Giant Snakes

Getting straight to the point, we strictly advise against the following species right away:

Reticulated python (Python reticulatus), Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and  African rock python (Python sebae).

Why? Very simple: These guys have one thing in common: they all put honor to their name, and reach gigantic size!

Should you really want to acquire one of these candidates, it has to be clear to you that your future pet can and probably will reach a length of four meters (over 13ft) or more. As a result, the enclosure should have dimensions similar to those of a small kid’s room.

Zoological institutions are filled with abandoned specimen of the species mentioned above, because customers who purchase a 200g, 30cm (1ft) long newborn snake cannot imagine that this will eventually turn into a 90kg (over 200lbs) giant.

In addition to that, pet store employees do not always present the realistic facts in regards to the size of the animals when advising customers (otherwise, fewer people would purchase Burmese pythons).

Water hogs have been found in the stomach of anacondas, antelopes in the stomach of African rock pythons, and an acquaintance of ours used to feed lamb to his reticulated python. The species discussed in this section belong to the largest boids (family of boas and pythons), and record lengths of 10m (30ft) are considered realistic in anacondas and reticulated pythons. Even though these lengths are not reached in captivity, one is still dealing with an animal that requires three people for handling at mature size. In addition, reticulated pythons, anacondas, and African rock pythons are not exactly known for their docile temperament.

Finding a new home for such an animal can then become next to impossible, since even zoological institutions reject such animals.

We received the following e-mail in early 2001, and it shows what happens to these animals (this was not the first e-mail of its kind, and surely will not be the last):

„hello
about 3.5 years ago, I happened to get a snake of about 80cm length, when an acquaintance of mine immigrated to Canada, and left me this ‚souvenir’. So-called ‘experts’ have told me that this is a Burmese python. Went and got some literature and built an enclosure. With heater, waterfall, cool and warm part, and hide spot. Still don’t know whether it’s a male or female (how can you figure that out?). The animal is very peaceful and friendly, and I have really started to like it. It should also be very healthy, because it feeds well, sheds, and defecates regularly. Yet, nobody has told me how big it can get. By now, the animal has already grown to 4,20m (14ft), I am afraid that the enclosure will become too small and the animal could become dangerous to me and my family. Also, the feeding costs are playing an increasingly big role. I also found out that it is illegal to keep such an animal in a private home without registering it. (I live in XXXX). Registering it would require a certificate, however, which I did not get, and the enclosure has to be built of earthquake-resistant, bulletproof glass, which I absolutely cannot afford. I am desperate. Ideally, I would love to get rid of the animal. Zoos and aquaristic institutions show no interest. What do you recommend????
g.“

„g.“ Also mentioned to me later that he had been bitten before, and that he was now afraid for his kids. And rightly so.

If you have children, you should not consider keeping any of the species discussed in this section under any circumstances. Children are – as we all well know – unpredictable, curious, and careless. If an adult is involved, an incident with a large Burmese python or reticulated python can still end up lightly.

However, with a child involved – and there is no way to sweet-talk this – a true danger for life and limb exists!

But for those that are really able to keep such monsters (we are referring to the snakes, not the kids!) responsibly for their entire lifetime, here are the advantages: All really large boas and pythons stand out for their robust health and built. The reticulated python is one of the best looking large snakes overall.

Royal- or Ball Python (Python regius)

This snake is one of the most frequently kept species in Germany. The ball python does not get very large (about 1,50m; 5ft) and is known for its usually (not always!) docile temperament. It is also an animal of robust health. However, this is only true if you are lucky enough to acquire one of the few captive-bred specimen that are offered in this country. The vast majority of ball pythons offered in Germany are wild-caught specimens, which were discussed earlier.
Even healthy and well-established animals can be the cause of desperation in sensitive keepers. Some ball pythons love taking feeding breaks of several months (the record is 22 months in a British zoo) and can show to be true prey specialists (rodents of the genus Gerbillus). With such behavior, the ball python has already given some keepers a bad taste for the hobby. We therefore point out to victims of Python regius that – not entirely without malicious joy – the ball python is the just punishment for the person that seeks to acquire one.
No really, all jokes aside, it is really not that bad at all. The ball python is a very pretty snake and if one can handle its peculiar nature, it provides the keeper with much joy through its venturesome behavior.

Rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria)

There is a total of 9 species of rainbow boas. In Germany, mainly the ‘normal’ rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria maurus) and the Brazilian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) are kept in captivity. While the former species with its brownish coloration and only slightly visible pattern appears rather inconspicuous, the ladder one is a true beauty. Due to their slim build and relatively small size (up to 1,80m; 6ft), both species are suitable for (somewhat) smaller enclosures. These animals also do not have a reputation for being problematic feeders. On the contrary, there is a risk of overfeeding, since they tend to be – and it is hard to put it another way – greedy pigs. We know this species to be relatively snappy, but we acknowledge that other authors consider them to have a friendly demeanor. The most aggravating disadvantage of these constrictors lies in a skin disease, that especially young specimens are prone to. The reptile seems to be going into shed, but it really does not. On the contrary, the blunt and crusty looking skin splits open, exposing the raw flesh.

After a new theory, about which the author was informed by a breeder of Epicrates cenchria in the U.S., the cause of this lies in defective hormones. Others blame the overly dry and humid housing conditions, the wrong substrate, or the use of mite repellents.

In conclusion, it should also be mentioned that there are many keepers of Brazilian rainbow boas who have never had any problems with these animals.

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Green tree python (Morelia viridis)

Next to the "redtail boa" (Boa c. constrictor), the green tree python is one of the most desired boids in herpetoculture. These two species have enough fans to be considered ‘cult snakes’.

Morelia (or even Chondropython) viridis is a feast for the eyes, and a living room enclosure housing this species is the most beautiful decoration that an enthusiastic snake keeper could wish for.

Unlike most other constrictor snakes, the green tree python does not feel the need to hide. It is always coiling around a branch at a visible spot, preying on passing birds (which are admittedly less abundant in captivity than they are in the wild).

Unfortunately, even this species has its catch. Being an inhabitant of the rain forest, it requires a relatively high humidity (at least 75%), which naturally promotes bacterial growth in the enclosure. Death resulting from bacterial infections is not a rare occurrence in Morelia viridis. Furthermore, due to the small size of the hatchlings, gender determination by probing is not recommended until the animals reach juvenile age. When acquiring hatchling green tree pythons, you can never be absolutely sure in regards to their gender.
Those lucky enough to breed this species must be prepared to force-feed a good part of the young, as these often refuse to feed on their own.

It should also be mentioned that Morelia viridis lays eggs. Egg-layers are not for everybody. Many breeders (including ourselves) prefer boas, since they give birth to live young. .

Emerald tree boa (Corallus Caninnus)

This also an arboreal snake looks very similar to the green tree python. The emerald tree boa lies exactly like Morelia viridis visibly coiled around a branch, and also has a large fan community.
However, the emerald tree boa is also notorious for its extremely long teeth, as well as mouth rot, which is a frequent occurrence in this species, along with the regurgitation syndrome. The ladder means that the eaten prey item is regurgitated after 3-6 days. The potential causes for this are numerous and reach from bacterial infection of the digestive track to stress. We will target this issue in more detail later on.
The problems mentioned above occur mainly in wild-caught specimen, though captive-bred animals are not spared completely. The high humidity that these animals require, and the subsequent favorable conditions for bacterial growth in the enclosure play an important role again.
In contrast to the green tree python, the emerald tree boa gives birth to live young. The emerald tree boa is therefore a better choice for those people that do not like “egg-layers”, but yet would like a green snake.

It should be mentioned that both the green tree python and the emerald tree boa are unsuitable for people looking for a “pet snake”, just as a bicycle is for a fish.

Madagascar ground boa (Acrantophis madagascariensis) and Dumerils boa (Acranthophis dumerili)

These snakes are (as the name implies) from Madagascar, are listed as a Cites-I species, and are relatively undemanding animals that are very hardy. They are therefore also suitable for beginners of boid husbandry.
Yet, this recommendation is not entirely without concern, since some of the newborn Acrantophis dumerili are picky feeders, as they would prefer birds or fellow mates as prey. A cautious approach is therefore needed when housing several young of various sizes in one enclosure. In addition, and in contrast to most other boids, the Dumerils boa tends to pass urine and urinary calculus almost daily, and is therefore a bit more demanding in maintenance than is the case with most other boids.

There is nothing really negative to say about its northern relative, Acrantophis madagascariensis, except maybe that it grows to be significantly larger and stronger than the Dumerils boa, which on average grows to around two meters (over 6.5ft) in length. Specimens of three meters (10ft) are no rarity in Acrantophis madagascariensis. Interesting is also the gestation period of the Madagascar ground boa: It lasts 9 months.

Boa constrictor

We now finally get to our favorite snakes. It is really worthwhile to elaborate on this species.

First off, it is to be said that even the Boa constrictors cannot be recommended all-inclusive. There are about 10 Boa constrictor subspecies, of which some can give a person new to the keeping of boids a difficult time.

This refers mostly to the so-called "redtail boas", the Boa c. constrictor from the distribution areas of Suriname and Guyana, to name the most important ones. However, especially these “redtail boas” are, along with the tree pythons, among the most desired and most beautiful snakes kept in captivity.

Boa c. constrictor neonates are notoriously known to regurgitate over-sized prey items. The term for this is “regurgitation syndrome”. We have previously mentioned this, and will deal with this topic in more detail later on.

But don’t worry: If the owner of a redtail boa is able to implement a moderate feeding schedule, then there won’t be any problems with the animal.

Similar is valid for Boa c. occidentalis (Argentine boa). This subspecies of Boa constrictor is also prone to the regurgitation syndrome.

Many boa fans are enthusiastic about the Boa c. amarali, a very pretty form that occurs in Bolivia and Brazil. The Bolivian form is trouble-free, however, the high fatality rate among animals of the “Danish bloodline”, the so-called “silverbacks” from the region of Sao Paolo/Brazil sticks out.

Almost all of the specimen of this form that are available in Europe originate from the bloodline of a Danish breeder. Unfortunately, these animals appear to be highly delicate. The “regurgitation syndrome” is even more common in neonates of this bloodline than it is in the so-called “redtail boas”. Many of the “silverbacks” that were raised despite major difficulties later died from bacterial infections or due to other causes that are not normally lethal (for instance, when changing owners). We do not know, as to what degree the inbreeding may play a role in this.

We had always assumed that the „silverback amarali“ on average do not get larger than about 1,60m (a little over 5ft). After a trip to the United States in 2000, the author had to revise his opinion. He was there confronted with specimen, compared to which mature amarali from the “Danish bloodline” would have appeared to be yearlings.

A conversation with Joe Terry, the „Father of amarali“ (he is known as an absolute authority in regards to Boa c. amarali, and first bred this subspecies in captivity), yielded the fact that there are actually two types of “silverbacks”, one of which gets relatively large (about 2.5m; over 8ft) and is very hardy. We have acquired those animals in the U.S., and can confirm these findings through our experience thus far. Of course, there are also healthy specimens that reached an impressive size among the “silverbacks” that are bred here in Europe. However, to be clear, these are exceptions.