This information in no way professes to share with the reader any more than the basic requirements for keeping a happy and healthy reptile at home.Keeping a reptile not only alive, but thriving, is relatively simple once you’re armed with the practical know-how. Reptiles’ lives are so completely different to our own that it can takesome initial adjustments to your thinking to understand exactly what your pet needs in order to flourish in its new home. Once you get your head around their basic needs and behaviours, reptiles can offer you an amazing insight to a world you otherwise would never have known existed.
Once regarded as a hobby on the fringe of society, reptile keeping has been steadily increasing over the past 25 years or so. In fact, reptiles are now among the most popular pet categories in the world. Since 1988, the hobby has gone from less than 1,000 keepers across Australia, to over 23,000 licensed keepers in NSW alone. The recent relaxing of outdated laws from the late 1980s has played a critical role in kick-starting a new wave of interest in the hobby.
Today, commercially available products assist pet owners with housing, heating, feeding and every other aspect of reptile care, making reptile keeping an easily accessible hobby for people of all ages and walks of life. The proliferation of reptile related information and discussion on the internet has allowed enthusiasts to share advice and experience, as well as buy and sell animals through thriving online communities. Keen owners can also explore their hobby more deeply through numerous magazines, newsletters and journals produced by herpetological societies. Reptile expos around the country regularly draw huge crowds, proving the surge in popularity that these amazing animals are gaining.
In many states now, pet shops are licensed to sell selected species. It seems that the wider world is finally coming to the realisation that reptiles make great pets! They make no noise, cost relatively little to feed and don’t cause allergies. As they need very little space in comparison to most traditional pets, they’re perfect for a society with a growing population of apartment dwellers. Snakes are the ultimate low maintenance pet, eating once every week or so.
Having said all that, the hobby in Australia might still be considered in its early days. Around one in 400 Australian households presently maintain a reptile as a pet, compared to an estimated one in 30 homes in the USA.
This information is designed to give you an insight into the unique traits of some of the most commonly kept snake species and how suitable they might be for your own home environment. Like many before you, your first python purchase might very well be just the beginning. Be warned: this hobby can become addictive!
Before you jump straight in and bring home your first reptile, there are some important factors you’ll need to take in to consideration.
Like all pets, a reptile should never be an impulse buy. Without preparation and commitment, the novelty factor may soon wear off, with the likely outcome being a neglected animal and a disappointed owner. Although most reptiles become tolerant of some form of handling, they are not affectionate animals and do not crave human contact.
A small proportion of beginners acquire their first reptile for the wrong reasons. No animal should be purchased for the sole purpose of impressing friends or providing someone with an unplanned, unsolicited gift. Using an animal as an attention-seeking prop or as a demonstration of bravado shows little regard for the animal’s welfare by the keeper and portrays the hobby in an exploitative light. Fortunately, the show-offs usually move on to other pursuits within a short time.
True reptile enthusiasts share a deep appreciation for the beauty of these unusual and often misunderstood creatures. Reptiles aren’t domesticated animals, and even the tamest pet snakes are simply adapting their wild behaviours to co-exist with a human caretaker. We believe the healthiest way to view reptile keeping is as a unique privilege, giving you a fascinating glimpse into a world completely unlike our own.
The trade and keeping of reptiles is heavily regulated on a state-by-state basis. In most instances, licenses must be applied for before a reptile can be legally obtained. The very first thing to do when considering acquiring a reptile is to familiarise yourself with the legal requirements in your state or territory. So, get online and do your research first before narrowing down your species shortlist – otherwise you may end up disappointed.
The expense incurred in the initial purchase of a python is only the beginning of the costs you’ll need to meet over the course of your reptile’s life. Remember, pet ownership should be regarded as a long-term commitment. Pythons are among the most long-lived pets, with some species having a lifespan of 20 to 30 years or more with the proper care.
The most considerable immediate cost is likely to be appropriate caging, which needs to be 100% ready upon the arrival of your new snake. Provision of food for your snake, lizard, turtle or frog also requires upfront planning.
There are now over a dozen commonly kept python and dozens of lizards species available to keepers in most Australian states. Which one you choose will come down a number of factors, including to the space and budget you have available for your enclosure, and how important interaction with your python is to you. Some pythons quickly get used to handling and make remarkably gentle family pets. Others are most appealing when displayed in an impressive enclosure, where they can be watched at close quarters without the need to handle them too much.
Some species, such as the green tree python, don’t enjoy, or really tolerate being handled at all. Think of it this way; if you wanted a bird to interact with, you’d buy a cockatiel or budgie rather than a finch, for example. These delicate little birds are wonderful pets if you’re content to simply watch them. Certain snakes are much the same. It’s important to understand what you want out of a snake, and then choose an appropriate species, rather than picking a snake based on appearance alone and then trying to make it bend to your expectations.
If you’ve chosen your species, and have all your licensing, feeding and housing requirements taken care of, you can move on to finding a licenced breeder or reputable pet store to supply you with your new pet snake.
It’s extremely important to allow your new snake to settle into its environment before any handling or other potentially stressful interaction is undertaken. Although captive pythons aren’t inherently aggressive towards people, they can be quite defensive when feeling threatened. Many will shy away or try to bite until they become more accustomed to a human presence.
If conditions are suitable, your reptile will adapt very quickly to its new surroundings. On the other hand, if this initial period is interrupted with bouts of handling or other factors leading to stress for the reptile, the settling in period can extend indefinitely. For a nervous, uncomfortable snake, each bad experience will compound the stress of being handled. As exciting as a new arrival can be, a keeper who respects the needs of the animal and resists the urge to handle it during the settling in period will be rewarded with a much more relaxed, easygoing snake in the long run.
It should be noted that it is possible for reptiles to pass diseases on to their keepers. Without adequate attention to hygiene, reptile keepers can put themselves and others at risk of infection from a range of protozoa and bacteria, including Salmonella. For this reason, it’s important to maintain a clean and tidy environment for your reptile. Promptly remove faeces and uneaten food from the enclosure. From time to time, you’ll need to clean and disinfect the enclosure itself. Always wash your hands thoroughly after every handling session, and avoid exposing very young children to any reptile.
You have several options when it comes to housing your reptile, depending on your budget and DIY skills. Indoor enclosures for lizards and snakes can be purchased readymade from online reptile retailers and pet shops, and can also be adapted from fish tanks, modified from furniture or built from standard building materials. Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’. Remember, how the enclosure looks is less important than how well it provides a safe, suitable and secure home for your reptile.
Before readymade reptile cages became widely available, fish tanks were a popular choice for many keepers. They can be suitable for many species, however, significant adjustments need to be made to turn an aquarium into a terrarium appropriate for land-loving reptiles. So, if you’re not prepared to do a bit of handiwork, fish tanks are probably not the preferred choice.
One of the positives of aquariums is that, provided you make a decent lid, they are relatively escape-proof. Snakes are world-class escape artists, so making sure your enclosure is as secure as possible should be a top priority. It doesn’t hurt to be a little paranoid when it comes to escape-proofing your reptile’s home. Online reptile forums are saturated with “help, my snake’s escaped!” posts, highlighting just how readily a snake will take advantage of a design flaw, or a carelessly left open lid. One of the negatives of aquariums is that it can be tricky to get them to hold enough heat, and they’re generally a little harder to clean and maintain than front-opening enclosures.
We’ll discuss heating in more detail later in this book, but if you are considering a converted fish tank your reptile, the easiest option for heating is using a standard light fitting attached to a pegboard lid with a reflector globe (and ideally a thermostat). Another simple option is the use of a low wattage heat mat under one-third of the tank. Both these methods ensure your snake can move away from the heat and maintain an appropriate body temperature without the risk of overheating.
Some of the most attractive enclosures are ones that a skilled and competent craftsman has built themselves. Skilled and competent are keywords here! It’s hard to overemphasise just how good snakes are at escaping through the tiniest of gaps.
If masking tape, cable ties, or putty are regularly used in your DIY projects, our best recommendation is; don’t try and build your own enclosure – have someone else do it for you.
To make things easier, some household furniture can be converted into cost-effective, and quite often very attractive enclosures. Commercially produced bookcases can be fitted with tracking for sliding glass doors. Installing necessities like heat mats, panels and globes is relatively straightforward. Solid, good looking cages can be made with TV cabinets. Even old televisions have been used to interesting effect by some more creative keepers. Provided they meet the three main criteria: escape-proof, adequately ventilated and effectively heated, there are endless creative ways to use recycled furniture or build an enclosure from scratch, using materials such as wood, melamine, glass and acrylic. Some great guides and designs are available online to help you get started.
One of the major benefits brought on by the growing popularity of reptile keeping in Australia has been the increasing availability of high quality, commercially produced reptile enclosures. These are by far the best way to go for the majority of keepers. The easiest thing to do is purchase a complete setup that already has heating installed, so all you need to do is take it home and plug it in, without having to worry about setting up and positioning the heat source correctly. Finding enclosures in a range of shapes and sizes is relatively easy, with many pet stores stocking popular brands or able to order them in for you. You can also find readymade and custom-designed enclosures from boutique builders online.
Some keepers look for second-hand enclosures through websites like eBay and Gumtree as a cheaper option. Be warned though, poorly kept enclosures can harbour serious and highly contagious diseases, so any second hand cage (or new one for that matter) should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before your new pet is introduced.
It’s quite logical to conclude that you should buy the biggest enclosure possible for your pet, providing all the room it will need to grow into in its lifetime. However, if you’re buying a hatchling or juvenile snake, this is in fact far from the best way to keep them housed. Too much space can cause a small snake to ‘freak out’ – meaning it can be overcome by fear and stress, will stop feeding and eventually die. In the wild, baby snakes face countless predators and spend as much time as possible hiding in a small, snug and secure place, so the best idea is to provide the same sort of environment at home. As a rule of thumb, a hatchling snake is best kept in an enclosure roughly half as wide as the snake is long, and around the same length of the snake’s body. An even smaller enclosure can be preferable for particularly nervous hatchlings. Once you’re confident your snake is well adjusted, comfortable and feeding well, you can introduce it to a larger enclosure.
Within Australia, some states offer guidelines on what they believe suitable cage sizes should be. NSW in particular has a code of practice for reptile keepers that implements mandatory, enforceable cage sizes which vary depending on species. To ensure you’re not breaking any laws, it’s advisable to check the rules in your state.
The substrate is the floor covering used in your reptile enclosure. The substrate you choose should be based not only on appearance, but on the species of snake you intend to keep and the amount of time you can dedicate to maintaining and replacing the substrate.
For a ‘naturalistic’ look, suitable floor substrates include coarse-grained river or beach sand with a top layer of bark or leaf litter. The bark of eucalyptus and angophora trees are an excellent choice for small, secretive snakes, offering plenty of cover for them to hide beneath. Some keepers prefer the easy sanitation and simplicity offered by newspaper, with or without a layer of leaf-litter or bark on top. Keepers with large numbers of enclosures often choose ‘bedding’ materials such as recycled newspaper pellets (Breeders’ Choice cat litter is one example) or non-aromatic wood pulp, such as imported aspen pet bedding. If you’re keeping small lizards, stay away from aquarium gravel, as there have been reported cases of them ingesting large amounts of the tiny stones, leading to intestinal blockage and death. Whatever substrate you choose, it must be kept dry, free of faeces and uneaten food and occasionally replaced.
For a newly acquired hatchling in temporary housing, we recommend simply lining the enclosure floor with paper towel straight from the kitchen.
An enclosure can be decorated to replicate your reptile’s natural environment and to make it an attractive addition to any room. You can furnish an enclosure with variety of commercially made terrarium ornaments, or using natural materials and plants. If your snake normally lives in rock crevices, you might like to create a miniature rock outcrop within the cage, though it must be very stable to avoid a rock fall potentially injuring your snake. If your enclosure is too crammed with decorations, removing your snake will be difficult, if not dangerous. If you do prefer a more elaborately styled enclosure, we recommend using fake, lightweight rocks or a moulded rock background.
Tree climbing species can be accommodated by the inclusion of suitable branches. A desert scene,or perhaps a miniature rainforest setting can be constructed by including appropriate natural materials and plants. Potted plants can be added to a terrarium, but work best when they are rotated regularly. Remove plants before watering them, to avoid adding excessive moisture to the terrarium. Freshly cut branches, replaced when needed, are generally a better option than live plants. With a bit of thought, foresight, and experimentation, you can come up with a natural arrangement that not only looks fantastic, but is well received by the terrarium occupants.
A water dish, regularly topped up with fresh water should also be provided within the enclosure. The dish should be heavy enough so that it isn’t easily tipped over (ceramic crock dishes work well). Clean and disinfect your snake’s water dish periodically.
Most snakes require a dark, secure place to rest when inactive, or to escape any perceived danger. In nature, snakes tend to find refuge in burrows, hollow logs, branches and rock crevices. In captivity, a range of simple alternatives can suffice.
A hide box can be made from discarded cardboard boxes, wooden bird breeding boxes, cut lengths of plastic pipe or a range of other materials, provided there are no sharp edges or any possibility of the hide collapsing. Bird boxes are a great choice, as they can be waterproofed inside, and provide easy access since their tops are either hinged or removable. If you plan to house multiple reptiles in one enclosure, make sure that the hide’s access is sufficiently large so that animals already inside don’t become trapped by another individual entering the hide. Hides for hatchlings can be provided in the form of cardboard toilet rolls or simply folded up newspaper.
Whatever hide features you decide on, it’s important that you can still easily access the reptile inside. For this reason, long and narrow hides such hollow logs are impractical.
People often assume that snakes need to be kept in a constantly very warm or hot environment – they are ‘cold blooded’ after all. In reality, this isn’t exactly true. Reptiles don’t have cold blood per se. They are grouped into a category of animals called ectotherms, which means they have no internal control over their body temperature. Instead, their body temperature is dictated by their outside environment. If their surroundings are cold, they are cold, and when it’s hot, so are they.
A snake whose environment is too cold will go into a sort of semi-hibernation. Not enough heat causes their bodies to slow down. They become lethargic and will refuse food. Worse still, since snakes need warmth to be able to digest food, any meal still sitting in the snake’s stomach will begin to rot if it’s not regurgitated.
Snakes kept too cool over a prolonged period will normally contract a respiratory infection and become more susceptible to a range of ailments. Death is normally the result of a secondary issue contracted from an overly cold environment, rather than purely from being too cold. The exception to this rule is in the provision of a winter ‘cooling down’ period required to bring some species into breeding condition. This is a whole other matter for advanced keepers, and beyond the scope of this book.
A snake kept too hot will deteriorate and die very quickly. With no ability to cool themselves, they’re totally unable to tolerate prolonged periods at temperatures beyond the high 30s. A hot spot for basking at these temperatures is fine, provided the enclosure has a decreasing temperature range, allowing the snake to move out of the hot spot and into a cooler area as needed.
Faulty, or incorrectly used thermostats can cause a terrarium to overheat to the point that the inhabitant is unable to retreat to a cool enough part of the enclosure, and death quickly ensues. The chance of this occurring is much higher when using ceramic heat emitters or high wattage reflector globes. In addition, both of these heating types can easily cause burns to a snake rubbing against them. For this reason, it’s essential to surround the heat source with a commercially available wire cage that prevents the reptile making direct contact.
To ensure the correct temperature is maintained, an infrared temperature gun should be a mandatory piece of equipment for every reptile owner. These allow you to simply point at a particular place in the cage, or for arboreal species, directly onto the animal to obtain an accurate temperature reading.
The heating options outlined below are generally regarded as suitable for snakes, and pythons in particular. Lizards have slightly different requirements, which we’ll discuss briefly in the species profiles later in this book.
These are the most common commercially available heating products for reptile enclosures.
The vast majority of problems that novice reptile owners are faced with are the result of keeping their pet too hot, or too cold. Don’t rely solely on a thermostat on the wall of the enclosure. Invest in a temp gun, which can give you an accurate temperature reading of any part of the enclosure, or even off that snake itself. Your snake won’t be conveniently sitting near the thermometer all the time, so it’s important to know how the temperature is spread out across the entire enclosure.
To keep most native pythons healthy and comfortable, you should aim for an enclosure that’s roughly 28 degrees at the cooler end, and around 34 degrees in the hot spot. Read up on the specific care of the species you intend to keep, as some species (lizards in particular) have slightly varying requirements.
A reptile’s willingness to feed is usually a pretty good indication that it’s settling in and starting to feel comfortable in its surroundings. The natural stress associated with moving into a new home can cause a reptile to lose all interest in food. It’s important to remember if a new snake doesn’t feed straight away, this isn’t necessarily indicative of an ongoing problem. It’s likely that your snake just needs more time to settle in.
Some general advice to be aware of before you attempt to feed a new reptile:
All snakes are predators, and most eat other vertebrate animals. In the wild, pythons suffocate their prey by constriction and then swallow their food whole. Snakes have the remarkable ability to manage surprisingly sizeable meals, due in part to the extreme elasticity of the entire digestive tract. A snake’s skull and lower jaws are modified specifically for the task of stretching around a large prey item.
As captive snakes are also fed with whole animals (skin, fur, bones and all), they are able to obtain all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need from an appropriate diet, and don’t need any sort of vitamin supplementation. From a nutritional standpoint, it probably makes little difference what sort of vertebrate animals are eaten. The vast majority of Australian keepers feed their pythons rodents, as they are easily available and come in a range of sizes to suit the smallest hatchling up to the heftiest adult pythons.
Every potential prey species has its own unique odour, some more enticing to individual snakes than others. You may find that a young snake that steadfastly refuses to take a pink mouse will eat a pink rat, or perhaps a mouse with just a bit more size.
WARNING–Feeding live animals to snakes is not recommended and is illegal in some states. Never leave a live adult rodent unattended with any snake. Countless captive snakes have been badly bitten and killed by bites from mice and rats.
Snakes periodically slough (shed) the top layer of their skin following the production of a new layer underneath it. Younger individuals slough more often, and the more rapidly the reptile grows, the more frequently it will slough.
During the beginning of the sloughing period, you might notice your reptile’s colour starting to darken and lose its sheen. This condition lasts a few days to about a week and is brought about by the production of the new epidermis (skin layer) beneath the old. Once this stage is complete, an oily substance is secreted between the new and old layers of skin, freeing and separating the old skin.
During this time, the skin takes on a milky appearance, which is particularly noticeable over the eyes. During this `opaque’ or ‘blue’ condition, reptiles should not be handled or otherwise disturbed because the skin is particularly vulnerable to damage.In a few days, this milky appearance will disappear and the snake will be ready to slough. A snake begins the process by rubbing its snout against a rock or another hard object to start splitting the skin. The old skin is peeled back in one piece, starting at the head and finishing at the tail, turning the cast-off skin inside out in much the same way a stocking is removed from a foot.
Occasionally, captive snakes develop problems during the sloughing process, and may require some help to ensure they shed successfully. If a week to 10 days has passed following the conclusion of the `opaque’ stage, and the reptile has failed to slough its skin, it’s time to intervene by submerging the animal in water, effectively softening and loosening the old skin. To do this, place the reptile in a sealable, water-tight container such as a clean plastic rubbish bin with a fastenable lid. Add lukewarm water to a level that just submerges the snake’s body. Your snake will hold its head above the water to breathe, so you don’t need to worry about the animal drowning. You may find after an hour or so that the problem skin is beginning to come loose of its own accord, and if you return the snake to its cage it will complete the job itself. If, on the other hand, after several hours of soaking, the skin still shows no sign of loosening, try gently rubbing it loose. Don’t force it if it doesn’t loosen fairly readily. Begin with the skin on the snake’s snout and chin, rubbing it in the direction of its tail to encourage the start of the peeling process. If you are very careful, and the skin easily peels, you can work the skin backwards to say, a few centimetres past the head, which should prompt the snake to finish the sloughing process once returned to its cage.
A word of warning should be made regarding the forced removal of unshed skin from a snake’s eye. The transparent skin that protects the eye in its ever-open condition is called the `spectacle’. If the old spectacle doesn’t fall away easily, trying to remove it could damage the eye permanently by accidentally forcing the new one off with it. In any event, the old spectacle will most probably be removed with the next sloughing cycle, and presents no immediate health problem to the snake.
There are really only two reasons why you’ll ever be on the receiving end of a bite from your pet snake. Either the snake is biting out of self-defence, or the bite is triggered by an instinctive feeding response.
A python’s feeding response is largely reflexive. They often hunt in total darkness, using smell as a primary means of tracking down prey, so it makes sense that they will occasionally bite things that smell, but don’t necessarily look like food. When a snake gives a feeding bite, the aim is to hang on tight and constrict the would-be prey item to death.
When the smell of freshly thawed rodents is in the air, you will often notice the behaviour of your snake change. No longer will they be laidback and half asleep.
They will usually become alert and active, flicking their tongues rapidly and trying to locate the source of the smell. When your snake starts to display this behaviour, no attempt should be made to handle it. A sudden movement or the slightest touch might trigger a bite. A feeding bite is simply a case of mistaken identity and not an attempt to harm you. Your python may still be an otherwise docile family pet, but meal time is the one time where a snake’s ordinarily peace-loving nature can change in an instant!
If you do end up on the receiving end of a feed bite (fingers are the most common targets), the snake might attempt to coil around your hand or arm, or more of your body in the case of a very large snake. To remove a snake when this happens can take some persuading. You need to let the snake know it’s made a mistake and you’re not dinner!
Some owners keep a squirter bottle filled with diluted methylated spirits nearby for disinfecting cages. A quick squirt of metho in the snake’s mouth will generally cause it to let go. If a tap is close by, a pretty reliable method is to put the snake’s head under running water.No attempt should be made to rip the snake off with your hands. This can hurt the snake and may result in teeth breaking off and being left embedded at the bite site. If you do find your python has left a few teeth behind, they are easily removed with a pair of tweezers. Generally, it’s best not to handle the snake for a few days after feeding. This will ensure the snake remains calm and can go about the job of digesting a meal that is often around a third of its total body weight.
The second type of bite is what’s known as a defensive bite, occurring when the snake is feeling threatened in some way. A baby snake has plenty of enemies, so when feeling exposed and faced with potential danger, their instinct is to adopt a defensive posture, and if need be, strike out. With a regimen of regular, gentle handling, with most snakes, defensive bites normally become extremely rare.
How the snake is removed from its enclosure will often determine its mood during that handling period. Naturalistic cage setups look great, but can sometimes make removing the snake difficult. Arboreal (climbing) species will often coil around branches in the cage and the inexperienced keeper can often spend several frustrating minutes trying to get a coiled snake off a branch. Needless to say this can put an otherwise docile snake in a bad mood, and a bite will sometimes follow. Care should also be taken with terrestrial snakes (species that live on the ground) to ensure that no rocks or other heavy objects are dropped on the snake while removing them.
With the exception of perhaps a few particularly nervous species of snake, being bitten is quite rare once you have gotten to know your snake, and in most cases the actual bite is never quite as bad the anticipation of getting one. Most keepers are bitten when their snakes are still hatchlings, and the bite is more or less pain free. Do take into account that if a snake were to bite two people in close succession, there is a possibility that blood, and blood-borne diseases could be transferred from one person to the other.
The scientific name for this genus of pythons is Antaresia. Five distinct species are now identified within the ‘Ant’ complex, the most recent edition being the pygmy banded python, which was only recognised as a new species in 2013.
It wasn’t until 1984 that this group of ground dwelling pythons was split into the various species we know today. Previously, they had all been lumped together as one species, the Children’s python, with several regional variants. Many still refer to the group collectively as Children’s pythons.
This genus includes the smallest pythons in the world. The demure, secretive pygmy python only reaches an average length of 50cm, while the largest species in the group, the spotted python, can eventually attain lengths of up to 1.5m – still quite modest in python terms.
These little snakes thrive in many different types of habitat, and because of this adaptability they do exceptionally well in captivity. In the wild, Antaresia pythons feed mostly on lizards when young, moving up to small mammals as adults. Because of their small size and docile nature, pythons from this group make a terrific choice for the first time keeper. Given the proper care they can live for 15 to 20 years in captivity.
As newborns, these pythons typically average only 20cm in length. Like many species of snake, hatchling Antsusually go through an initial phase of being highly defensive and wary of being handled. They may musk (give off an offensive odour) and defecate or attempt to bite in response to what they perceive as a potential threat. However, with patience and a gentle approach, most Antaresias quickly grow out of this rather unpleasant phase. Normally, most adults are mild mannered snakes that are reluctant to bite and don’t seem to mind being handled. Always remember though that even a normally docile snake may react defensively when startled, or become a little more feisty than usual when food is around!
Antaresias are primary ground-dwellers and aren’t particularly known for their climbing abilities. They prefer to spend most of their time in rocky outcrops, burrows, termite mounds and fallen trees. If your preference is for a naturalistic setup, commercially produced fake rock backdrops with crevices for your snake to explore and shelter in may encourage more natural behaviour compared to branches.
A hide-box allowing the snake to retreat from view is essential for your Antaresia setup. The small size of these pythons gives you a wide range of options for making your own hide boxes – inverted flowerpots are a good example
Although all snakes have their own personalities, Antaresiasin general tend to be on the shy side, and don’t display as well within their enclosure as well as more active species like the carpet pythons. However, once out of the cage, their easy-to-handle size and gentle nature make them perfect for new reptile owners, especially younger keepers.
Temp: 28°at the cool end, to 35° on the heat source
Cage size: L600xW450xH350
Feeding: 1-2 mice every 7 days
Average 10 eggs per clutch
‘Stimmies’ are hands-down the most attractive species in the genus Antaresia. This small, robust python is easily distinguished from the others in the group by its mostly pale background colour and large red blotches. Stimson’s pythons are perhaps the most docile member of the group, making them fantastic pets for everyone from the beginner to the serious collector.
These guys don’t like to bask out in the open, but prefer to squeeze themselves away in a tight warm space. Caging for them is easy to setup, as all they really need is an enclosure with a hide at the warm end, another at the cool end, and a water bowl.
Snake Ranch specialises in Stimson’s pythons from WA. Our established breeding groups originate from various Western Australian locales which all produce their own distinctive colouration and patterning. We also have a large breeding group of spectacularly coloured Stimson’s pythons from the Wheatbelt district east of Perth.
As a desert species, Stimmies spend most of their time deep in rock crevices or in burrows, emerging at night to feed on lizards and small mammals. Many pet stores now offer a selection of accessories from fake rocks to moulded backdrops which make perfect ornaments in a Stimmie enclosure. A naturalistic setup featuring red soil and rocks can make a stunning addition to any home. Particularly if the snake’s primary carer is a younger person, the lighter, safer, option of fake rocks is advisable.
Size: to 100cm
Temp: 28°, to 35° on the heat source
Cage size: L600xH350xW450
Feeding: 1-2 mice every 7 days
10 eggs per clutch
One of the most popular python species for beginner keepers, the Children’s python was so named not because it is particularly suited to kids, but after the English naturalist J.G. Children. As it turns out though, these gentle little snakes actually do make great pets for young keepers.
Children’s pythons inhabit tropical and desert regions across northern WA, Queensland and the Northern Territory. They are particularly variable in colour and pattern and Snake Ranch has successfully bred a range of colour morphs, from boldly patterned individuals to animals that have no pattern at all as adults. They can be fussy feeders as hatchlings, so it’s important to ensure your snake is feeding well before too much handling. As adults, they are generally docile and very relaxed around people, however young animals can be a bit snappy if they feel threatened. These snakes can be very personable and make good natured, easy to care for family pets.
Temp: 27°, to 38° on the heat source
Cage size: L600xH350xW450
Feeding: 1-2 mice every 10 days
Found only in Western Australia, the pygmy python is the world’s smallest species of python, and certainly one of the most beautiful. The pygmy python has only recently become well established in captivity, partially due to its remote range of habitation; the Pilbara region and adjacent districts of northern WA, where it appears to prefer rocky territory. By day it resides in rock crevices and within large termite mounds, presumably feeding upon the geckos that reside within the mounds in surprising numbers, attracted to the endless supply of termites within.
Pygmies are hardy little species and do very well in captivity once they become established feeders. They don’t tend to be as active as other Antaresia pythons, so may not be what everyone is looking for, however their striking orange colouration and unique habits have made these little guys very popular among enthusiasts.
Length: Up to 150cm
Temp: 26°, to 35° on the heat source
Cage size: L600xH350xW450
Feeding: 1-2 mice every 7 days
The spotted python, Anteresia maculosa (simply referred to as the ‘Mac’) is the largest and best known of the Children’s python group. A healthy, well fed Mac can eventually reach a length of about 1.5m, but animals around the 1m mark are more typical. Most Macs are amenable to handling and rarely present any keeping problems when properly cared for. Juvenile spotted pythons can be on the snappy side and can take a little longer to adjust to handling than other Antaresias. Still, in most cases they grow out of their nervous habits and with a bit of patience, make an ideal first snake for just about anyone.
Once they reach maturity, Macs are eager feeders and are among the easiest species to breed.
Snake Ranch achieved a world first by producing albinos of this species. With a mix of lavenders, whites, burnt oranges and golds, young spotted pythons have proven to be remarkably variable in their colours and patterns. As they are still quite rare, demand for albino animals is very high, and the young currently command considerable prices.
Medium Sized Pythons
Medium sized pythons are among the most popular pets with native reptile keepers. They include Australia’s best known pythons, the carpet snakes, and their size makes them impressive animals to display and handle, without becoming too much of a handful.
Choosing one of Australia’s many medium sized pythons offers something that neither the small Antaresias or the heftier snake species can offer – the chance to keep an arboreal (tree climbing) species. Arboreal snakes display beautifully in large naturalistic enclosures. Both the spectacular green python and the unusual rough scaled python are medium sized species that spend the vast majority of their lives off the ground. Not only does keeping an arboreal species allow for some interesting cage designs, it also gives keepers the chance to observe a completely unique set of behaviours.
The classic image of a python in the Australian bush is of a snake draped across a branch. Although carpet pythons are not strictly arboreal, they will often spend a good part of their time climbing or basking higher up. Once they are relaxed in their new enclosure, you’ll often see them winding their way through the branches in the early evening, so cages in living rooms give the owner the opportunity to observe this behaviour at close quarters.
The larger the snake, the stronger the snake, so care must be taken to ensure that that caging, particularly wire or mesh lids, are sturdy and secure. Many a keeper has underestimated the strength of a determined snake, with the end result being an empty cage, and many frantic hours of searching for the escapee.
When displaying arboreal species, care must be taken to ensure that all branches are securely fixed in place. A log or branch falling can injure the snake or do damage to the enclosure. Branches can be held in place with the use of O type hooks, screwed into the branch and securely hooked onto the wall of the enclosure. Cable ties can also be used to hold branches and other climbing ornaments in place.
Length: Normally around 150cm, but specimens over 2m are known.
Temp: 28°, to 36° on the heat source
Cage size: L1200xW600xH500
Feeding: 1 rat every 7 days
With their handsome colours and outgoing personalities, womas make wonderful pets and are a real favourite among the Snake Ranch team. They are a joy to keep and seem to have a bit more character than many other species. Womas grow quickly in captivity and their care is relatively straightforward.
Nothing about keeping Womas is easier than feeding them. These pythons are well known for their hearty appetites, and for most keepers, the real problem is the potential to overfeed them. Our adult womas eat a medium rat once a week. Most womas will happily eat more often, but it’s important to stick to a regular feeding schedule to make sure they don’t end up overweight.
Womas are fine pets for beginners but their enthusiasm at feeding time can make misplaced feeding bites a possibility. Take care when first removing a woma from it’s cage. Womas are always hunting and ready to investigate a potential food source, so by reaching quickly into a cage, your hands can be mistaken for the movement of prey, with the result being a bite. Once out of the cage, most womas are extremely docile.
Womas have always been amongst Australia’s most desirable species, and their popularity is continuing to increase as new colours and patterns become available. Our black woma project is one we a very excited about. If it proves to be a viable trait, we’re certain this will be one of the most highly sought after morphs in the hobby’s history.
Length: Normally around 200cm, but specimens over 2.5m are known.
Temp: 28°, to 36° on the heat source
Cage size: L1200xW600xH500
Feeding: 1 rat every 7 days
The Centralian python is found in the arid regions of inland Australia. This python’s beautiful brown to bright orange colouration blends in perfectly with its red rock desert habitat. Described by well-known herpetologist Graeme Gow in 1981, the species was named after his friend and fellow herpetologist Joe Bredl.
Bredl’s are one of the larger species within the carpet python complex, reaching lengths in excess of 2.5m, though its often the girth of these gentle giants that make them so impressive. Fortunately, Bredl’s are very well-mannered in captivity and exceptionally easy to keep. In fact, these undemanding pythons are just about the ideal choice for a beginner wanting to keep one of the carpet python group. While hatchlings can be a little touchy, it’s a rare Bredl that isn’t settled in happily by the time it’s a year old.
A hypomelanistic colour variety of this species is now readily available. This gene removes most of the black coloration, creating a spectacular bright red and cream snake.
Jungle Carpet Pythons
Length: Up to 2.5m, but normally around 2m
Temp: 27°, to 35° under the heat source
Cage size: L1200x W650x H600
Feeding: 1 medium rat every 7-10 days
Experience: Some prior experience is advisable
Jungle carpets are often thought of as the most striking of all the pythons. Animals with high contrasting black and bright yellow are highly sought-after, and for good reason. Jungles do tend to start off a little snappier than other species, but most calm down at around a year of age. Don’t be tempted to handle a young jungle too much in order to ‘tame’ it. Rather, just let the snake learn over time that you don’t want to eat it, and it will eventually stop thinking of you as threat.
These rainforest dwellers have semi-arboreal tendencies, making them a good choice for those wanting an eye catching python to display in an attractive enclosure, rather than an animal to get out and hold. Jungle pythons are one of the better choices for first time keepers of arboreal species. Like other carpet pythons, they are generally very hardy in captivity, with a far less demanding set of care requirements than the green python.
Length: Up to 2m
Temp: 28°, to 35° under the heat source
Cage size: 1200x450x900
Feeding: 1 medium rat every 7-10 days
Darwins can vary in colour significantly from animal to animal, with some of the lighter coloured examples being among our most beautiful snakes. Their semi-arboreal habits make them a great species for display, and because they require no special treatment for their care, they make an excellent choice for keepers of all experience levels.
About 20 years ago, it was the Darwin carpet python that first gifted the hobby in Australia with an albino python. Blondie, as he came to be known, was found in a caravan park on the outskirts of Darwin as a hatchling. He spent his first seven years at a wildlife park, before moving to Adelaide to commence Australia’s first albino python breeding program. Today Blondie’s descendants are common within the hobby, and these stunning pythons are the most readily available albinos on the market.
The other notable star among the Darwins is Black Princess, a melanistic, or jet black snake. Snake Ranch are the custodians of the Princess and all her offspring. The breeding project is still in its early stages, and it will be several years before this colour morph becomes readily available.
Length: Up to 2m
Temp: 28°, to 35° under the heat source
Cage size: 1200x450x900
Feeding: 1 medium rat every 7-10 days
Just about every reptile fan wants a green python, and many would love to have one of these tropical beauties as their first pet. In fact, it’s often the first glimpse of a vividly coloured green tree python that prompts people to consider keeping a snake in the first place.
Having said that, green pythons are definitely not for the novice keeper. They are sensitive to their environment, and need the rainforest conditions of their native Cape York and Papua New Guinea recreated in captivity in order to thrive. Green pythons require high humidity, which means misting the enclosure on a daily basis. They are also shy, somewhat nervous animals that prefer minimal handling and other disturbances.
The use of an infrared thermometer or temp gun is recommended for all arboreal species, and the green python in particular. A temp gun allows you to simply point the sensor at the snake and get an accurate reading of its body temperature, making it much easier to ensure the snake is comfortably warm, and that a suitable temperature range has been provided across the entire enclosure.
One amazing feature of green pythons which is shared by their Latin American cousins, the emerald tree boas, is the ontogenetic colour change they experience. Although these two species are found on opposite sides of the world, the fact that they experience exactly the same colour changing process is a wonderful example of convergent evolution. The young of both species are a bright banana yellow, or rich crimson red at birth. As they age, the yellow pythons gradually turn more green with each shed. Some juveniles reach their final green phase very rapidly, while other can take several months to complete the process. Interestingly, babies who are born red will first turn yellow before turning green.
Temp: 28°, to 35° under the heat source
Cage size: L1200xW600xH600
Feeding: 1 rat every 7 days
Experience: Prior experience preferred.
‘Roughies’ are relatively rare in the wild. They haven’t been kept in captivity for as long as other native python species and have only recently become available at an affordable price. They have a number of traits that make them markedly different from other Australian pythons, and are considered quite special by many reptile enthusiasts.
In addition to having keeled scales – which no other python species has, Roughies have forward-directed eyes, presumably to allow clear binocular vision when scanning their environment or focusing on prey. This gives them something of a ‘goofy’ appearance, as they seem to stare at their keepers with perpetually confused interest. The rough scaled python also has the longest teeth of any python species, so extra care must be taken to avoid copping a bite from an annoyed or hungry roughie.
The rough-scaled python shares a very close biological kinship with the green python. These two species are the most arboreal species of pythons, preferring to spend the vast majority their time off the ground in trees. A tall enclosure with plenty of branches makes a great home for a rough-scaled python and a stunning exhibit.
Unlike green pythons, roughies are among the easiest pythons to care for and don’t require high humidity levels. They breed very readily and are rapidly becoming one of the most popular of the mediumsized python species in the hobby.
Temp: 26°. to 33° under the heat source
Cage size: L 1200x W450x H900
Feeding: 1 adult rat every 7-10 days
Experience: Prior experience preferred.
A common sight in the bushlands and backyards of coastal NSW, the stunning diamond python is one of Australia’s most iconic snake species. Their olive green background colour and yellow blotching can vary from large rosettes to a sprinkling of yellow right across the body.
As a semi-arboreal species, diamonds are best kept in a cage furnished with at least a few sturdy branches to climb on. It’s also a good idea to offer hides higher up in the enclosure as well as on the ground. Bird breeding boxes make great arboreal hides, as their removable lids make it easy to access the animal nestled inside.
Diamonds are a southern subspecies of the coastal carpet pythons, and as such should be kept slightly cooler than their northern cousins. Generally, they are a docile snake that does very well in captivity. Many long-term captives suffer from Diamond Python Syndrome, or DPS. This affliction causes a loss of muscle tone and eventually leads to the snake’s death. Initially, DPS was thought to be due to a lack of UV light, but we now know that prolonged periods at overly high temperatures are to blame.
A vibrantly coloured diamond is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful pythons. The northern rainforest diamond is a distinctive colour variation found towards the northern extreme of their range where they start to cross over with the coastal carpet python.
The pythons described in the following pages can make great pets, but are best left to the more experienced keeper. Dealing with large snakes can be difficult for beginners and quite intimidating for people who lack experience with handling snakes. Safely handling a large, powerful reptile requires intense care, attention and strength.
Big snakes are remarkably strong, and have been known to physically break out of poorly built enclosures. Hinged doors with secure latches at the top and bottom are recommended for large pythons. Sliding doors are often chosen for their more attractive design, but care must be taken that to ensure that the snake isn’t able to pop the door out by simply pushing against it. This is more likely to occur in a narrow enclosure, as the snake will use the rear wall of the cage to push against.
Handling any of the larger species should always be done under another person’s watch, especially if you don’t have a great deal of experience with large snakes, or you don’t know the snake in question. Individual snakes do have differing personalities and having experience with one animal doesn’t necessarily give you an indication on how others of that species will behave.
Temp: 28°, to 36° under the heat source
Cage size: L1200xW600xH600
Feeding: 1 adult rat every 10 days.
Before you decide on a black headed python, know what you’re getting in for – these animals can vary quite considerably in size depending on their origins. Black Headed’s from Queensland can get particularly enormous. One of the biggest snakes we’ve ever had at Snake Ranch was a monster Queensland BHP who tipped the scales at over 10kg. Animals from WA on the other hand are much smaller, but still attain lengths of around 2m. What the western BHPs lack in size they more than make up for in looks. Specimens from the Pilbara region are particularly spectacular.
The black headed python is closely related to the woma and shares many of the same characteristics. Compared to the woma however, they’re not quite as even-tempered and will sometimes hiss and strike when disturbed inside their enclosure. However, they seem to prefer posturing to actually biting, and once gently removed from their enclosures, they are usually excellent handlers.
With their arresting appearance making them one of the most popular large pythons, BHPs make a stunning addition to any collection but are probably not the ideal choice as a first snake.
Temp: 28°. to36° under the heat source
Cage size: L1200xW800xH800
Feeding: 1 adult rat every 7 days.
The coastal carpet python is a well-known species to many Australians andis a common snake within its range. This species seems to have adapted to a life in urban areas more readily than most – quite an achievement for an animal that can attain such a large size. Carpet pythons who find their way on to properties are often tolerated, if not appreciated as a natural means of rodent control, and they can frequently be found inside roofs or hanging around barns, chicken sheds and aviaries.
Coastal carpets are a hardy species able to survive in a range of different habitats. They are generally an arboreal species, spending much of the time off the ground in trees and fallen logs.
Coastal carpets can be snappier than many other species of carpets, not only as young, but as adults as well. A grumpy 3m carpet is a difficult snake to handle for an experienced keeper, let alone a first timer. Most coastals will eventually settle down but it comes down to a combination of patience and luck. Some coastals are particularly beautiful, but in general, these guys tend to be more on the dull side than other members of the carpet python group.
Temp: 28° to 36° under the heat source
Cage size: L1800xW900xH600
Feeding: 2 rats every 10 days.
Many long term keepers rate olives among their absolute favourite species, including Wayne Adcock, Head Keeper at Snake Ranch. An adult olive python is a large, powerful snake, and definitely not recommended for beginners or young keepers.
Olive pythons are BIG snakes – regularly reaching the three meter mark, with rare individuals eclipsing four metres in length. On top of this, olives are renowned for their aggressive, something borderline psychopathic feeding response, making feeding time a job for only the most careful and confident keeper. Make no mistake, olives quickly learn to associate the opening of their enclosure with food, and they are always hungry! Olives need to be awakened with care, and the use of a snake hook to initiate handling is recommended.
In the hands of an experienced and capable owner who can work around these tendencies, the olive python is a very attractive species with a lot of character. Out of the enclosure, olives are usually gentle giants who are quite content to be handled, and their active, inquisitive nature makes them surprisingly amenable and well-adjusted pets.
Over the past decade, Snake Ranch has been working on a line of albino olive pythons. These big beauties are one of the most spectacular looking snakes on the planet, with a uniform ivory colour all over. The first albino olives offered for sale were fetching prices of over $25,000 per animal. Today you can expect to pay around $5000 for a healthy albino hatchling
Lizards can make great pets and are a popular choice for people just getting started with reptiles. However, different lizard species can have hugely different care requirements, so you’ll need to do some thorough research before you decide which species is best for you.
As this booklet is devoted mainly to the care of pythons, guidelines for the proper care of individual lizard species will require more space than is available here. Our only aim here is to point out the common sense basics that are sometimes overlooked by the first time keeper.
The most important thing to consider when contemplating getting a pet lizardis your ability to provide the proper care needed throughout the animal’s lifetime. In the next few pages we’ll outline the basic requirements for the two most commonly kept lizards Australia, the blue tongue skink and the bearded dragon group.
To really understand how to keep a lizard happy and healthy in captivity, it’s important have some knowledge about how they live out in the wild. There are several great books on Australian lizard keeping available, and anyone with a keen interest should refer to the recommended reading section at the back of this book.
Lizards live in almost all Australian climates and habitats, so unsurprisingly, their preferred temperature range varies considerably from species to species. It’s vitally important to research the requirements of your chosen species prior to obtaining an animal.
Your lizard will require 10 to 14 hours a day of ultraviolet B (UVB) light from a commercially bought lamp. In nature, lizards soak up ultraviolet rays from the sun. It’s essential for maintaining a lizard’s bone and organ health, and without enough of it, they will eventually die. Inadequate UVB exposure leads to a severe condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease, which hinders the reptile’s ability to absorb calcium and in turn causes dangerously brittle bones. It’s absolutely vital to change your UVB lamp every 6 to 8 months – after this time the light stops producing adequate UVB.
Baby bearded dragons and blue tongue skinks can be kept in a 50x25cm cage, but they grow quickly and will soon need larger housing.
Adult blue tongues should be kept in a cage that is at least 80 x 45cm. You should also provide some type of hiding place to help your skink feel more secure. Bearded dragons are more active and an adult will need a 90 x 60cm enclosure at minimum, with a little more room recommended if you plan to keep a pair.
Mulch is a good bet for both blue tongues and beardies. Blueys in particular like to dig, so the mulch should be deep enough to allow your lizard to burrow and bury itself. Cages that are too dry can cause dehydration and shedding problems. When your lizard is close to shedding we recommend lightly misting the cage with water once a day to increase humidity. Extra care must be taken to check for retained skin around the lizard’s toes, as failure to remove this will often result in the toes being constricted by the dead skin and the toes falling off – not necessarily a fatal condition but certainly not a very attractive one!
Captive lizards also require a calcium and vitamin supplement in their diet. These supplements work together with the UVB light to maintain healthy growth. Juvenile lizards should be given supplements every day, while once or twice a week is usually sufficient for adults. Calcium for lizards is sold in powder form and is sprinkled on the crickets, fruits and vegetables that make up your lizard’s diet. Apply a very light dusting to each item to avoid turning the lizard off its food.
Both blue tongues and bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they eat both animal and plant matter. In captivity they will eat baby mice and crickets available from pet stores, snails, hard-boiled eggs, apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes, berries, dandelion greens, hibiscus leaves and flowers and a range of vegetables including spinach, green beans and zucchini. Some lizards are also partial to dog food. A varied diet, with four to five feeds per week is ideal, and will help to ensure proper growth and health.
Temp: 28°, to 35° under the heat source
Cage size: L800xW600xH600
Feeding: Every 2 days
In many parts of Australia,‘Blueys’ are beloved garden visitors and a part of the suburban landscape. Blueys do a fine job as pest exterminators, munching on slugs, snails, spiders and other less welcome wildlife. Sadly, backyard blueys often end up at the mercy of domestic cats and dogs.
The blue tongue skink is a hardy lizard that has adapted to almost every environment across the country. A variety of blue tongue species are now available in captivity, including the eastern or common blue tongue, and the western, northern and Centralian species. Also popular is the blotched blue tongue from the alpine regions, where they have been seen basking on sunny winter days when snow is still on the ground.
Blueys react to potential predators with a particularly impressive threat display. With their mouths wide open, they flash that bright blue tongue and expel a load of air, making a loud hissing sound. Captive bred blueys are generally very docile and rarely bite, however wild specimens can and do inflict bites on would-be handlers. Like all Australian lizards, blueys are non-venomous, however their strong jaws are designed from crunching through snail shells and can inflict a painful bite. Once they latch on, convincing them to let go can be a difficult process.
Blue tongues eat a variety of plants, fruits, insects and other small animals. Feed your lizard three to five times a week, with about seven bite sized pieces of food each time. A diet consisting roughly of 50/50 plant and animal matter will provide a healthy mix for your lizard. A weekly dusting of the food with calcium powder and a reptile vitamin and mineral supplement is advisable. Your lizard’s water dish should regularly be topped up with fresh water.
Make sure your bluetongue is exposed to around 12 hours of UVB light per day. This is essential in order for them to synthesise vitamin D and properly metabolise calcium. Blueys are ground dwellers and burrowers who enjoy getting into their substrate. Cypress mulch, wood chips or course river sand with a thick leaf litter covering provide the most natural environment. Cage carpets are also very effective and easy to keep clean, as is plain old newspaper.
Males and females look very similar, making determining the sex of a particular animal difficult. There is no reliable way to sex juvenile skinks, and adults still can’t be 100% accurately sexed based on appearance alone. Males tend to be bigger and thicker, especially around the head and neck. Female blue tongues give birth to between 10 to 20 to live young.
With proper care, blueys thrive in captivity and you can expect a healthy blue tongue to live for 15 to 25 years.
Temperature Range: 28°, to 40° under the heat source
Cage size: L800xW600xH600
Feeding: Every 2 days.
Bearded dragons are a widely recognised species and are one of the most popular pets in the reptile hobby worldwide.
These curious, lively lizards show a fascinating range of behaviours and often develop a bold, outgoing personality once settled into their new home. Their medium size and naturally calm demeanour make them almost perfect pets regardless of your experience level. Beardies have a reputation of being among the hardiest of lizards. This reputation is well deserved, but like any pet, they still need an owner willing to devote the proper care and attention to them.
Hatchling beardies should be raised in a small terrarium for optimal growth. As you’ll most likely be feeding your young beardie live, store-bought crickets as part of a mixed diet, a small space makes it easier for your lizard to find the insects. Bearded dragons spend most of the day basking. You’ll need a 40 or 60watt spotlight at one end of the enclosure, above the basking rock or platform. The height of the platform or the wattage of the bulb need to be adjusted to get the basking spot to about 40 degrees. We recommend the use of a temperature gun on the highest part of the rock to accurately check the temperature. Although non-light emitting heat lamps are available, basking under a light is a more natural way for your dragon to receive heat. A thermal gradient across the enclosure is always required for reptiles. For beardies, the cool end of the cage should be around 28 degrees. This will provide your lizard with enough space to let them regulate their body temperature. Night time temperatures can safely drop to around 22 degrees.
Bearded dragons signify their moods with a wide variety of behaviours that you’ll enjoy getting to know. When upset, your bearded dragon, will inhale and puff itself up, enlarging a pouch under their jaw which resembles a beard. In captivity, these guys generally have a mild temperament and a trusting nature, making them one of the most delightful and interactive pets of all the reptiles.
In comparison the commonly kept snake and lizards, care of native turtles is complex, and requires much more information than we can offer in this book. Our first, and best piece of advice is, if you are serious about purchasing a pet turtle, buy a book that deals specifically with the care of Australian turtles. We’ve provided this chapter purely to give you an idea of what’s involved in keeping a turtle before you commit to any further research.
Turtles make active, attractive pets, but setting up an indoor enclosure can be expensive. The costs will be similar to setting up a freshwater tropical aquarium, but as turtles will foul the aquarium water more rapidly than fish, more work is required to maintain a clean and healthy environment for them.
On the upside, turtles are engaging pets who quickly get used to being around people and will often come up to the front of the tank or emerge from the pond in the hope of being fed. Most turtles will happily take food straight from your fingers. Remember though, that a cute little baby turtle will get quite large. Most of our freshwater species have a shell length of around 30cm as adults.
Where possible, turtles are best kept indoors, especially as juveniles, or in an escape-proof outdoor pond once mature. If your pond is likely to get very cold over winter, you may need to look into installing a covering or a heater to make sure temperatures don’t drop too low. Most species can be adequately housed indoors in a 120 x 60 x 60cm aquarium.
Turtles need to be fed a few times a week, and will need their tank cleaned out thoroughly every month. Good ongoing filtration is also essential for a healthy turtle.
Unlike their cousins the tortoises, turtles will need to be in water to eat and drink. The tank should be about 2/3 full with water, and they will need a platform where they can climb out and get dry. Commercially available ‘turtle docks’ are commonly sold by retailers. If you have more than one turtle, the platform should be large enough to hold a couple of turtles at a time.
Unfortunately, many turtle owners tend to maintain turtle tanks like regular aquariums, without being aware the special needs required for a turtle’s long term health and growth. The lack of an ultraviolet B light supplement is the cause of most ongoing problems with captive turtles. Like lizards, they rely on UVB light to adequately produce vitamin D3 andmetabolise calcium. UVB rays can be provided by store bought UV lamps, but note that the lifespan of these lights effectiveness is usually around 6 to 8 months, so they will need to be replaced around twice a year. Natural, unfiltered sunlight should be offered two to three times a week if possible. A portable plastic tub can be used to take them outside during these periods. Make sure though that the turtle is in an escape and predator proof container with shallow water, and that the sunlight doesn’t have to pass through glass or plastic, as this will filter out the UVB.
Most freshwater turtles prefer a water temperature of around 25 degrees, but this will vary depending on the exact species. Simply use an aquarium water heater to monitor and maintain the water temperature. A spotlight on the basking area with a standard reflector globe should be sufficient to keep your turtle warm out of the water.
Regularly test your tank or pond’s water parameters with a standard aquarium test kit. If the levels of ammonia or nitrates are too high, do a complete water change. If you find your levels are moderate or creeping up, do more frequent, partial water changes. Turtles may not be as sensitive to chlorine as fish or amphibians, but it can still irritate them. Chlorinated water may also destroy the beneficial bacteria in the tank, affecting the nitrogen cycle and breakdown of waste products. It is therefore advisable to dechlorinate the water with a water conditioner available at aquariums or pet stores, or simply use rainwater collected in a tank.
A good idea when possibleis to feed your turtles when they are outside in a tub getting exposed to natural sunlight. This will stop uneaten food dirtying the aquarium water as any leftovers can be simply tipped out when the turtles are returned to their tank.
Long-necked turtles are mostly carnivorous and will often eat frozen bait items like whitebait, prawns (with the spiny heads removed to prevent injuries) and yabbies, along with insects such as moths and crickets. Short-necked turtles have a similar diet to long-necks but will also eat vegetables like freshwater plants, fruit and vegies such as spinach, parsley, dark leafed lettuces and cabbage. Feed an adult a meal the equivalent to two prawns, twice a week for adults and every two days for juveniles.