The white-lipped python is a 5-7’ long, semi-arboreal, nocturnal snake that lives on the northern half of New Guinea. Their preferred habitat is tropical forest, usually near a body of water.
White-lipped pythons have slender but strong bodies, with a rectangular head, vertical pupils, a semi-prehensile tail, and smooth, glossy scales. Their coloring is very unique: dark brown on top, golden on the sides, and white on the belly. The head is black, with a white lower jaw and alternating black and white markings on the lips. However, their most striking feature is their unmistakable iridescence in the right light.
White-lipped pythons are advanced-level pets due to their size, sensitivity to inadequate husbandry, and temperament.
Minimum terrarium size for white-lipped pythons
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single white-lipped python is 7’L x 3’W x 4’H. Of course, larger is always better! This may seem gigantic, but it’s important to keep in mind that all snakes need an enclosure large enough to allow them to fully stretch out, and white-lipped pythons in particular are known to be very active.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple white-lipped pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do white-lipped pythons need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for white-lipped 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 other benefits. The light will not stress out your snake as long as it’s not on 24/7.
The best UVB bulbs for white-lipped pythons are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
- Arcadia Forest 6%
For best results, the bulb should be roughly half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture, preferably Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics brand for maximum output. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the snake’s back if over mesh, and 12-14” above the snake’s back if not.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for about 12 hours/day.
Best temperature for white-lipped pythons
Like other reptiles, white-lipped 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, white-lipped pythons should have a basking area temperature of 88-92°F, and a cool side temperature between 75-82°F. Nighttime temperatures should not dip below 75°F. Temperatures should be measured with digital probe thermometers to make sure your snake’s environment is always comfortable.
Provide heat for your snake with a cluster of 2-4 low-wattage halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a sturdy branch or ledge) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use colored bulbs, as these are not as effective.
If you need nighttime heat to maintain appropriate ambient temps, use a radiant heat panel connected to a thermostat. This may also be helpful for maintaining appropriate ambient temps during the day, as heating large enclosures with just heat lamps can be difficult.
Best humidity levels for white-lipped pythons
White-lipped pythons dehydrate very easily, which is life-threatening for this species. You will need to maintain average humidity levels between 55-85%. 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 spray bottle. Mist every evening and then again in the morning if needed. Alternatively, using a cool mist humidifier at night, connected to a hygrostat, can be helpful. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss.
Best substrate for white-lipped pythons
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your snake’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for white-lipped pythons:
Layering 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 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a white-lipped python terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored — and worse, stressed — snake, 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 white-lipped pythons are semi-arboreal, they need items both on the ground and for climbing. Here are some ideas for making an engaging, enriching enclosure for your snake:
What to feed to a white-lipped python
White-lipped pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake age:
- Hatchlings — every 7-10 days
- Juveniles — every 10-14 days
- Adults — every 14-21 days
Prey items should be <10% of the snake’s weight and/or roughly the same width as the snake 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.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so consider rotating mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, young rabbits, quail, and chicks in your snake’s diet.
Note: White-lipped pythons have a unique behavior of occasionally coughing up the furry remains of their meals. This is different from regurgitation, and while alarming at first, completely normal.
White-lipped 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.
Of course, don’t forget a water bowl for your snake! It should be large enough to help with humidity and provide a consistent source of drinking water, but it doesn’t need to be large enough for soaking. Keep the water clean at all times and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.
How to handle your white-lipped python
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. White-lipped pythons have a fearsome reputation as cranky, nippy snakes, but when they’re captive-bred and well-trained, they’re likely to be more calm.
While it’s best not to handle white-lipped pythons regularly, here are some tips for success when you do need to pick it up.
- 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!
- Keep handling sessions short at first.
- End handling sessions with the snake acting calm before putting it back.
- Wear welding gloves if you’re nervous about bites.
*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!
“Photo 62352327” by Bagus C. Hermawan licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0