your snake, cage temperature and humidity are a good place to start tracing your steps back to probable causes, though as with any infection or health problem you should be cautious and seek veterinary advice/treatment.)
Humidity gauges located at each end of the cage are ideal, but at least one is required. In general, you may also consider mounting a thermometer/humidity gauge for the room, if you have several reptiles with similar needs in the same room. If it drops too low, simply fill a humidifier with water and run until the room humidity gets to the optimal range. 65% to 70% humidity is ideal for bloods, while the humidity should be increased to 85% to 90% when in shed. Water bowls inside the blood′s cage will add to the humidity, and an additional water bowl may be placed at the warm end of the enclosure to increase humidity further if required. Usually, correct temperatures and water bowl evaporation will ensure correct humidity, although misting the enclosure may be necessary.
For young bloods, feed a mouse or rat pup sized to the girth of the python at its widest point. Rats are better because they are bigger when underdeveloped versus mice, while less harmful. Also, rats are healthier because they have higher protein than mice. Ideally, you′ll want to have you bloods on a diet of frozen/thawed rats, for fresh thawed rodents are safer than live, and they are far less likely to have parasites. Sometimes bloods are difficult to begin feeding, so if you have to get them started on mice, it is perfectly alright as some snakes have a preference. If you′re not sure on the size of the rodent, get the next bigger size rodent. Your blood can handle it, trust me. If you have to start on live prey, try switching to thawed rodents after the first three meals or so. Eventually, you will definitely want to make this change, but the sooner the snake gets used to thawed the better. The longer you feed them live, the harder it will be to make the transition to thawed rodents. I have snakes that I′ve acquired as adults (not bloods) that still will only accept live, or fresh killed prey. It′s not the end of the world if you have a snake that won′t accept thawed prey. But it is highly important (imperative, in fact) that you make certain that the freshly killed rodent is NOT LEFT UNATTENDED; especially if you′re feeding jumbo sized rats, as they can inflict serious damage, even death, to your snake. I always make sure that my live purchased rodents are dead before feeding them to my finicky eaters. If you have a newly acquired blood, feed it before the first shed, if at all possible. Bloods are ambush predators, meaning that they lie-in-wait for their prey to come to them.
Use a pair of hemostats (a tweezer-like instrument used for keeping your fingers away from the prey) to hold the tail of the prey item in front of the blood′s nose. If it doesn′t strike within two or three minutes, leave the pre-killed or thawed item in front of its hide box. Chances are it will be eaten at night. (Bloods don′t like being watched eating their food.) If the food isn′t struck at don′t attempt to continually dangle the prey, as this may only cause stress. If it is not eaten by morning, throw the prey item away. Try again in two to three days using the same procedure. Always check with the breeder, or person you bought the snake from, to ensure feeding schedules, and the type of prey it was eating. If a rat pup continues not to work when offered, try a similar sized mouse.
Diets may differ from species to species of blood python, so check references if necessary if you need additional help on feeding your blood. Chances are, however, it will be some kind of rodent. Feed a neonate (or young blood) at least once a week, if not twice a week. Adult bloods should be fed once every two to three weeks.
Temperaments & Misconceptions
Captive bred bloods generally have docile and timid dispositions. They have been attributed by some with an aggressive and nippy attitude. Although they can be a bit defensive and shy as babies, with regular handling after the acclimation period of a newly acquired blood, most bloods will grow into a mature and calm demeanor.
Sarawaks are very active and usually have great dispositions as adults. Malaysian bloods have a reputation for having the worst temperaments of the bloods (which doesn′t say much), but still, can be tempered with regular handling. Wild caught specimens are generally very aggressive and don′t make for good pets, in most cases. The best way to raise a blood is from a (captive bred) young age. Bloods are typically temperamental until a year or two old, although there are some exceptionally calm youngsters. At any rate, almost all bloods will calm down with age. Sumatran bloods have the widest temperamental variety. Some are very calm and docile, while others are high-strung and quick to defend.
Once a young blood has been feeding regularly for six to eight weeks, it is a good time to start handling it. It′s recommended to handle a blood as little as possible until it has acclimated very well after a good deal of time, except for cage cleaning. Youngsters will typically have little patience when handling them, and will always let you know when a handling session is over by either defecating, hissing or biting. Use of a glove is helpful (although in some cases gloves may make the snake more defensive because there is a larger object approaching them), as it does help them get used to the transition of being handled without being subjected to another heat source at which to strike. You should always approach a snake from behind the head, as a head-on approach will scare. It′s always necessary to handle this snake with two hands, even though it doesn′t have great length. Bloods have a lot of girth and don′t have the dexterity of a common boa, so it′s important to provide as much support as possible. A full grown blood can not wrap around your wrist like a ball python can, with little or no support from the handler.
It′s important to have confidence when picking up these critters. If done so correctly, very few bloods will react with a defensive bite. (Remember, most snake bites occur because the snake is either afraid, or because the handler smells like food. You′d be surprised at how many reports of snake bites have to do with an inexperienced or negligent handler.)
If it′s a young blood, begin slowly at the mid-body with a scooping type of motion. A snake will usually move its body upward, allowing you to get underneath it. (However, sometimes they might not budge, or specifically nudge you in the opposite direction, showing you that they might not feel like being handled. This is a good reference point for observing behavior, as far as notating it and being aware if there are other things to be concerned about. For example, if you have a blood that loves being handled all the time, always welcoming your warm hands, then one day it nudges you the other way, it may be a sign to the handler that it′s time to check the records for its last shed, to check the cage′s humidity and temperature, or even give the snake a visual examination the next time you handle it. All of these astute observations will make you a great keeper, not to mention, prevent a number of challenges.)
For adults, place one hand 1/3rd of the way down the body and then the other hand appropriately placed between your hand in use and the tail. This should be adequate to hold the blood. Of course, never try to control the head while handling. You will more than likely get a defensive reaction. Many people like to check if a snake is "head shy" by playing with or constricting its head movement. This is not recommended, it yields small benefit (if any), and doing so should be regarded with caution. (How did you react the last time someone put you in a headlock?) Hold securely, but allow for the snake to move freely. It′s important to distribute the weight of an adult abundantly when handling simply because of their size. A tight grip or too much pressure from hands holding at concentrated points may lead to injuring an internal organ, constricting the lungs, or more. Don′t mistake a short length snake for a milk snake. A 25 to 35 pound snake deserves a lot of respect, and support. Two sets of hands are a good idea as well as using your arms to distribute its weight, and not just two narrow hands. (Is it more comfortable to lay on a stair case, or a bed?)
It′s also a good idea to even pet or stroke the latter half of the snake before handling (like a dog). My snakes know exactly when it′s time to be handled by the way I feel them before I pick them up. Smelling freshly washed hands (especially in between handling reptiles) and feeling a deliberate smooth stroke down the latter half of their body prepares them for a little activity. A gentle approach will always win compared the enthusiast who insists on "showing the snake who′s boss" by picking it up fast and rough. The only thing being proven would be that the snake can be picked up quick, and probably not too comfortably. Perhaps it would be beneficial to handle a more aggressive snake (like an Anaconda) quickly, but this approach is not needed, nor encouraged with the timid blood python. Confidence can be construed gently, and without scaring the daylights out of the snake. If you′re in a rush, save handling for a later time. Always confident, patient, and conscientious, a slow yet deliberate approach will gain much trust with your blood for handling, as well as shape its temperament into a playful (not defensive) one.
Most snakes shed every one to three months. If you keep an observant eye, you′ll be able to spot cloudy eyes on your blood. Approximately five days after the fist sign of cloudy eyes, the snake should shed its skin. (Note; many snakes won′t accept food when shedding draws near.) For bloods, spotting cloudy eyes, or even anticipating a shed means it′s time to raise the humidity. 70% to 85% humidity is ideal for a good, one piece shed. As with many (if not all) snakes, if a blood sheds in pieces, then there was not enough humidity prior to shedding. Be sure to unravel the old skin when the shed it completed. It is important to make certain that the snake has shed its eye caps, as well as the rest of its facial skin, and the tip of the tail. An unshed eye cap can lead to infection. And an unshed tail can result in the tissues of the tail dying, and the tail dropping off. Do not attempt to remove the unshed eye cap. Soak the python in a room temperature water bowl for 30 minutes to an hour. Chances are it will fall off. In most cases, shed skin will come off with the eye caps, but it is always important to stay in the habit of checking. If an eye cap still doesn′t come off, seek assistance from an expert keeper before taking action. If you ask someone at a specialty reptile shop, ask a breeder of snakes.)
Soaking is highly underrated. Soaking a blood in room temperature (75-80 degrees) water for 30 minutes to one hour (you may want to add warm water as time passes) is ideal for healthy skin. By doing this, you will ensure successful sheds, reduce or eliminate skin irritations and infestations, and keep the snake hydrated.
Parasites and Disease
There are many parasites to be aware of if you keep any type of reptile. Mites, ticks, worms and other internal or external viruses. Whenever you acquire a new reptile, take it to a veterinarian for a physical checkup. The best defense is a good offense, in this case. By making regular visits to the vet for checkups (ideally, every six months to one year), you′ll avoid many pitfalls of herping. Taking in stool samples to the veterinarian will target most any internal parasites (which even the experts cannot see) before the onset and can be easily eliminated in most cases.
Mites are probably the biggest concern for any snake owner. They′re difficult to identify, and even more challenging to get rid of. Mites are tiny creatures about the size of a pinhead. They can be found slowly crawling over any part of the snake. Mites are species-specific. Snake mites can only be found on snakes, and can be acquired from: other snakes, substrate, transported by humans from pet stores, for example. But they can only live on snakes. They leave the snake only to lay eggs, but feed off of the blood of snakes, weakening the immune system, which eventually can cause death in the snake. This is another good reason to feed thawed prey. Quarantining a snake and its cage is absolutely essential to get rid of mites. What exactly do you do when you quarantine a snake? There are many snake friendly products on the shelves that work well to kill mites. I have found a simple, practical and cost effective solution by purchasing mineral oil. Typically, mineral oil is a clear oil used as an intestinal lubricant for human babies. By coating the snake (literally rubbing it down) in mineral oil, you create a liquid coating which suffocates the mites. Unfortunately, mite eggs hatch quickly, so several oil baths are needed. If this is done for a good three days, with two to three baths per day. You will most likely get rid of the infestation. The trade off as is follows, however. In order to effectively rid your snake of mites, you must render mineral oil (or a mite killing substitute) to the entire collection of reptiles. One mite seen automatically means quarantining every reptile you own. Wash between touching each reptile you own as well.
Cages must be thoroughly cleaned as well with a potent cleaning solution, including the mite killing solution. Snakes can be stored temporarily in another container with a paper towel substrate. Using paper towels make it easy to spot any remaining mites. If you are exposed to this information before you experience any mite outbreaks, you are doing yourself and the snake a huge favor. Not to mention, you are reducing a lot of frustration and stress if you know what you expect! Don′t give up. Ignoring mite infestations will most definitely lead to bigger problems that aren′t as easy to address as thoroughly and repeatedly cleaning cages and reptiles. Mites are hard to defeat, but it can be done with persistence.
Ticks are much easier to address because they are much easier to identify. They are about an eighth to a quarter inch long, blood, and carry disease. It is the head of the tick that is in the snake or animal upon which a tick feeds. Extreme care must be taken to ensure the whole tick and head are pulled out. If the head is left in the snake, the tick continues to do damage and infection will occur. I do not recommend pulling a tick out, personally. It is best to have a veterinarian do this job. Although it sounds like an easy task, pulling out a tick effectively is no simple job, and should not be underestimated. I emphasize this because if the tick is removed unsuccessfully, you will have a hard time recognizing that there is real damage still being done to the snake, possibly to the snake′s detriment.
Worm parasites, such as pinworms, are a common internal infestation and can only be caught by a veterinarian (or one who can identify parasites with a microscope as well as prescribe the proper medicine to kill them). This is why regular vet visits are essential (every six months to one year with stool samples. Bring stool samples with you for a vet visit so you are not wasting your time and money).
Salmonella is a natural occurring bacteria located in most snakes′ stools, and is only dangerous to humans if ingested by the mouth. So, always wash hands thoroughly after cleaning a cage, or handling a snake any time, for that matter.
Respiratory infections are not uncommon with snakes and can usually be identified by observing the following: bubbles blown through the nostrils, wheezing, excess fluid in the mouth, parasites, stress, dehydration, and breathing through the mouth. The cause is generally temperatures which are too cool, humidity which is too low, or even too high. (Most respiratory infections that I′ve experienced have been due to humidity that is too high.) Respiratory infections are usually noticed when the snake begins to refuse food, which unfortunately is too late. It is recommended to see a Veterinarian to prescribe medicine for the respiratory infection.
Mouth rot is a disease usually beginning as a lesion or canker on the mouth. Many active lizards are especially susceptive to getting this syndrome. Reptiles will rub their noses and or mouths on the cage walls (usually transparent), they will have pieces of substrate stuck in the mouths, or will have suffered bites from prey. Higher temperatures (around 90 degrees) and cleaning the infected area with hydrogen peroxide (diluted, equal parts with water). Seek vet advice to assess severity and necessary treatment. They are happy to help over the phone if they can.
Most often, feeding troubles occur with young bloods. They can be very reluctant to start feeding. There are several things to double check when assessing the situation: The blood may not feel secure in its hide spots, it could be in shed, the food may not be fresh or warm enough, it may not like eating in the light, or dark, or more. Don′t handle the snake while in the same time period trying to feed it. Try feeding different size rodents, mice or rats. Try putting the prey in the hide, or at the opening of the hide. Make sure the cage temperature is warm enough. Eliminate the variables or possible stresses and you′ll most likely get a good feeding response.
Force feeding is an absolute last resort. Get an experienced keeper for this, if necessary. Veterinarians can prescribe feeding stimulants, but remember drugs cure the symptom, not necessarily the problem. It′s best to try everything you can in eliminating stress before causing the most amount of stress by either sticking the blood with a syringe or by force feeding it. Some keepers say that feeding a blood small meal regularly is not healthy and can stunt growth. Others say the opposite. I′ve found no real evidence either way. However, I can tell you that every snake I′ve ever had that′s been an adult has thrived eating an appropriately sized meal once every two and a half to four weeks (depending on the season; two to three in the hot months and three to four in the cold months).
There are several ways to determine the sex of a snake. Probing is a term used when a metal (sometimes plastic) round tip rod is inserted into the cloaca (or rear end) to check for hemipenes. Males have two of them. With a female snake, the probe will go into the cloaca further without the presence of the hemipenes. This is a reliable method, if done with experience. However, it is recommended to have a veterinarian do this properly. Probing incorrectly could damage the snake. Not to mention, it is very uncomfortable and stressful for them. Spurs are common on most snakes. These are two horn-shaped projections, which look like teeth. They are located on both sides of the cloaca and are not sharp, so don't worry. There is one projection on each side of the cloaca. Male boas and pythons, for example, have more pronounced spurs than females. Seeing the differences among many different male and female snakes will help add accuracy to determining a snake's sex. Visually examining the length and thickness of the tail is another way to determine sex. This method is not nearly as reliable as probing. Nevertheless, it is another option. Since males have hemipenes, their tails are longer and thicker than females. This thickness will vary a bit, depending on the type of snake you are used to observing. However, observing snakes which are already sexed successfully will help you in your determinations about unknown sexes of other snakes.
Video of Blood Python Feeding