Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are 12-16’ long diurnal snakes, and among the largest snakes in the world. They are native to southeast Asia, but are currently prolifically invasive in the American south. Burmese pythons can live in a variety of different habitats, but they generally prefer grassy marshes and jungles, and are skilled at both climbing and swimming.
Aside from their giant size, Burmese pythons can be identified by their gray-gold base color and dark brown blotches framed with black. They also usually have a dark stripe on each side of their head extending from the snout to the ear. However, captive breeding efforts have produced a variety of alternative colors and patterns.
Most people will see their first Burmese python in a zoo or during an educational presentation. While they can make striking animal ambassadors and zoo exhibits, they make very poor pets for all but the most dedicated and prepared keepers. Burmese pythons require a significant investment of time, space, and money to house and care for properly. Although most reptiles in the pet trade are quite harmless to humans, Burmese pythons are an exception: if the right precautions are not taken, even pet Burmese pythons are quite capable of injuring and even killing their caretakers.
With good care, Burmese pythons have a 25+ year lifespan.
Minimum enclosure size for Burmese pythons
Many sources will tell you that an appropriate minimum enclosure size for one Burmese python is 8’L x 4’W x 4’H, but this is too small for a 12-16’ long, active, thick-bodied animal. A more suitable alternative “minimum” is 10’L x 6’W x 6’H. Larger, of course, will always be better. The enclosure must also be completely sealed against the possibility of escape, from the door latch to the thickness of the glass.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple Burmese pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do Burmese pythons need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for Burmese pythons. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for Burmese pythons are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
- Arcadia Forest 6%
The bulb you buy should be approximately half the length of the enclosure. For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture from Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the enclosure as the heat lamp, about 11-13” above the basking branch if over mesh, and 14-16” above the basking branch if not.
For larger enclosures, it may be more prudent to use a stronger UVB bulb (Zoo Med T5 HO 10.0 or Arcadia 12%) and place the basking surface so the snake’s back will be 18-20” below the lamp. If using multiple UVB bulbs in your enclosure, it is strongly advised to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure UVB output so you don’t accidentally “fry” your snake with UV radiation. Target a basking UVI of 2.0-3.0.
UVB bulbs experience reduced UVB output over time, so make sure to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain optimum performance.
Lights should be on for about 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter. This replicates seasonal cycles and may promote healthier hormonal cycling in your snake.
Best temperature for Burmese pythons
Like other reptiles, Burmese pythons are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, Burmese pythons prefer an environment with a basking area temperature of 90-95°F, and a general air temperature around 85°F. Temperatures should drop to 75-80°F at night. Use wall-mounted digital thermometers to make sure your snake’s environment is always comfortable.
Provide heat for your snake with a cluster of enough halogen flood heat bulbs to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use colored bulbs, as these are not as effective. However, you may use radiant heat panels connected to thermostats to maintain appropriate air temperatures during the day and night.
Best humidity levels for Burmese pythons
Burmese pythons need average humidity levels between 60-75%. Humidity can be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Alternatively, using a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat can be helpful. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss.
Burmese pythons like to soak and swim, so make sure to provide a tub or pool of water at least large enough to accommodate their entire body. Keep the water clean at all times, and scrub with animal-safe disinfectant once a week. It’s a good idea to connect this pool to your home’s plumbing system if possible. This pool should not be heated, and is a good way to provide the option of cooler temps to your snake.
Best substrate for Burmese pythons
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your Burmese python’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for Burmese pythons:
Layering plenty of clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity and provides extra cover for your snake!
Substrate should be at least 3” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate. Any contaminated substrate that is removed should be replaced with fresh substrate.
How to decorate a Burmese python enclosure
An empty terrarium makes for a bored Burmese python, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since Burmese pythons are skilled climbers, it’s important to provide sturdy climbing objects to make use of the enclosure’s vertical space. You will also need to provide covered areas for the snake to hide as needed. Here are some other ideas:
- thick, sturdy branches
- hides (dog kennels work well)
- large live or artificial plants
Because Burmese pythons can be very heavy, make sure all branches, platforms, and other climbing objects are well secured to the walls and/or floor of the enclosure.
What to feed to a Burmese python
Burmese pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition.
Burmese pythons are notoriously overweight because they are frequently fed far more often than they actually need. When your snake is young, it’s fine to offer one prey item every 1-2 weeks. However, as the snake grows and matures, it will need to be fed less often. Let your snake’s body condition be your guide, not its behavior, as Burmese pythons are always hungry. Fasting your Burmese python once a year for 4 months at a time is a good way to help keep them in good condition.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so consider rotating mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, quail, and chickens in your snake’s diet.
Prey items should be no more than 1.5x the snake’s width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches 100-105°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.
Make sure another person is in the room during feeding in case the snake accidentally bites you instead of the food. In fact, as the snake gets larger, it’s a good idea to train it to take prey slowly and gently rather than quickly and aggressively.
Burmese pythons can survive without supplementation, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
How to handle your Burmese python
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Burmese pythons can become wonderfully tame, but as large, strong animals, it’s important to acknowledge that they are capable of injuring and even killing a human if mishandled.
Here are some tips for success:
- Wait at least 2 weeks before attempting to handle your new snake.
- When picking up your snake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!
- Whenever possible, let the snake climb onto you rather than grabbing it.
- Keep handling sessions short at first.
- End handling sessions with the snake acting calm before putting it back.
- ALWAYS keep at least one other person in the room during handling sessions.
- Never let the snake free-roam unsupervised.
- Never handle in the same room as other pets.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!