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Black Headed Python

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Is the Black Headed Python right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Tar Pot Snake, Australian Rock Python; Australian black headed python

Scientific name: Aspidites melanocephalus

The basics:
The Black Headed Python is one of the most uniquely marked – and expensive! – pythons in the pet trade today. Its range occupies much of the northern portion of Australia, from Western Australia to Queensland. Black Headed Pythons are generally found in open, arid habitats, such as brushy grasslands, sparsely-wooded forest edges, rocky hillsides, and desert fringes. They spend much of their time below-ground, often sheltering in mammal burrows and termite mounds. In the tropical reaches of northern Queensland, however, Black Headed Pythons inhabit rainforests and other humid environments.

Appearance / health:
The Black Headed Python averages 6-8 feet in length, with rare individuals slightly exceeding 10 feet. The narrow, jet-black head, unique among pythons, is often exposed to the sun while the rest of the body remains within its burrow. As dark colors absorb heat rapidly, this posture allows for rapid warming while enabling the snake to remain otherwise hidden. Black or brown bands encircle the upper portion of the body, which may be cream, rusty-brown, or yellowish-tan in coloration. Individuals hailing from Queensland sometimes bear orange-tinged bands, and are much in demand among snake enthusiasts. The Black headed Python and its close relative, the Woma Python, A. ramsayi, are the only pythons that lack heat sensing pits along the lower edge of the mouth. They do seem to bear similar organs inside the mouth, but further study is needed.

Behavior / temperament:
Wild-caught individuals may be high-strung, but generally can be acclimated to handling over time. Captive-bred animals tend to be quite calm, and rarely bite. However, Black Headed Pythons are large, constrictors with unusually-powerful jaws (likely needed to subdue their spiny lizard meals!), and appropriate cautions must be taken. Two experienced people should always be on hand when snakes of 6 feet or more in length are fed or handled.

Housing:
Black Headed Pythons are rather sedentary, spending much of their time in hiding. They may be accommodated in terrariums or enclosures of a length equal to their own, but larger, custom-built cages are preferable. Since they rarely climb, height is not an important consideration. As they prefer to hide below the substrate, cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials are preferable to newspapers. Standard snake hide boxes may also be accepted. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 75-85 F; Basking temperature: 95 F.

Despite the fact that we need to learn more about their needs, Black Headed Pythons make hardy pets if given proper care, with some living into their 20’s. The enclosure should be misted daily (but should dry within 30 minutes or so), feces removed as they appear, and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

Diet:
Black Headed Pythons that live in arid habitats feed largely upon lizards, including such pet-trade favorites as Frilled Dragons, Blue-Tongued Skinks, Bearded Dragons (they are undeterred by the impressive displays of these creatures!) and various monitors. They also consume other snakes, including venomous species, as well as bandicoots and other burrowing mammals, and ground-dwelling birds. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats. They should be watched carefully at feeding time when housed in pairs or groups, as cannibalism is a possibility.

Breeding:
A 2-3 month period of slightly reduced temperatures (72 F, with a basking site of 85 F) and day length (12 hrs.), often stimulates breeding behavior. Typical clutches contain 5-10 eggs, which should be incubated at 87-90 F for 65-75 days. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as cannibalism has been documented.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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