Carpet Python Care
This guide simply outlines the way I keep or have kept carpet pythons, why I do things the way I do and what I've learned along the way. It's not meant to be the “final word” and it's definitely not meant to sound as if there's only one way. To be honest, carpets are pretty easy snakes to keep and breed, so there are different methods that will also work quite well. This page just outlines what I’ve found to be most convenient for me, while keeping the animals' best interests in mind. Everything you read here is based on my personal experience. If you read something elsewhere that is different or even contradictory, that doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is wrong.
In my opinion, carpet pythons are one of the best display snakes in the hobby, though health issues tend to be more common than they are with ball pythons or boa constrictors. Carpets offer the keeper a lot of choices in terms of size, color and pattern, but due to their slightly more specialized care, will likely never reach the mainstream status of ball pythons.
Quality carpets used to be fairly hard to find, but they've become more readily available in the past 10 years or so, due selective breeding efforts of hobbyists.
Internet Forum Myths Debunked
Although I will touch on some of these things throughout this page, there are a few that I’d like to clear up before you read on.
Myth 1 - Carpet pythons are typically aggressive.
Whenever I see someone selling a nippy yearling or older carpet python and they play off the snake’s bad temperament by saying that it has a “typical carpet python attitude,” it makes me wonder how many carpet pythons they’ve really worked with.
In fact, most carpets are just as laid back as a ball python. However, carpets aren't ball pythons, so their feeding response is much more enthusiastic, and they aren't wired to curl up in a ball when they get nervous...they will typically try to flee, but the occasional specimen will attempt to bite.
Hatchlings are typically pretty mellow, but some can be snappy. Luckily, they're so tiny that their bites are harmless. At a year or two of age, even the most aggressive babies will usually calm down and become trustworthy snakes. Some hatchlings may be docile after the first couple of days that you handle them, while others may take as long as a couple years to fully calm down. Nippy hatchlings and juveniles don't necessarily have to be handled in order to eventually calm down. Day to day maintenance and a growing snake's increased confidence usually are enough. With larger carpet pythons, I'd say that 95% of all bites are the result of a feeding error....either on part of the snake or the keeper. We have to remember, these snakes "see" heat perhaps better than they can actually see the difference in shap between a rat and a human hand. To avoid being mistaken for food, get a snake hook. You don't need to pin the snake down or anything like that...that's not why we use snake hooks. We use them to simply tap the snake on the nose or neck, in order to let them know that they're not getting fed. If you are concerned about having a docile snake, ask the breeder/dealer if the snake is nippy before you buy it. Of course, it helps if you trust them. If they tell you that it is nippy, keep looking because you will eventually find a docile one if you look hard enough.
Myth 2 - Carpet pythons need high humidity.
There's no subtle way to put it...this one's more or less BS. :) I cringe when I see keepers telling people to keep their carpets at a consistent 75% relative humidity. As a rule of thumb, 50-60% is fine - anything higher and you need to clean all the time to make sure "life" doesn't start growing in the cage. :-)
Too much humidity will promote bacterial and fungal growth, which can cause a myriad of health problems - especially in a species like carpets that are more prone to skin and respiratory infection. That being the case, I'd rather keep them a little too dry than a little too wet...but again, this really just boils down to what works for you. Someone in Florida might have a different experience than someone in Missouri. Since I stopped cooling my pythons for breeding season (2010), I have noticed that my carpet cages do need to be misted during the winter. This is because we leave the heat on, and heat tends obviously dries the air out. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say a reading in the 50-60% range would be optimal. When humidity dips below the 50% mark, lightly mist the cage and then the humidity will spike to 70% or so for a few hours before getting back down to a more reasonable range. Then you let the cage become almost dry before repeating. Twice a week seems to work well for me.
Myth 3 - Carpet pythons are arboreal.
I guess this one could be a bit subjective, and maybe calling them semi-arboreal would be accurate, but you will never find a chondro-style perch in my carpet cages. Compared to a ball python, I guess you could say that carpet pythons are arboreal. Then again, you could say house cats are arboreal too, when you're comparing them to a ball python. On the other hand, if you compare carpets to something like a green tree python, there is no comparison. Carpets can climb quite well, and will usually make use of any branches in their enclosure, but mine do just fine with nothing more than a hide box or two and a water bowl. Most carpets will choose to sit on top of the hide box, rather than inside of it. When they're digesting a meal, they will go inside the hide box for a couple of days and then return to sitting on top of it. For that reason, I prefer a hide box over a perch. Carpets make great display snakes when given something to drape themselves across, but they can be housed very efficiently if needed.
I generally provide an ambient temperature of 76-80F and a temperature of around 88-92F under the basking lamp or over heat source. A few degrees either way isn't going to hurt anything. Night drops are unnecessary, but may help keep cages from becoming so dry. Please understand that this is far from an exact science and I try not to make anything too routine, so feel free to try different temperatures and see what works for you.
I already touched on this above, but it's often repeated on internet discusion forums that humidity should be kept at around 70-80%. As explained earlier, I've found that to be too high for any more than 6-12 hours at a time - any longer and mold/bacteria will thrive - not to mention gnats and other pests. If you live in an unusually dry area and feel that you should be misting the cage, be sure that the cage gets a chance to dry out every day or two, before you spray again. The idea is to create a humidity cycle...not constant humidity. Constantly high humidity actually promotes bacterial and fungal growth, which can lead to respiratory infection, as well as numerous other health problems. I’ve kept jungle carpets in screen-top ten gallon fish tanks, with a heat pad underneath or a 15-watt dome lamp on top, which would be a terrible set up for maintaining humidity. I never misted those cages until the animals' eyes turned blue for shedding and they always had perfect sheds. Those particular jungle carpets reached four feet in their first year.
If you want your carpet to grow quickly, I highly recommend starting them on rat pinkies. Switching from mice to rats can be a problem with some carpets, usually Jungles and Irian Jayas. Coastals seem to not care what they eat. I start my hatchlings on pinky rats and quickly move them up from there. Contrary to what most people recommend, I generally feed prey items that are about twice the girth of the snake itself. The frequency of meals will vary, but I generally always feed them what most people consider to be large meals.
Corn Snakes They Are Not.
Carpet pythons can take relatively huge meals, so don't be reluctant to try something that is two times their diameter. If they have sufficient heat and are left undisturbed for a few days, they will digest the meal without incident. Conversely, I have seen carpet pythons begin to swallow a meal of questionable size and then, half-way through the process, decide not to eat it. With that in mind, I'm comfortable letting them be the judge of what they can and cannot eat. If a carpet is healthy, stress free and being kept at proper temperatures, you should never have to worry about feeding too large a meal.
Carpet pythons generally speaking, are voracious eaters, however hatchlings can sometimes be tricky to get started. In almost all cases, a picky youngster will not be picky forever. I’ve had carpets that were terribly difficult to feed at first, but once they got going, there was no stopping them. I have an adult female who was a nightmare to feed as a hatchling and still grew to 4.5 feet by her first birthday. If you don't have access to rats and need to feed mice, don't bother with pinky mice. Hatchling carpets typically prefer something the size of a hopper mouse. This might look like a relatively large meal, but don’t worry…we aren’t talking about Corn Snakes. Again, these are pythons, and they can handle larger meals. Have I said that enough yet? :-) If you've hatched some babies and are having trouble getting some of them to eat, usually an assist feeding is all that’s needed. Just poke the fuzzy mouse’s head into the snake’s mouth, hold for a few seconds and then set the snake back down in it’s cage. A lot of times, they will instinctively constrict the prey and eat it. Brand new hatchlings can be picky about the method in which they are fed. Some of mine prefer live prey or for prey to be dangled overhead on forceps, while others will take pre-killed. Some nervous hatchlings may have to be placed in a paper sack or cardboard box with the food item (pre-killed or non-weaned only), which I then place in the cage overnight. I don't sell baby snakes before they're past this difficult stage, but not every breeder takes the time to get them started...That's why it's important to ask questions before you buy!!!
Carpet pythons, like their cousin species, Morelia viridis, do tend to be more prone to health issues and less forgiving of husbandry errors, so they will likely never be a as ball pythons because of this. Still, these snakes make great captives when you know what to expect, and most issues are easily avoided.
- Upper Respiratory Infection
This seems to be the most common ailment with carpet pythons. Keeping room temperatures above 72F and keeping humidity at 50% or higher, has been the only thing we've been able to do to curb and prevent new cases of RI in our carpet collection. Sometimes RI will clear up on its own, but typically antibiotic injections are required (not for beginners!). Generally speaking, cages that are excessively tall make it harder to maintain humidity - keeping cages 15" high or shorter has been a huge help.
- Intestinal Prolapse
This is another issue that seems to stem from inadequate humidity and hydration. I have never seen a case of prolapse here that didn't involve a dry cage. The first thing you'll want to do is keep the tissue moist (sugar water works well) and wait for it to correct itself. If, after 24 hours, it has not, then you may need to visit a *qualified reptile veterinarian*, who may add a suture to keep everything in place for a while.
- Neurological Symptoms
Some carpets may exhibit loss of fine motor control and orientation. This seems to be tied to the Jaguar gene, though not all Jaguars will exhibit these symptoms. I have also seen carpets - including regular Jungles (no Jaguar gene), that were allowed to get too cold cold during shipping, that eventually began to exhibit similar symptoms. Exposure to extreme temperatures and even Permethrin based mite sprays, like Pro-Vent-A-Mite, have been known to trigger neuro symptoms in Jaguars that didn't previously exhibit such symptoms.
- Fertility Issues
To my knowledge, only the Granite Irian Jaya mutation, has been documented to cause fertility issues, which some breeders tend to not want to talk about. :-) Carpet pythons in general are very prolific breeders and 100% hatch rates are the norm here (we use artificial incubation only).
To my knowledge, only one carpet morph, the Super Zebra, has been genetically linked to spinal kinking. In Super Zebras, the kinking seems to be only in the tail, posterior to the vent, meaning this kinking should not interfere with breeding in any way. Many breeders have decided not to pursure the Super Zebra because of this. To the best of my knowledge, the Zebra (homozygous version) is not affected and does not display any kinking, but all Super Zebras do.
Again, this is just a rough guide of how I do things. Feel free to mix it up on cage size, but be careful not to go too large...this is a common mistake that can be difficult to correct without getting a new cage.
Hatchlings are only usually 10-14 inches long and about the girth of a pencil. To start them off, it’s best to keep them in a small plastic “shoe box” sized enclosure, which are approximately 4-8” wide by 10-14” long and maybe 4" high. I would recommend nothing bigger than that, at least until they have started to accept food on a regular basis.
Hatchlings & Juveniles (48")
After they have started to feed on a regular basis, you may move them to something a bit larger, such as a 12 quart sweater box, a 10 gallon aquarium with a secure screen to, or even a large plastic "Critter Keeper" type cage.
In rack systems, I’ve housed carpets up to 4 feet long in Rubbermaid 12 quart containers (approximately 12” x 16”) with great results. For carpet pythons up to 5 feet in length, I’d say a 28-32 quart box (approx. 24" x 16”) would be sufficient.
Just a thought…The good old 10 gallon tank
You can afford the snake, but not a cage? A ten gallon aquarium with a screen top will work great and only cost you about $20…and you can pick one up at Wal-Mart on the way home from the reptile show. For an established hatchling (one that’s feeding regularly) to 3.5 foot carpet python, a good old ten gallon fish tank with a screen top is really all you need for a cage. Aquariums can be a pain to keep looking good due to all the glass, but before I started using rack systems they really worked well in a pinch. If you don’t have a small cage laying around, a good old ten gallon tank ($10) and a screen top ($10) is a great, affordable way to house a new carpet python until you can afford a different cage…or until it outgrows the tank. Once they outgrow the ten gallon tank, you may as well start looking at reptile cages instead of fish tanks. Larger aquaria are expensive and heavy, not to mention still a pain to keep looking clean. That said, aquaria larger than 10 gallons are not all that practical…especially when you can buy a cage that’s light weight, easier to clean (not to mention built for reptiles) at a comparable price.
Adult Jungle carpets and Irian Jaya carpets should be kept in a cage with a minimum of 4-6 square feet of floor space, such as a 2'x2' or a 3' x 2' cage. As a rule of thumb for pythons in general, some keepers say that one square foot of floor space per foot in length is optimal, but I think slightly less than one square foot is fine for carpets, due to their slim build.
Cage height is a subjective subject! What's best for your snakes has a great deal to do with the temperature and humidity in the room that the cages are in. My carpet rooms drop into the low 70's in the dead of winter, so cages any more than about 15" high become problematic, as the taller the cage is, the more become difficult to maintain a proper heat gradient and proper humidity. Recently I have had great success breeding carpets in rack systems that house tubs 6.5" to 8.5" high, and the snakes do not appear to be cramped or unhappy in any way. In fact some of the more shy carpets I own have actually done better after being moved to a smaller space.
Large adult coastals (7.5 feet and larger) will require a cage that’s at least 3-4 feet long by 24” deep.
Carpet pythons are semi-arboreal as hatchlings and juveniles, and even adults will make use of any perch or branches available. This really is not a necessity, but it does seem to help with the general happiness of the snake. With that in mind, if you aren’t housing a dozen of them, you might consider a cage with sufficient height to facilitate climbing. The cage does not have to be extremely tall to accommodate a sufficient perch. A ten gallon aquarium is more than tall enough to make a hatchling feel like it's far enough off of the ground. With that in mind, some of the smaller plastic sweater boxes are only 3.5 to 4 inches tall, which makes it kind of difficult to provide any kind of perch. In this case, you'll find that a lot of carpets are just as happy to "perch" on top of their hide box.
The substrate you choose is really just a matter of personal preference. I will outline some of the pros and cons below.
Although it doesn't make for a pretty display, newspaper is economical, sanitary and effective.
My "Home Made" Blend
This mixture roughly 50% coconut fiber, 40% sphagnum peat and 10% play sand. The sphagnum peat and play sand are extremely cheap and can be found at any local home & garden store. The sand probably isn't a necessity, but it costs about $2.50 for a 50 lb bag and it really helps the mixture pack and drain a lot better. This is the mix I use for everything from my gecko nest boxes to the cages for all of my arboreal snakes. I have not used this for carpets as it would be too expensive, but I'm sure it would work quite well.
Cypress is popular and I have used it off and on for years. What I don't like is that the pieces are too large to vacuum up off the floor. Another problem is that much of the mulch advertised as "Cypress Mulch" actually has other woods mixed into it that will sometimes cause my carpets to get small blisters on the outermost layer of their skin (an allergic reaction I would presume). These blisters go away after their next shed and within 2-3 sheds you can't even tell...but still, that's no bueno in my book. Cypress blends are easy to find - pure cypress is not so much. I still use cypress mulch for ball pythons, but am exploring other substrates for my carpets.
Aspen is OK, but it isn't capable of holding and releasing moisture into the air. If you live in a naturally humid area, or run humidifiers to keep humidity around 50% (like I do in my carpet rooms), aspen is worth considering. If you rely on misting the substrate to provide humidity, something like cypress or a home-made blend like I describe above - or even a thick layer of newspaper - may be a better option.
Choose a water bowl that is heavy or designed so that it doesn’t tip over when your snake is cruising around at night. Try to place the bowl in the coolest area of the cage to slow the growth of bacteria.
Some keepers prefer to place the bowl on the warm end of the cage, in order to increase evaporation and increase humidity. This practice is not recommended, as it leads to rapid bacterial/fungal growth in the water that your snakes are drinking. If the humidity really needs to be increased, you can simply provide a larger water bowl (more surface area of the water means more water will evaporate into the air) and keep it on the cool end of the cage.
I fully recommend using an under tank heater (or UTH). Make sure that it takes up no more than 1/3rd of the floor space. I try to keep the UTH at one extreme end of the cage, not in the middle. This will allow the other end of the cage to be cooler, allowing the snake to better control it’s body temperature (thermo regulate) by creating a
better thermal gradient. Most commercial UTHs will not require the use of a thermostat or rheostat, however it is still wise to make sure that the temperature on the “hot spot” (the area directly above the UTH) does not exceed
In larger collections, it’s more economical to use “flex watt” heat tape controlled by a thermostat or rheostat. Although heat tape functions in the same manner as a UTH, it is not regulated. This means that, it can get extremely hot. This can cause serious problems, including electrical fire, burns to the animal, overheating, and even death. If using heat tape, be sure to consult with a professional.
In my collection, I use heat tape on a thermostat, and prefer to keep the “hot spot” at about 88-92 degrees, which will effectively cause the ambient temperatures (in my particular cages) to fall into the proper range.
Use of a heat lamp is completely optional in my opinion - and may cause younger snakes to stop eating. If using any kind of lamp, put it over the same end as the UTH, so that the snake can still find a cool spot in the cage, should it wish to do so.
By the way, if you do decide to light your cages, make it easy on yourself and get a timer (About $5 at Wal-Mart), and set it to be on for 12 hours per day and off for 12 hours.
Hide Boxes - DO NOT SKIMP HERE!
These are one of the most important aspects in successfully maintaining and breeding carpet pythons, in my opinion. A young snake must have somewhere to hide and feel secure. Some keepers only use one hide box, and that’s usually on the warm end of the cage. This makes the animal choose between hiding or being at the correct temperature, since it now has to hide on the hot end. Because of this, I prefer to use a long slab of cork bark or piece of egg carton that runs all the way from the hottest end of the cage to the coolest end of the cage. You can also place a hide box on each end of the cage, in order to give the snake a cool place to hide and a warm place to hide. When choosing a hide box, it's best to choose one that sits low to the ground. Snakes actually feel more secure in tight, close quarters. The comparatively tall and roomy commercial hide boxes are not usually the best choice for a hide box.
With established older carpets, I used to think hide boxes weren't so mportant. However, what I have noticed is that carpet pythons maintained in cages without a hide box during the winter (when the room drops to the low 70's) are much more likely to come down with a respiratory infection. I believe this is due to the fact that a hide box will help trap heat (and humidity) to create a retreat with a higher ambient temperature inside. I do find that a lot of older carpets prefer to sit on top of the hide box until they're digesting a meal or getting ready to shed. For adults, I'll usually just place one on the hot end of the cage, so they can go inside to keep warm.
Thermometer or Temp Gun
Obviously, you need thermometer to measure the temperature. Measure the temperature where
the snake spends its time....not the wall of the cage. I use a temperature
gun, but if you don't have one, you should actually keep thermometer in the hide
area so that you can read the temperatures that the snake is actually exposed
to. If you have a fairly sizeable collection, it's impractical to buy a
thermometer for each cage, so a temperature gun is a great tool to have.
Carpet Python Sizes
There are several different subspecies of carpet pythons, so I will just touch on the main three, which are by far, the most common in captivity. Remember, length isn't the only factor when considering size. A lot of new keepers tend to stay away from carpets because they hear the lengths they can attain and automatically think that they get too large. Keep in mind, carpets are long and slender. For example, a seven foot carpet python may weigh less than a healthy five foot ball python. That said, it really bothers me when people choose something like a ball python over a carpet python as a first python, solely due to the fact that they get longer.
Jungle Carpets (M. s. cheynei)
These guys reach 5 to 7 feet on average, though the largest females may grow to even 8.5+ feet in length.
Coastal or Queensland Carpets (M. s. mcdowelli)
These grow the largest. Although some females have been known to grow to 10 or 11 feet in length (and maybe even more), most adults stay in the range of 7-9 feet.
Irian Jaya Carpets (M. s. variegata)
The smallest of the carpet pythons. Males typically top out at around 4.5-5 feet, and females at about 5.5 to 6 feet, although I own a single specimen that is at least seven feet in length.
Choosing a Carpet Python
How do I choose a good looking hatchling?
I am extremely particular in choosing my animals, so to me, this is the most difficult part of the process of buying and keeping a carpet python. My advice is to never buy a carpet python without at least seeing a picture of it. Carpet pythons are extremely variable in both color and pattern and everyone has good looking snakes if you go by what they tell you! :-) They change dramatically in appearance from the time they hatch until they are several years old, so I like to see pictures of the hatchling’s parents whenever possible. When purchasing a hatchling carpet python, I always request to pictures of the parents. This will help give you an idea of what to expect as the snake gets older, as it will not be apparent in hatchlings or even yearlings. I just can’t say it enough. Picking a hatchling carpet python can be a crap shoot even when the parents are nice, so it’s always wise to at least know what the parents look like.
How do I choose one that will be a tame adult?
Again, if you are genuinely concerned about having a nippy snake, ask the breeder/dealer if the snake is nippy before you buy it…and make sure that you can trust them. If they tell you that ALL young carpet pythons are nippy, they’re either lying to you or they don’t know any better. Either way, it really is possible to find a docile hatchling carpet python. I’d say 90% of carpet pythons will calm down within a year or so, but not always.