Reticulated pythons—called “retics” or just “tics” for short—are a subspecies of the Python family and as such don’t have any officially recognized subspecies of their own. They do have a couple of dwarf subspecies: Python reticulatus jampeanus and Python reticulatus saputrai.
Snake breeders have produced several retic varieties, or morphs, but most of these morphs cannot be found in the wild.
Reticulated pythons fall under the category of “giant snakes” and are among the largest species of python in the world. That being said, they still weigh less than other giant snakes of equal lengths.
Depending on gender, environmental conditions, and specific morphs, retics can range in length from 6 feet (1.8 m) for dwarf males to 20+ feet (6+ m) for large females. On average, males reach between 10 and 14 feet (3-4.2 m). Females grow to at least 16 feet (4.8 m) and can exceed 20 feet (6 m) in length, with the record length being 33 feet (9.9 m). Fully-grown female retics can weigh 250 pounds (more than 112 kg) or more. Reticulated pythons grow quickly and can exceed 12 feet (3.6 m) in just two years under optimal feeding regimens.
Captive-bred reticulated pythons are long-lived snakes; they can live to anywhere between 12 and 20 years.
Reticulated pythons have a complex color pattern, marked by a diamond or saddle pattern and a black stripe running from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. Their patterns resemble netting, thus the name reticulated, which means netlike.
In nature, reticulated pythons tend to be olive, dark green, black, white and gold. There are also dozens of varieties (called morphs) of reticulated python that are beautiful enough to make up for their ill temperaments. Some of the most popular reticulated python morphs are:
The Tiger morphs have a reduced pattern that includes a mostly tan mid-dorsal area and varying degrees of striping. In some cases the snake will exhibit lateral duplication of its pattern. Both morphs are missing part of the black stripe that’s found on the head of a normal retic, and the white spots on their sides are larger and elongated. Super Tiger retics have a yellowish-to-tan background and thin black stripes. Both the Tiger and Super Tiger morphs have a reputation for being very docile.
Reticulated albino pythons are arguably some of the most beautiful pythons in the world, and some of the most sought after. There are three different variations of albino reticulated pythons; they are lavender, white, and purple. Albino retics lack part of the pigment that gives them their darker, muddied look, and they have pinkish red eyes.
Reticulated dwarf pythons are currently bred in just as many color morphs and varieties as their full-sized counterparts. However, they take longer to grow and end up a being few feet shorter at full growth. Many Dwarf reticulated pythons grow to less than 8 feet (2.4 m) in length for males and 12 feet (3.6 m) in length for females.
Reticulated pythons are still best left to the experts, though great strides have been made in domesticating an otherwise nasty animal. Twenty years ago, nearly all reticulated pythons were wild-collected and imported from Asia. They had a reputation for growing to be large and extremely mean. These days, an increased number of reticulated pythons have been bred in captivity and raised from hatchlings, and many have become as tame as their Burmese python cousins.
As with any giant snake, you’ll need to secure a permanent food source before bringing your retic home. The feeding regimen you adopt will depend on whether you’re raising your snake to breed.
The diet and feeding requirements for a reticulated python are the same as those of a comparable-sized Burmese python. Reticulated pythons are voracious eaters and usually prefer live prey over prekilled, frozen, or thawed. Injury to the snake due to combative prey is a concern, however, so it is still advisable to avoid live feeding to prevent injury to your snake.
All pythons have special heat-sensing organs called pits that can detect the slightest changes in temperature, so if you’ve got a retic that’s reluctant to eat, warming the meal slightly beforehand can help. One safe method that works for warming prey is to take the baggie the prey is stored in and dip it into heated water for about an hour (boiling water can melt the plastic baggie, so take care with the water temperature). If you are taking the prey from frozen, place the baggie in warm water for a couple of hours, with a dish or coffee mug on top of it to keep it submerged. Never warm prey in a microwave. The microwave will cook the meat rather than warm it, and your snake will either not eat it at all, or may be sickened by the meat.
To prevent obesity, don’t power feed your retic for the first 3 or so years. As your snake gets older, cut back the feeding regimen as its growth naturally slows.
Hatchling reticulated pythons should be fed just-weaned baby mice for their first few meals before moving on to larger adult-sized mice. After your retic has eaten a few meals’ worth of adult mice, you can comfortably move to this all-purpose reticulated python-feeding regimen:
Whenever dealing with a giant snake it’s recommended that another adult be present to help you and to keep a watchful eye. Once your reticulated python is larger than 6 feet (1.8 m) in length, you’ll need to adopt several safe-feeding habits to prevent injury.
In addition to adopting safe feeding habits to protect yourself, there are a couple other cautions you should take to help protect your snake:
Owning a healthy reticulated python begins with the selection. It’s always recommended to observe the snake in its natural enclosure before you buy it, if possible, and to buy from an established snake breeder with a good reputation in the reptile community.
The following is a short summary of reticulated python diseases and disorders.
As with any kind of snake, internal and external parasites can pose a problem. While internal parasites are rarely found in captive born and bred snakes, external parasites like mites can pose problems, particularly by transmitting diseases from infected snakes onto other snakes. Luckily, snake mites do not live on other animals or humans—mites can, however, cling to the clothes and skin of people who have handled an infected snake and can be transmitted to uninfected snakes this way. Always wash your hands and arms thoroughly after handling a snake, even your own, and change clothes in between handling snakes.
Respiratory diseases, particularly pneumonia, in snakes are common but can be prevented in most cases by ensuring the python’s habitat has proper heat gradients. A reticulated python suffering from early stages of pneumonia may wheeze when it breathes and tends to keep its head elevated.
Pythons suffering from more advanced stages of a respiratory disease will secrete a cheesy substance from their mouth and lower throat. If you see this foamy secretion you should contact your exotic species veterinarian as soon as possible. In many cases, if the snake’s respiratory infection is caught soon enough, successful treatment can be as simple as fixing the heat gradient in its enclosure. Some snakes may need antibiotic treatment from your vet.
Pythons are in the same family as boa constrictors, and boas are the primary host for an extremely serious and oftentimes-deadly disease called Inclusion Body Disease (IBD).
IBD is a retrovirus that attacks snakes in much the same way as AIDS infects humans (it is not transmitted from animals to humans). Most retics that are exposed to the virus suffer painful, dramatic deaths, although others can be carriers for years without major symptoms. Exposure happens when infected snakes share enclosures with non-infected snakes, during breeding, and if an infected snake has mites and the mites transfer infected body fluids onto other snakes.
If you own multiple pet snakes of different species, it’s a good rule to never keep boa constrictors in the same cages as pythons.
There is one behavior that’s typical to reticulated pythons and which can lead to health problems if left unnoticed. Retics are prone to “pushing” and roaming, behaviors that can signal an enclosure that’s too hot, humid, wet, or maybe that the snake is just feeling exposed. Either way, too much pushing can cause your snake’s face to swell slightly or, worse case scenario, can cause permanent damage to its face, mouth, and head. It can even lead to mouth rot or an abscess. If this happens you’ll need to take a step back and evaluate why the snake is roaming and pushing.
Reticulated pythons are said to be some of the most intelligent snakes in existence, but there is such variety and the species is so widely distributed that making generalizations can be tricky. Because of their great intelligence, some reticulated pythons have been reported to show some degrees of recognition and responsiveness toward their owners. Retics can be bite-prone, however, especially when being handled, so caution should always be exercised—even after you feel you have come to “know” your snake.
Retics are large snakes but have a manageable enough size to allow movement. Some owners of reticulated pythons allow their giant snakes to roam freely around their homes, while others are relegated to room-sized enclosures. It is not recommended to allow them to have free access in a home in which there are children or animals, especially, but even experienced adults can be harmed by a free roaming snake.
The most important purchase you’ll make for your reticulated python is a proper enclosure. The enclosure you buy should be specifically designed to house giant snakes and must have a strong locking mechanism to prevent escape. Hatchling and baby retics can live quite comfortably in a 10 or 20-gallon glass terrarium before moving to their permanent enclosure. The enclosure of an adult reticulated python should be one and a half times the length of the snake. For all but the largest retics an enclosure of 6 to 8 feet in length will suffice. Reticulated pythons grow quickly initially, but after a few years their growth will taper off and then stop altogether.
When it comes to your snake’s bedding—we call it substrate in the reptile world—you have options, but the important factor to consider is that it should be easy to clean and replace. Substrates can be made from newspaper, aspen shavings, cypress mulch, corrugated cardboard, even specially made snake carpet. For decoration, aim for simple and easy to clean as well.
Remember, reticulated pythons are giant snakes and will destroy any fragile decorations or living plants you include in their enclosures.
One thing that is important for a python is a secure hiding place, which can be made from large pieces of wood, hollowed out logs, or anything that gives the snake a bit of privacy from time to time. Make sure that the hiding spot is large enough for the snake to fit its body within. Retics that feel exposed and vulnerable will become stressed, will start roaming and pushing, and can easily contract diseases due to a stressed immune system or self injury.
Snakes are ectotherms, meaning they self-regulate their body temperature based on external sources of heat. For the temperature of your snake enclosure, you’ll need to provide gradients of heat so the snake can manage this.
A proper python enclosure should have at least one hot spot that achieves a temperature between 88 – 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with a daytime air temperature between 80 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s crucial that you use multiple thermometers with digital readouts throughout the enclosure, one for the “hot spot,” one for the air, and one for the cooler section of the cage. A best practice is to pair electronic thermometers with alarms that go off if the temperatures drop (or go to high), this way you can be sure proper temperatures are maintained.
At nighttime, it’s OK to allow the temperature to drop down between 80 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as there’s a basking area available for the snake to use.
There are many different kinds of heating systems for snake enclosures, but for giant snakes the best option is to use pig blankets. Here’s a quick overview of the different options for heating your reticulated python’s enclosure:
Pig blankets 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.
Room heaters and space heaters are great if you have a large snake collection or an entire room dedicated to your snake. It’s important that you don’t place the heater too close to the cages, and take care not to let the enclosure overheat.
Heat pads and tapes are the easiest way to heat snake enclosures, just make sure you’ve got them connected to thermostats and temperature probes.
Ceramic heaters can be used as overhead heat sources but 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. As with any other heat source, always use thermostats or rheostats for regulation and cover the bulb with cage guard to prevent your snake from getting too close to the heat.
Hot rocks are popular heat sources, especially since they can be doubled as decorations, but should not be used with retics. Snakes have the tendency to curl around hot rocks and can burn themselves.
A dish of clean drinking water should kept in your snake’s enclosure. Retics do not require a dish that is large enough to soak their entire bodies in, but being that they love to swim, they may choose to if given the opportunity. Mostly, you will want the dish to be heavy enough that it cannot be tipped over easily. Check the water at least daily and refresh or change the dish out daily.
The reticulated python is native to Thailand but can be found across Asia. Many of the first reticulated pythons to be imported to the U.S. were from Thailand.
Reticulated pythons live throughout the Malaysian peninsula, Southeast Asia, and in the islands of the Philippines and Indonesia. They love to make their homes in rain forests, woodlands, and grasslands, and in the past were commonly found in even the busiest parts of Bangkok. In fact, reticulated pythons were regularly known for eating birds, cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, pigs, and other domestic animals. There have been rare cases of pythons entering the huts of villagers and eating small children, but these are few and far between.
Retics are also excellent swimmers, which is how they ended up colonizing small islands in the Philippines and Indonesia. Prior to 1990 it was almost unheard of to keep or even want reticulated pythons as pets because they were so large and mean. Today, thanks to many generations of captive breeding, reticulated pythons are one of the most popular snakes around.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Adam Denish, VMD.