Native to the wetlands and tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Thailand, Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries, nonvenomous reticulated pythons (nicknamed “tics” or “retics”) are also the largest snakes roaming SE Asia. Growing anywhere from six feet to 20 feet (6.1 m) in length and four pounds to 160 pounds (72.57 kg) in weight, reticulated pythons require copious amounts of moisture and sustained temperatures of 75 °F (23.89 °C) to 85 °F (29.44 °C) to survive and reproduce. Females are typically three or four inches longer than males and may way up to 40 pounds (18.14 kg) heavier than their male counterparts.
Like other snakes, they become lethargic and semi-dormant in cool temperatures and brumate. A brumating python oxidizes stored fat instead of using energy to prey on food and won’t engage in reproductive activities.
Markings and Colors of Reticulated Pythons
The dorsal area of a retic’s body is brown to light yellow or tan. Thin, black lines extend from the sides of both eyes down along the snake’s stomach. Some reticulated pythons will have a black line starting at its snout and reaching the nape or base of the skull. Repeated, geometric patterns resembling black Xs embellish a tic’s back. These diamond-like markings have led retics to being mislabeled as “diamond-back pythons”, which do not exist. The only snakes referred to as “diamond-backs” exist exclusively in the United States. A species of “diamond” python is native to South Wales.
Another way to distinguish retics from other similarly marked snakes is to inspect the upper jaw at the front of the nose. True reticulated pythons have upper jaws that lack a protrusion. In addition, the expansive, geographic range over which reticulated pythons live will cause their colors, size and markings to vary widely.
The retic’s striking markings are essential for survival in the jungle. An evolutionary adaptation called “disruptive coloration” allows the snake’s skin colors and patterns to blend well among the natural, dark debris covering the jungle floor.
Lifespan of Reticulated Pythons
The lifespan of tics living in the wilds is estimated to be between 12 and 20 years. Reports of a reticulated python living in captivity for over 30 years has previously been reported. Finding enough food, lack of environmental protections and parasitical/bacterial diseases are reasons why these pythons have shorter lifespans in the rainforest than in captivity.
As long as retics can shed their skin, they will continue growing in length and width. Skin shedding is also necessary to initiate wound healing. The scientific term for skin shedding in snakes is ecdysis. Tics and other snakes in captivity exhibit several ecdysis symptomsbefore they shed their skin: eye cloudiness, agitated behavior and a dull tone to the skin. How many times a wild retic sheds in a given time depends on their age, climate, nutritional status and whether they are suffering from a bacterial or parasitical skin disorder.
How Do Reticulated Pythons Sense Their Environment?
With poor eyesight and limited hearing, tics rely exclusively on their olfactory and tactile senses to obtain information about its surroundings. Reticulated pythons, like other snakes, use their tongue to “smell” their environment. If a retic’s tongue is rapidly flicking in and out of its mouth, that tic is probably detecting possible prey close by.
Tics “hear” vibrations affecting the air and ground. Depending on the intensity of the vibration, reticulated pythons will either attack or retreat. When one reticulated python meets another tic in the wild, they will communicate by moving in a way that creates unique vibrations. Chemical signals called pheromones are also released that indicate sex of the snake. Male reticulated pythons may attack each other during mating season but it is more common for a venomous snake to attack a retic in the wilds.
Reproductive Behavior of Reticulated Pythons
Breeding season for tics in the wild is anywhere from September to early April, or when temperatures start rising after a brief, slight cooling in the SE Asian jungles. Variations in seasonal climates will also influence the mating habits of reticulated pythons. Male tics can reproduce when they reach about 90 inches (2.29 m) in length. Females tics start breeding once they are approximately 120 inches (3 m) in length. The average age when male and female reticulated pythons start reproducing is between two and four years.
Male tics use vestigial hind limbs called “spurs” to mate with female tics. If the female chooses to mate with the male, he will rub her body with his spurs. Located on a male reticulated python’s abdomen, spurs are barely noticeable, claw-like structures that evolved to grip a female tic’s back during mating. Male tics also employ them when fighting other animals.
Female reticulated pythons can produce one “clutch” of eggs every year if food sources are plentiful and the climate is conducive for reproducing. During inclement weather and times of reduced food resources, a retic female may have a clutch every two or three years instead of every year. Clutches may contain as little as 10 eggs or as many as 100 eggs. The average clutch size is about 25 to 55 eggs.
Incubation period of a clutch is about three months. To break out of their eggs, newborn tics use a sharp “egg tooth” protruding from their upper lip to crack open the shell. Baby tics immediately shed their skin upon emerging from their shell, slither away from their mother and start preying on small animals.
What Do Reticulated Pythons Eat?
Retics kill prey by coiling their strong bodies around the animal and crushing it to death through constriction within minutes. Tics eat rodents, birds, smaller primates, wild pigs and binturongs (Asian bearcats). A story published in 2017 by USA Today describes the documented occurrence of an Indonesian farmer being swallowed whole by a 23- foot long reticulated python. According to python experts, the snake was probably startled by the farmer, bit him in self-defense and then began coiling around the man before the man had a chance to escape.
After eating a large meal (a primate or wild pig, for example), reticulated pythons may not need to eat again for several weeks or months.
Tips for Keeping a Reticulated Python in Captivity
“Reticulated Python for sale” or “exotic snakes for sale” advertisements are plentiful on the Internet. Before deciding to purchase a tic, make sure you have the following environmental and dietary elements essential for keeping your python healthy and happy:
- A 15-gallon vivarium is fine to house a juvenile reticulated pythonbut you will eventually need a vivarium at least two feet high, eight feet long and four feet wide. Of course, the size of your tic tank depends on how big your python gets.
- Vivariums need a cool side and a warm side. Temperature gradients should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.89 °C) to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.44 °C). This allows your python to move to either side when it feels the need to regulate body temperature. Temperature differences in a python vivarium is achieved using heat mats and spot lamps equipped with bulb guards. Spot (heat) lamps should be connected to a dependable thermostat.
- A combination of cypress mulch, medium orchid bark and coir (fibrous husks made from a coconut’s inner shell) can be used to cover the bottom of a tic’s vivarium. Tubes or miniature houses made from cork bark work well to provide a place in which your tic can curl up and hide. Smaller pythons can climb on large chunks of tree branches but bigger pythons will need a more sturdy platform.
- Maintain a constant 65 to 70 percent humidity in a reticulated python’s vivarium by placing a dish of water in the tank or spraying water regularly in the tank. If the tic has trouble shedding their skin, you may need to increase the humidity until the snake is finished shedding.
- Killing rodents before feeding your python is recommended. Python owners can also purchase frozen rodents and rabbits for their pet tic. To encourage a reticulated pythonto eat pre-killed food, dangle the rodent in front of the python or simulate normal rodent movement another way. However, most tics readily consume frozen or killed food.
Common Health Issues Affecting Reticulated Pythons in Captivity
Respiratory diseases: all reptiles are vulnerable to respiratory problems due to extreme temperature variations in their vivariums or temperatures that are too low for extended periods. Wheezing is a sign of a possible respiratory infection, followed by secretion of a whitish, cheesy-looking substance if the infection is not treated.
Pushing: more of a behavioral problem than a medical problem, pushing involves a reticulated python that pushes their head repeatedly against their vivarium. Pushing often results in swelling of the head or mouth rot. If you notice your tic pushing too much, clean the cage and check the temperature. Your python may be feeling stressed or uncomfortable.
Inclusion body disease: boa constrictors and pythons are susceptible to IBD, a viral disease affecting the snake’s nervous system. Symptoms include inability to turn back over on its belly and inappropriate or inadequate constriction of their body. Boas and pythons can only contract IBD when in direct contact with another snake suffering from IBD.
What is an Albino Reticulated Python?
The only difference between an albino reticulated python and a standard reticulated python are their genetics and coloring. Albino reticulated python’s have been selectively bred to exhibit lighter colors than retics. Their colors can range from yellow with pale blue markings, light brown with orange markings or off-white with yellow markings. Albino reticulate pythons can grow just as large as reticulated pythons and require the same diet and environment as standard retics.