The royal python is a very rewarding reptile to keep, however it does require its specific care needs met for your royal to live a healthy life and avoid the problems which can arise.
Here is some of the basic information on the Royal Python.
About the Royal Python
Catagorisation of the Royal Python
Bilateria = bilaterally
Deuterostomia = deuterostomes
Tetrapoda = tetrapods
Amniota = amniotes
Common names Ball Python, Royal Python
General Description of the Royals nature (These aspects will be covered further later in this page).
Royal pythons in general have a shy temperament although there are always exceptions to the rule.
They do require gentle Regular handling to learn you are not a threat, but I find most calm down without any issues and become great pets.
Their initial form of defence when afraid or startled is to curl into a tight ball hence their other common name of ball python which is often used in the USA.
Royal pythons are found within Western and Central Africa. They live in a variety of habitats from forest floors to grasslands.
They are mainly a ground dwelling or terrestrial species but have been known (especially males) to go into low branches of trees. It has not been established why exactly they do this on occasion.
They tend to hide out in rodent burrows and termite mounds and are most active in the hours around dusk and dawn.
Feeding Habits of the Royal Python.
Royal Pythons are mainly an ambush predators and are amazingly adapted and designed for that purpose. They also tend to eat after dusk.
How do they hunt for food?
They mainly ambush their prey guided by the preys heat signature, tracking it by using their labial pits which are located above either side of their top lip. They also have a sense of smell by tasting the air via their tongue which takes the molecules over their Jacobson Organ allowing them to taste the air. They have good eye site as well.
So you have decided a Royal Python is for you and you need to know the ins and outs of housing and caring for new pet.
Housing your Royal, VIVS & Racks/Rubs The big debate
The most widely used forms or Royal Python enclosures are:
2) Rack Systems
Both are best used in different conditions so it’s best to work out which one is best for you and the conditions in your home.
Vivariums are mainly used when royals are kept in rooms that are not heated to 24 to 26 degrees Celsius for that specific purpose. (Rack keeping to be successful relies on ambient room temp.)
The most common type of heating used is a ceramic heat bulb on a stat. The reason for this is that the ceramic bulb increases the overall temperature within the vivarium and the vivarium in no way has to rely on the rooms ambient temperature.
Mats can be used but should be covered with either Glass or Perspex to protect against burns, Royals are classed as slow to move when heat gets too much. They can sustain very serious burns.
Your ceramic bulb must also be guarded. Its best to buy a good quality guard as cheap ones may heat up rather than protect your snake from burns.
You must run all heat from an appropriate stat we will cover this in a later section.
Rack systems are designed for those who keep multiple royals in a heated snake room or room kept at a high ambient temperature for that purpose. They do in most cases rely on the ambient temperature in the room to remain stable as mats do not change the ambient temperature of the rub only what they touch and not the surrounding air.
These tend to use mats or cable controlled by a stat.
If your room is heated normally a Viv will be your best option.
Both are perfectly acceptable when used in the correct way.
There is still some animated debate surrounding housing but it's mainly opinion rather than health or husbandry fact.
What do they need to make their new enclosure safe and appropriate, why do we need to guard the heat?
A royal kept without a stat has a good change of suffering burns they are classed as slow to react when the temps become too hot
On/Off stats regulate heating by switching the heat source on and off, So for example If the senor inside the snakes enclosure reads a temperature hotter than the high tolerance level then it switches the heater off and vice versa.
Whilst this process does regulate temperature, it does so within a margin of tolerance so temperatures do fluctuate quite widely in my experience up to 4-5 degrees. Although On/Off stats come with a temp dial they should still be calibrated at set up. This type allows temps to fluctuate between a high and low tolerance levels around your chosen temp.
An on/off stat is better than no stat at all and that many royal pythons fare seemingly well with this type of stat.
I personally do not like on off stats due to the temperature changed but that is a personal preference not a recommendation you need to see what works for you
On/off stats are the cheapest and the most basic type of thermostat available heat source off and on
A range of on/off stats for use with heat mats is also available. These work in exactly the same way as conventional on/off stats but have a lower maximum power output.
Dimmer stats are an effective stat and they are suitable for all applications.
These are more expensive, but they have less of a tempreture variance than the on/off stat. Dimmers regulate the temperature by constantly regulating the power it sends to the heater. It is easiest way to explain how they work is to use a Ceramic heater bulb as an example.
The sensor on the stat tests the temperature inside the enclosure constantly. If the temperature is too cool it will provide more power to the bulb very slightly, it’s the same effect as a dimmer switch in your home. If the temperature is too warm it will reduce the power accordingly. This constant sensing and is almost imperceptible and produces much more consistent temperature control.
Their efficiency and accuracy, dimmer stats can also be used with any type of heat source making them extremely versatile.
A pulse stats does only one job, but they do it so well.
Pulse stats are in my optinion a great way to control heat sources that do not emit light, (But are not a good choice for use with spotlights).
Pulse stats are most commonly used with ceramic heaters, Cable and Mats these tend to be favoured in more advanced or breeding set ups.
As ceramic heaters do not emit light the keeper can easily control the day/night photoperiod separately if they wish.
Pulse stats send regular and fast pulses of power to the heat source, and pulsing at different levels depending on the temperature the thermostat is sensing. The regular sensing and temperature adjustments are accurate and invisible when using ceramics. Although a dimmer stat would do an equally effective job, the pulse stat is slightly cheaper and so favoured by those keepers who know how they work and what they cost.
Night time drop
Most thermostat brands offer a deluxe model which enables you to pre-program this drop to happen automatically at a given time.
How to set up/Calibrate your thermostat
The majority will use their stats in a conventional manner PLEASE NOTE ALWAYS MONITOR A NEW ENCLOSURE very closely for a few days in advance of introducing the royal to ensure its stable.
Once your chosen heat source is fixed at one end of the enclosure to ensure a temperature gradient can be achieved. The tank will be warmer near the heater and cooler at the other end.
Then place the thermostat sensor somewhere on the hot side (On a viv inside on a rack this can be mounted in a control box or above the mat/cable).
Be sure it is not resting on the floor of the enclosure or against the glass as these can affect the temperatures it senses. (I often drill or fix with cable tie.)
Then, set the dial on the thermostat unit to the centre of the temperature range (Please see tempreture section) This way we know that the temperature at the hot side will be regulated by the thermostat
Plug in and switch on the thermostat and allow a couple of hours for the temperature to stabilise.
Use a thermometer / Temp gun to check the temperatures all the way along the vivarium from the cold end to the hot end.
Use the dial to make small adjustments if necessary, waiting between each adjustment for the temperature to stabilise once more.
What Substrate should you use?
There are many kinds of substrate here are just a few - .Important - Be sure to remove soiled substrate ASAP; soiled substrate will become a breeding ground for bacteria, which could harm your Royal.
Aspen shavings may be used for Royal Pythons. At least once a month, all shavings should be removed and disposed of, and the entire enclosure cleaned and disinfected before new shavings are placed inside.
Beech Chippings a quit attractive substrate to have in the vivarium. It comes in three different grades - small, medium or large so you chose the size which is most suitable
Layers of newspaper is an animal keeping staple and we cannot fault it for royal pythons either. It is relatively absorbent and inexpensive to replace.
NOTE - However, some inks used in printing are known to be harmful to animals.
Easily to get and cheap, paper towels make an excellent substrate.
Some reptile shops may recommend the use of Coco or Orchid bark for Royal Pythons, but this substrate is more appropriate for snakes that require higher humidity levels. It is safe to use as long as you monitor the humidity of the vivarium regularly and ensure that your Royal Python is comfortable with the conditions.
Astroturf® / Artificial Grass:
Astroturf® was the first artificial grass floor covering. Now there are ones selected specifically for reptile décor.
This is what I currently use it is digestible and is easy to spot clean. It does then to get everywhere though
What do you need to monitor?
Royals require good humidity of 55% approx. normally at shed time they require a humidity of 65% – 75% to successfully shed.
You can monitor this using a probed Temperature\hygrometer.
This can become second nature to experienced royal python keepers
The ideal temperature for you snake's vivarium is a temperature gradient of 26-33°C (80-91°F). 26 at the cool end and 33 at the hot. Temps below this can cause shedding issues and many other problems, To ensure your temperatures remain stable the stat should be calibrated also (You need to check the actual temps and adjust the stat accordingly. The temperature readings on the dial are an approximation)
You can check it using a thermometer but I prefer to use a temp gun. They cost approx. £10 and are very accurate.
How should the set up be put together?
Royal Pythons should not be housed together, yes some have done it successfully, BUT THE REAL ANSWER IS NO the risks outweigh any benifts and is only a convenience to the keeper.
Issues that can arise, Bullys, Canabalism, Feeding issues, illnesses spread which and can be hard to identify which one has the issues and also the problems with contamination etc etc etc........
Where to place the stat probe in a viv or rack
The stat probe should be placed at the hot end of your enclosure about an inch or two off the floor in a viv. For example If using a vivarium I place on the top of the hot hide. In a rack system it can either be secured inside a control box of placed on top of the mat.
You should have hides if using a viv on the hot and cold ends of the vivarium. This is not required in an enclosed rack system as the rack tub can act as a hide In itself. But so long as their eed for security water etc is met décor is really up to the keepers and what they want to include in it but BEWARE some woods are toxic to snakes so ensure what you are using is safe.
How much substrate should you use?
Use no more than about 1 inch to 2 of substrate as this if used to much can block the heat if using a mat. With ceramic heat from above this can be increased.
Fresh clean water should be made available to your snake at all times unless using a treatment where water has to be removed
What else do I need after water substrate heat humidity is done
Almost everything else you add or include is up to you. In vivs the royal python needs to feel secure initially its worth putting a lot of hiding places in. So not use hot rocks etc these can be eratic in their heat provision.
Cleaning your enclosure.
Spot clean every day and fully clean and disinfect once per month max. I find is adequate. (I personally use F10 but use a reptile safe disinfectant some others can cause irration or ven toxisity if used incorrectly). I also use a steamer.
Feeding your Royal
What you need to know about Royal Python feeding habits
The fasts. Once your royal gets to around to it and starts to grow you may find they go through periods of fasting this is not an if it’s a when really.
In their natural environment they go through phases of feast and famine. They are amazingly designed for this process for example they do not have a tissue differentation system (this is what causes us to lose muscle mass if we don't use them).
What food should they eat?
In the wild they feed on the local rodents and bird populations through the various stages of their lives. In captivity there is a number of food items they can be provided.
Rats is the most common and meets their nutritional requirements and can be sized appropriately for a growing royal. Mice, Multis and chicks are also used in the hobby.
How much should they eat?
The most basic rule of thumb is 10% to no more than 15% of your royals pythons weight once every 7 days to 10 days for adults, I feed hatchlings every 5 days. (Dependant on prey this may mean one item or multiple items).
How often should they be fed?
It is generally believed to be best to fed one food item at a time if you have a royal that will not convert from mice to rats for example you will have to use multiple prey items to provide the required weight of food due to the prey size)
As they ages and become adults this may slow down to once every 9 to 14 days. I judge this on the individual royals feeding habits.
ALWAYS FEED WITH TONGS – The vast majority of royal bites I find happen at feeding time. Tongs are best used as royals can be enthusiastic eaters when the mood takes them.
Heating the prey item
With Prey items it important to know that royal pythons use heat mostly to hunt. Heating the head hotter than the body can help them aim and strike.
Heating can be done in a number of ways and most keepers have their own preference.
I for example defrost mine at room temp from the morning . After dusk I heat the head with a hair dryer to make sure it’s the warmest part then feed.
Some use hot water, and some use mats etc.
Royal Python Shedding information
Royal pythons as hatchlings will tend to shed every 4 weeks this will reduce as they grow and get older Pythons actually never stop growing it just slows down to a minute rate.
Royal pythons require humidity to shed and should shed all skin in one section. If you are having shedding problems the chances are you have a humidity, Temperature or illness issue.
As stated above humidity is important so how can you provide the humidity they need?
In a vivarium it can be hard to get the humidity you desire especially when new to keeping this species.
A humidity hide can help, this is a box usually with a lid large enough for your Royal to fully go in, Damp kitchen towel or sphagnum moss can be put inside and a hole for your royal to enter and exit.
This gives them a location in the viv where they can seek and get the humidity they require.
In racks and VIVS you can also spray small amounts of water onto the hot side. Aim for damp not soaked, Very damp conditions can encourage scale rot and other health issues.
Cycle of the shed
This is from my own observations!
Remove the shed out of the enclosure as soon as possible. Check it over ensure the end of the tail and the eye caps have come off with the shed.
How do you deal with a bad shed
We have all had them so what’s the best methods for a bad shed? In my opinion really depends on how bad the shed is.
Bad sheds most of the shed still on the snake.
Bath the snake in Luke warm water for about 10 minutes this to let the skin start to hydrate, there are a couple of methods you can use after this.
Towel handling gently allowing the snake to move through the towel gently removing the shed piece by piece.
You can use a warm damp pillow cases. Tie the snake into the pillow case place half on the cool side half on the hot side. This quickly increases humidity and softens the skin, the snake moving against the sides of the pillow case tends to start to lift and pull it. Anything left can be gently peeled.
Never remove shed that has not been fully hydrated or tug shed free, this can cause scale bed damage.
Eye caps can be removed using the above methods, you can also wet and warm a cotton bud and gently remove eye caps etc.
Monitor your Royal Pythons weight!
It is always advised to monitor your royal pythons weight. I do this once a month when they have deficated to get an empty weight. This allows you to monitor fasts etc to ensure your royal does not lose to much weight.