African Rock Pythons are large, aggressive snakes and are not suitable as pets for most people, especially in households with children, as they can be dangerous. Please do not release any pets into the wild, as they may impact the native wildlife.
There are two subspecies of African Rock Python (AfRock): the Central African Rock Python (P. s. sebae) and the South African Rock Python (P. s. natalensis). The South African Rock Python was recently elevated to a full species.
To tell the difference between the two species, just look at the head scalation and patterning. South African Rock Pythons have their frontal scales broken into two to seven scales and they lack the well-defined large blotch in front of the eye that’s found on the Central African Rock Python. Also, the subocular blotch on the South African Rock Python is reduced to a dark streak.
African Rock Python Size
South African Rock Pythons grow to reach an average 9-11 feet in length for males, and 15 feet in length for females.
Central African Rock Pythons, on the other hand, are the third largest species of snake in the world and can grow to larger than 25 feet (7.5 m) in length.
Central African hatchlings average 2 feet (61 cm.) in length, with adults reaching a length of 11 to 18 feet or more (3.3 - 5.4 m). They are also heavy, with the average between 70-121 pounds, though the largest specimens may reach weights of 200 pounds or more.
African Rock Python Lifespan
African Rock Pythons enjoy long lifespans. Typical captive-bred African Rock Pythons can live to anywhere between 20-30 years. The oldest recorded African Rock Python lived at the San Diego Zoo and lived to be twenty-seven years and four months old. Not too bad for such a big guy!
African Rock Python Appearance
African Rock Pythons, though attractive in their own right, are less colorful than other snakes and aren’t kept and bred by more than a few specialist breeders. They resemble the Rocky outcroppings where they like to live and have dark splotches of color, usually on a dark green/olive or tan background.
There are a few variations of African Rock Python that are specifically bred and that have patterns that can’t be found in nature; these are called morphs. Listed below are the roughly three different morphs that have been created by breeder Jay Brewer.
These African Rocks have muted blotches or are missing their blotches altogether. They can range in color, showing lavenders and golden backgrounds, or plain dark backgrounds.
Striped African Rocks vary in that they can have many stripes of varying widths or one long stripe running the length of their spine from head to tail. Striped African Rock Pythons can also range in colors, from dark neutral tones to lighter golden or banana tones.
Hypomelanistic (hypo: under + melan: dark or black) means that the snake has retained some part of its black pigmentation while losing most of it. African Rock Pythons are morphs that have reduced dark pigments. They can range in shades from dark gold and light olive to a near white that is almost absent of color and pattern.
African Rock Python Care Level
African Rock Pythons grow very large and have the same housing requirements as other giant snakes. Since Rock Pythons have such a long lifespan and require a permanent food source that gets larger as they do, they aren’t the right pets for everyone.
African Rock Pythons are also similar to reticulated Pythons in that they can have nasty temperaments unless they were captive-hatched and raised. For these reasons, African Rock Pythons are best left to advanced herpetoculturists.
African Rock Python Diet
If you’re planning on housing an African Rock Python, secure a permanent food source before bringing your new snake home. As they grow larger, they will require prey animals of appropriate size. An “appropriately sized” prey animal should be no greater than the greatest width of the snake’s mid-body.
African Rock Pythons’ growth rate is directly rated to their feeding regimen. Most herpetoculturists recommend tapering your snake’s feeding regimen after it reaches sexual maturity (usually around three years) to prevent obesity. Hatchling African Rocks can be fed baby mice a few times before moving on to adult mice. After the African Rock has eaten adult mice a couple of times, you can move on to a feeding regimen.
This is a sample feeding regimen you can use for Central and Southern African Rock Pythons:
- From hatchling to 4 feet in length, feed 1 to 2 appropriately sized mice every 3 to 4 days.
- At 4 feet you can switch to medium rats before eventually graduating to large rats.
- From 4 feet to sexual maturity, feed your Afrock 1 to 2 prey animals every 5 to 10 days or so.
- During this time, when your snake reaches 6 to 7 feet in length, you may need to switch from rats to rabbits, increasing the rabbits’ size as the snake grows.
- After sexual maturity, feed one to two rabbits every week to two weeks, depending on the snake’s appetite and overall appearance.
African Rock Python Health
Common Health Issues in African Rock Pythons
When it comes to owning a healthy Afrock, it all begins with the selection. Always buy a pet snake from a reputable breeder; never get one in the wild. The following is a short summary of African Rock Python diseases and disorders.
Infectious Diseases and Parasites
Wild-caught snakes are prone to a bevvy of health problems, including internal and external parasites.
However, external parasites like ticks and mites can still afflict captive-bred snakes, especially if a new snake has been introduced, so keep any eye out for little white, red, or black spots that move. If you suspect a parasite problem, take your pet to a herp vet.
Respiratory issues like reptile pneumonia are also a problem that can happen, but in most cases if you catch the cold early enough you can easily fix it.
A snake suffering from a respiratory disease could hold its head upright to breathe, and in some cases will wheeze. If this is the case, take your snake to a vet and make sure that there is a proper heat gradient in its enclosure.
In more advanced stages of the respiratory disease, snakes may ooze a cheesy foamy substance from their mouths or vents.
Inclusion Body Disease in African Rock Pythons (IBD)
IBD is an extremely serious snake disease that is carried by boid snakes (Pythons and boas). IBD is a retrovirus, much like AIDS in humans. Affected pythons can die within a few days of exposure or linger on for months or years.
Exposure is usually caused when infected snakes share enclosures with non-infected snakes, either during cohabitation or breeding. Always house your African Rock Pythons separately and never place them in the same enclosure as a boa.
African Rock Python Behavior
African Rock Pythons, while intelligent creatures, have quite a reputation for being nasty. However, it has been shown that captive-bred African Rock Pythons can be tamed with regular handling.
When African Rock Pythons feel threatened they can lash out and bite, or spray a nasty-smelling substance from their tails.
Supplies for Housing African Rock Pythons
The care requirements for African Rock Pythons are quite similar to the requirements of reticulated Pythons of the same size. They need an enclosure that’s large enough for growth, a heat gradient that allows the snake to selfregulate (regulate its own temperature), and some interesting places to hide out.
Aquarium Tank or Terrarium Setup
First things first: You’ll need to ensure your snake enclosure has a sturdy locking mechanism and adequate ventilation. A good rule of thumb as far as size of the enclosure goes is that it needs to be large enough for a snake to wrap around it one and a half times comfortably.
Next, you’ll need to choose a substrate (that’s what we call reptile bedding) and decorations for your snake that are easy to clean and replace. You can use anything from specially made reptile carpet to newspaper for substrate. Just don’t use cedar or pine shavings! The oil in these trees can irritate a snake’s skin and cause respiratory illnesses. Mulch substrate is a great middle ground since it’s easy to spot clean and looks natural.
As for decorations, you can go as simple or as fancy as you please. Just remember that you’ll need to clean whatever you put in the enclosure, so a simple hiding log may be better than a fancy piece with lots of nooks and crannies to muck up.
Heat and Light
Snakes need a range of heat—a heat gradient—in order to properly manage their own temperatures. It’s called thermoregulation and it’s extremely important.
Your African Rock Python’s habitat needs to have a temperature range that spans between 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The air should have a daytime temperature gradient between 86 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping to 80 degrees at night. There should also be a hot spot in the enclosure that’s a constant 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be achieved with an under-tank heater, space heaters in the room where your enclosure is, or overhead lights.
Take care that no heating element is placed directly in the enclosure, like light bulbs that don’t have protective wiring. Do not use heat rocks for your snake’s hot spot because snakes like to wrap around them and will burn their skin.
When it comes to heating a giant snake enclosure, these are the industry standard options.
These are giant heating pads enclosed in rigid plastic; they emit high surface heat over a broad area and are controlled by thermostats. Pig blankets can only be special ordered through reptile specialty or feed stores. They are without a doubt the best commercially produced heating units for large reptiles.
Heat Pads and Tapes
These are the easiest way to heat snake enclosures; just make sure you’ve got them connected to thermostats to ensure a proper gradient.
These can be used as overhead heat sources, but they require the correct wattage bulb and sturdy ceramic bases that can handle the wattage. Plastic sockets sometimes have cardboard liners that will begin to burn after just a few hours. Always use thermostats or rheostats for regulation with these types of heaters.
African Rock Python Habitat and History
The African Rock Python is native to the continent of Africa and prefers to make its home in the Rocky outcroppings and savannahs where it can hide. They’re nocturnal and enjoy climbing trees and branches at night, where they can ambush prey. The species hasn’t moved around too much, and since it isn’t a very popular snake to breed and keep, there isn’t a large quantity of them outside of the snake aficionado crowd.
The one exception to this is in the Florida Everglades National Park, where the Rock Python has made its home and joined up with two other invasive species: the Burmese Python and Boa Constrictor. These species have been wreaking havoc on the local ecosphere. In fact, scientists think the African Rock Python may pose a bigger problem than the Burmese Python because it is more aggressive.
This invasion of non-native snakes in the Florida Everglades is largely due to people buying hatchling African Rock Pythons and then releasing them into the wild once they grow too large to keep. That’s why giant snakes aren’t the right type of pet for everyone! Additionally, back in 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed a number of zoos and breeding facilities, which enabled the release of a number of large breed snakes into the local community.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Adam Denish, VMD.