Reticulated python feeding
Reticulated python, image by noelmartin
Reticulated Pythons have a reputation for having an exceptionally strong feeding response. This may be intimidating, and when dealing with a large snake it can be downright dangerous. For this reason it is important that you follow safe feeding practices. Remember an SFE (stupid feeding error) with a fully grown Reticulated python could be fatal (the vast majority of deaths associated with large constrictors have occurred due to unsafe feeding procedures). It is very important (as with any large constrictor) to keep it in a tank whereby there are multiple sides of entry (i.e. sliding doors) to ensure you aren’t forced to open a panel the snake may be resting on (door opens, smell of food wafts in and Bam! You’re in a nasty situation immediately).
Baby Reticulated Pythons can start on small adult mice or rat crawlers. As the snake gets larger a rodent of proportionally appropriate size should be offered; at 3’ the snake is large enough to eat weanling rats; at 4’ it should be able to eat adult rats. Adult Reticulated Pythons may be able to hand anything up to the size of a small sheep (Imagine cleaning THAT defecation up), though more commonly rabbits will suffice. As Reticulated pythons get older they will become less active. This coupled with a reduced growth rate means they will not require feeding as often. Adult Reticulated pythons may only need feeding every 12 days (in general the larger food item, the less often the requirement for feeding).
Bear in mind that when a large constrictor goes into predatory mode, you can disregard everything you think you know about that specimen. Often Reticulated Pythons will strike at anything that appears warm or moves once they’re in this “feeding frenzy” (this can include but is not limited to: water bowls, heat lamps, tank doors, substrate and of course YOU!). It is therefore absolutely essential that you don’t offer food with your hand. Always use tongs and as the snake gets larger, get proportionally larger tongs. When feeding any large constrictor you should have someone on hand to assist you, ideally one of you will open the tank whilst the other throws the food item in. When opening the door you really do not want to get the Python’s attention as over time this will cause it to associate the door opening with food and obviously this could be very problematic. Another way of feeding is to move your Reticulated Python to another enclosure. This way you can make sure it doesn’t associate any aspect of its main tank with feeding. The problem here is that it may then be difficult to extricate the snake from this enclosure and this is not really practical for adults.
It should go without saying that you need to avoid smelling like the Reticulated Python’s dinner at all costs! This includes approaching the animal after handling anything that could be considered a prey animal living or dead, just don’t do it. It is beast to wash your hands before you handle any large constrictor to be sure, and be aware of what your clothes have been in contact with (was the cat sat on your lap earlier? Did the dog jump up at you? Etc.). Even if you aren’t feeding the snake, keep an eye on it. After a while you should be able to notice when the snake is in “hunting mode”. Keep a look out for tell tale signs (sharp head movement, tongue flicking at increased intensity, stealthy movements) whenever you open the enclosure. Better safe than sorry.
Basic rules also apply: Do not feed when the snake is sloughing; do not handle the day after feeding; if food is regurgitated reduce size, wait a while digestive enzymes to be replenished (if problem persists may be indicative of more serious problem).
In the interest of your Reticulated Pythons safety, it is best to get your Python feeding on frozen/thawed rodents as soon as possible (due to their tremendous feeding response this shouldn’t be a problem and an unwillingness to feed may be indicative of a more serious problem with the animal). If this isn’t possible and you choose to live feed your Reticulated Python then do not leave it unsupervised for any length of time! You would be incredibly surprised at the amount of damage a rodent is capable of when fighting for its life.
Obesity can be a problem in retics, the above snake is a little on the large size. image by ChrisOD
Something else to consider when feeding your Reticulated Python; when it is young you may be able to somewhat control its rate of growth by feeding it more sparingly (i.e. once every 8-9 days); however, in doing this you will create a snake whom is hungry a lot of the time and consequently has an even stronger feeding response. This may not be what you want. Paradoxically, feeding 1-2 times a week whilst young will result in an excessively rapid rate of growth (Reticulated Pythons can process a LOT of food). Ultimately it may even lead to an obese snake.
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