Tag Archives: dorsal

Poison Frogs & Their Vivaria

21 May

Poison frogs in reality are a family of frogs that has one hundred and seventy species.  Most people associate the name Poison Arrow, Poison Dart, and Dart Poison frogs with sixty-five different species that are highly colored.  The Poison frogs most are familiar with are further broken down into four of the eight genera of the family Dendrobatidae .  These four different genera are Dendrobates , which has twenty-six species.

Epipedobates also has twenty-six species and are very similar to the Phyllobates, which has five species but the Epipedobates lack the metallic coloring.  Minyobates only contain nine species, two of which occur occasionally in the hobby.  These diminutive creatures (very seldom more than five centimeters) are found in Central American and South American rain forests.  Their diet in the wild consists of ants, termites, small spiders, and other small insects.  These incredible frogs are diurnal and require little as far as care and maintenance.  If you were considering a vivarium I would personally encourage anyone to obtain these animals.  As they will make a great addition to and add colors to your lushly planted tank.

Easily Kept Species
First, there is no such thing as an easy to keep species of any animal.  All animals kept in captivity require work and maintenance to keep them alive and happy.  The term easily kept or hardy means that these animals are capable of adjusting to and tolerating poor conditions.  This does not mean in any way that you should try to see how much poor care that they will tolerate.  It simply means that they are capable of adjusting for our mistakes made in their environment.

The Green & Black Poison frog Dendrobates auratus is one of the most easily kept species for beginners.  They do best in-groups of five or more.  These are not shy frogs and readily search the vivaria for food.  It should also be mentioned here that they have voracious appetites.  They achieve a size of up to 4cm and come in a variety of color morphs, which vary in price but are typically one of the more inexpensive species to purchase.  The Dyeing Poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius is another species that is readily available and easy to keep.  Again, there are many color morphs available to the hobbyist for reasonable prices.  They typically attain a size of 4-5cm in captivity, which makes them a large species, yet they are shy.  Water is not a factor for them; high humidity is necessary however.  Personal research says that they do well in pairs.  The Bumble bee Poison frog Dendrobates leucomelas is a relatively easy to keep species that according to most has one of the most beautiful calls out of all the poison frogs.  Adult size is typically 4cm.  These are best kept in-groups of five and will typically pick a mate and pair off with each other.

The beginning frog keeper can also keep Epipedobates but they must understand that these frogs are not as tolerant of adverse conditions.  These frogs are also more of a tropical species and require higher temperatures as well as humidity.  The Phantasmal Poison Frog E. tricolor it should be kept in-groups of two males and three females.  Adolescents are a brown color but change to a brighter red as they get older.  Males are also noted to have a loud call that can become annoying.  Threestriped poison frog E. trivittatus is another of the larger Dendrobatidae, which can be kept by beginners.  This species should not be kept in a small vivarium.  The vivarium should be planted with bromeliads, which the frogs can hide in.  It should also be designed with moisture absorbing walls and substrate.

The vivarium that is needed for poison frogs is easily constructed.  The materials needed are easily found in most of the local pet shops.  The tank size you will need depends on how many and what size the frogs will reach at maturity.  You can use a Ten, twenty, twenty-nine, or a thirty-gallon tank size.  Obviously the more room the more frogs you can keep.  So I will go through the set-up for a twenty-nine gallon setup that can house four adult frogs.  A natural vivarium is more pleasing to the eye and is a more natural home for the frogs.  Having this kind of setup will usually bring out the natural behaviors of the frogs and cause less stress for them.  A rust proof screen top is necessary to provide ventilation.  The next thing to decide upon is what type of backing you would like to use.  The backing is an important piece in the construction because plants will be attached to it as well as giving the frogs places to climb on.  Whatever material(s) you use make sure to use aquarium silicone to attach it to the glass.  This is a non-toxic silicone so it won’t harm your frogs if they should be exposed to it.  I will list some of the materials that are offered the final decision however is really one of personal preference.  The most commonly used are Cork Bark, Oak bark, Sculptured foam, Cocoa panels, and Fern Root Trunk.  My personal taste is that the Cork bark usually works best and is the easiest to work with.  You can easily cut and shape this to fit any way you want with a small saw and plants such as bromeliads attach easily to it.

The next order of business is to design the landscape.  There are several different ways to do this and depending on whom you talk to you will get different opinions on which one works best.  Some would say that the “False Bottom” works best due to harmful bacteria being able to collect into the soil.  However, this means when you look at your tank you will see a reservoir of water beneath with pumps and equipment exposed unless you tilt the false bottom forward to hide this.

Materials for a False Bottom Vivarium are a tank, egg crate (Light diffuser for fluorescent lights), Window screen, one inch PVC couplers or pieces of pipe, and a piece of plastic needlepoint mesh.  To begin building the vivarium first clean out the tank and dry it.  Then cut the light diffuser to fit the bottom of the tank.  Leave some space at one end for the open water portion.
The space covered by the light diffuser will be the land area of the vivarium.  Before placing the diffuser into the vivarium, I would glue the PVC spacers onto it.  What we are doing is making a natural slope of landscape to the water edge.  From the edge of the egg crate, you silicone the needlepoint mesh to the edge leading into the water area.  You can also now place a place pump underneath the false bottom.  This will take water from the reservoir that you have now created and pump it back up to the vivarium into a waterfall feature or streambed.  To create a streambed I suggest that you place a piece of plastic landscape vinyl onto the substrate with heavy river stones onto it.  You can also form it using nothing at all just mold the bedding to form a valley and place the stones in it.

On top of all of this, place the window screen, which should be fiberglass, to prevent rusting through.  The next step will be to place the substrate soil that you are using onto the entire bottom.  The best to use is the expandable type available from many pet stores.  You could also use non-treated potting soil.  This means that it has no fertilizer or pearlite contained within it.
A method that I have used is simply to put a two-inch layer of aquarium gravel in the bottom with the soil on top.  This seems to provide enough drainage for plants even with daily misting.  Another method is to use hydroponic culture stones the same way.  If you use these two methods I would recommend a shallow water dish that must be changed daily.  When doing the landscaping of the terrarium I like making hills and valleys to give it a more natural appearance.  This will also make small pools of water that are not standing but do occur with misting and then slowly drain on their own.  Planting is another consideration that the designer must pay close attention to.  It is essential that the plants you choose are capable of being in a high humidity environment.

The plants that I have used include Pothos, Hedera, and Dracaena.  Other suggested plants are Flame violet Episcia cupreata, Lace flower Episcia dianthifiora, Schefflera, Creeping fig Ficus pumilus, (this plant has been known to break the seal on aquariums) and Philodendron.  Bromeliads are a very popular plant to use in the vivaria setting.  Most bromeliads should be maintained as a delicate plant.  Depending on what type of Bromeliad there are specific care requirements that must be followed.  It is recommended that most of the “air plants” be attached to the vivarium wall above the ground and watered in the throat leaving the roots of the plant dry.

Tillandsia is in the same family as Bromeliads but they are purely epiphytic plants that only grow on the sides of the vivarium out of the water.  It has been noted that only the green species will survive and not the silver leaf type.  They are also only decorative plants, which the frogs cannot use.  Another important thing to mention here are that whatever plants you choose must be free of chemical fertilizers generally used at nurseries.  These can harm the frogs because they will be absorbed through their skin.  One way to achieve this is to either order the plant from an organic nursery or wash the plant roots in water until the root base is soil free.  Planting is another place where the final choice is yours but there are varying opinions.  With the gravel/soil setup that I use, I simply plant the terrarium the way I would in normal landscaping by placing the plant roots directly into the soil.  For those who use the False Bottom type of terrarium, it is typically best to leave the plants in the pot and place these into the soil for easy removal and maintenance.
The next topic is one of the most important not for the frogs but for the plants.  Lighting is one thing that most people overlook when they are designing the terrarium because the plants that are used are “Shade” plants.  While this is true in regular outdoor landscaping this is not the case in the terrarium.  Full spectrum fluorescent lighting is one of the key elements to keeping the plants alive.  These types of lights can be found easily at your local pet shop or your regular home garden center they are usually cheaper at the garden centers.  The light can be placed into an aquarium strip-light fixture then placed directly atop the screen top.

Heating is another crucial part of the environment.  The temperature should be between 70°-80° degrees F.  This can be easily maintained by an under tank heater.  Humidity is another concern that must be addressed.  Humidity should be maintained above seventy percent.  This can be done easily enough through regular misting once every two to three days.  If you find that the terrarium is getting too dry by this method, you can also cover the screen partially with plastic.

In conclusion, one thing that must be made clear is the fact that the name Poison Frog is just a name.  Unless, the animals you obtain are wild caught then they are more than likely not poisonous.  The reason for this is that their diet, which makes them poisonous in the wild, is not available to them in captivity.

Coborn John, 1996. Frogs and Toads as a new pet T.F.H. publications New Jersey
Stewart Sean K., 2001. All that glitters… Discover the real poison dart frog, the golden Poison frog. (Phyllobates terribilis) Reptiles guide to keeping reptiles and amphibians 9:5 10-14
Kelley Todd, 2001. Pick your poison. Reptiles guide to keeping reptiles and amphibians 2001 annual 6-12


Honey, I Shrunk The House!

16 May

In today’s economy it is readily apparent by looking at the numbers of homes for sale and the amount of apartments which have no vacancies that people are opting for smaller environments to live in.  A lot of these people such as myself have pets such as dogs, cats, etc. and in order to ease the living expense they are choosing to relinquish ownership of their beloved pet.  The sad fact is that many apartments require a “pet deposit” for our mammalian friends and may even require a higher deposit for “water filled furniture” such as an aquarium.

Reptiles and Apartments

Whether you’re moving into an apartment to save money or if you’re already living in an apartment and have decided to acquire a new pet this is an undertaking which can be somewhat overwhelming.  There is such a large selection of pets, both in pet stores and shelters that it can be difficult to decide which pet to choose.  Obviously, I am going to encourage you to purchase a reptile pet.  This is not to say that I dislike mammalian pets in anyway.  I own or rather I’m allowed to share a residents that I pay the rent on with my two cats.  Come to think of it I paid a hefty pet deposit on the cats.  However, for ten reptile pets I didn’t pay any sort of deposit fees.

I have always closely examined the pet policy of any place that I am interested in renting from.  There are places; typically rare in my personal experience, that have very strict policies of owning any type of pet at all.  For the most part though apartments have a statement which says “pets” are restricted to certain weights and or breeds.  I have as yet to find any apartment anywhere which stated outright that they would not allow “reptiles”.  To the best of my knowledge this is due to the general presumption that most if not all persons are responsible enough to not allow their pet reptile to roam free throughout the apartment.  For more on the general rules of apartment living and reptiles see my post.

I am presuming you went to the other page and read up on the general rules if not; I really encourage you to do so.  I will wait (tick, tock, tick, tock,) OK, so now you have gone and read the general rules so we can move on.  Why are the general rules so important?  Basically they give you an overall insight into what is required by most reptiles in captivity.  Now then we must also consider the “human” requirements.  There are several aspects of owning a reptile that people seem to forget, especially when there looking at the cute little reptile or insect in the pet shop or reading about it in the magazines.  Here are a few of the most common questions that should be answered.

Reptile and Apartment Q&A or FAQ’s

1) How much space will my reptile need and how much does that leave me?

When moving from a house to an apartment there is typically a significant reduction in living space that is now available with them there are certain standards.  Most persons are not interested in living in an 1800sq foot space and giving up half of that to their pets.  Therefore none of the reptiles outlined in this site will ever have an enclosure that exceeds 24 sq feet.  This means a length of 6’ and a width of 4’.  The tallest an enclosure will be is 6’.

2) Where should I keep my new pet reptile?  (Are reptiles affected by sound, high traffic, etc?)

There are many reptiles to choose from when selecting a new pet and some could be stressed by being placed in a high traffic area such as Chameleons Chamaeleonidae sp. The more “hands-off” pets should be placed in lower traffic areas of the home as this will reduce stress which could lead to overall health implications later.

3) Where should I store cleaning supplies etc?

Any cleaning supplies or anything for that matter used in or around your reptile should be kept away from places which come into contact with human food.  Also if you clean your enclosures in the bath tub which if you live in an apartment you will most likely do make sure and use a bleach to clean the tub or shower area after you are through.

4) What if I like my apartment cooler?

If you keep your home below an average temperature of 76˚ F you will be required to purchase larger heating elements during the winter months in order to facilitate proper temperatures for your new pet reptile.  There are some reptiles which can tolerate lower temperatures and those that require higher ones so make sure and do the research about your pet prior to purchase.

Most of the reptiles that are purchased today come from either typically tropical environments or desert ones.  Keeping reptiles below their prescribed temperatures for any length of time will eventually cause stress and sickness and can lead to serious health issues if not done properly.

The above are all good questions that I have heard over the years that I have worked within the industry.  Well here are some generalized answers but for more in depth information I would look into the overviews and the other posts within the blog to get specific information on the species you’re interested in.

I’m ready for My New Pet!

Given that you have asked yourself and the family about owning a reptile I am presuming that they have all agreed that this would be an adventure worth taking and so we’re off to the local pet shop to buy our first reptile right?


Let me give some insights that you won’t get anywhere but right here.  You see, I am not out to sell you a new pet so I am going to completely and brutally honest with you because honestly I don’t want

They both like the birds!

you killing a reptile due to misinformation.  See I told you I was going to be brutal.  I have worked in the Pet Superstores and the local independent shops as well.  In my experience they both make an effort to train their employees in the proper care of the animals they sell.  However, it is true that most employees are there to make the sale that’s the bottom line.  They have little to no actual knowledge of the animal they are selling and will give generalized information based on care sheets written by someone who has never the kept the species they are selling.

I would recommend you examine all the options and availability of the reptile pet you choose and not select one just based on the fact that it looks cool.  This is one of the biggest mistakes commonly made in the reptile industry when acquiring a reptile, amphibian, or insect pet.  There are literally hundreds of reptile, amphibian, and insect species that can be kept as pets within an apartment setting.  This site is the only one dedicated to helping you select, care, and enjoy those species which you will choose to keep.  From our clutchmates to yours thank you for taking the time to learn before leaping.

Your best bet is to do your own research which obviously you’ve already started because you’re reading this site.  Do internet research on the species you want to keep, but also purchase a book or two on the one you like this can only give you more information than you need and that’s never a bad thing.  To help you further I have a pet selection page over at I Want A New Pet by answering 5 questions you can quickly discover what type of reptile, amphibian, or insect pet you may be interested in.

For further information in depth on specific species I again encourage you to look under the overviews and specific species accounts listed elsewhere in the site.  If you don’t find the one your looking for let us know via the contact page us page and we’ll pick our brains and come up with the same quality information on captive reptile care that you have come to expect from us.  Chances are if it’s bred in captivity we’ve cared for it somewhere along the way.

Royal Pythons The true kings of the vivarium

14 May

Michael McLarty took most of the photos for this post and the ones that appeared in the original article.  This article originally appears in issue number 54 of Reptilia magazine.  Python regius is possibly the most widely kept Python within the herpetological trade.  It is also certainly the most imported species of snake as evidenced by The Humane Society of the United States report which states “In 1997, 94,072 Ball Pythons were imported to the United States, constituting 5.5 percent of all[i] reptile imports for that year.[ii]”   This can be attributed to the Ball Python’s “hardiness”.  This is a term that is thrown around the industry quite loosely and for newcomers to the industry this single term plays a major role in choosing to purchase a certain species or not.  I have heard all too often people using this term within pet superstores and small shops obviously, not thinking about the impact of what they are saying to a new keeper of reptiles.  I must admit, almost 75% of the time I have not heard the sales persons inquire as to the experience of the people buying the animal.

The specific term of “hardy” has only one definition.  According to Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, “hardy” means “Capable of surviving unfavorable conditions, as cold weather or lack of moisture.”[iii] Now, in my opinion, this is the last thing you want to tell anyone about keeping anything.  The average person may think this means that they can essentially blow off everything and do what they want or what they think might be best.  Now, I am not saying everyone does this, but a great majority do, and the end result is always the same.  The reptile suffers a great deal of discomfort and typically dies a slow and horribly painful death in these conditions.

The entire reason that I have brought this subject to attention is because in the course of doing research, I came across a book which reminded me of why I go to the lengths that I do when keeping my own collection of reptiles.  I was re-reading the book, The Boa Constrictor Manual by Philippe de Vosjoli, Roger Klingenberg DVM, and Jeff Ronne,[iv]when I came across the section where Philippe refers to the Boa as a living work of art.  Philippe continues to discuss the experiences of watching your Boa in a “naturalistic” environment which enhances not only our viewing pleasure but the quality of life of the animal itself.

It has long been my opinion that any “wild” animal should be kept in an environment that would replicate their natural habitat as closely as you the responsible keeper can possibly achieve.  With that being said, let’s discuss how this is done.  Let us move onto the proper care and maintenance of the Royal Python Python regius AKA Ball Python.


The family of Boidae has within it the sub-family and or genera (depending on who you talk to) of Pythonidae which in itself has approximately 8 genera and 27 species.  These are all found in Africa, Australasia, and Asia and span an incredibly wide range of habitats from the dry grasslands to the tropical rainforests and just about everywhere in between the two extremes.  The top three largest snakes kept in captivity are all found within the genus of Python they are from largest to smallest of “giants” P. reticulatus, P. molurus, & P. sebae.

Reticulated Pythons can achieve lengths of 9 meters, while Indian Pythons can attain a length of 8 meters, and lastly the African Rock Pythons come in at 7 meters.  All of these snakes can achieve larger or shorter lengths depending on care.  None of these should ever be handled by a single person when adult size is achieved for any reason.

Distribution & Physiology

Python regius Royal Pythons are compact thick bodied snakes which are found throughout the African continent south of the 15˚ longitudinal line.  The average sized P. regius will achieve a maximum length of 4 ft with the occasional large female reaching lengths of 6 ft.   Almost all Pythons have pitted labial scales which are extremely sensitive to temperature variation.  Whether these are used for hunting as in the Viperidae is unclear scientifically but, from personal observations in my own snakes I am inclined to believe that they are indeed used for just such a purpose.


No matter what size your Python might reach you should always buy the maximum size enclosure that will be required when your reptile reaches its maximum length.  I have always followed the rule that the snake should be able to stretch out to its maximum length and never be able to touch its tail to its nose.  At first glance this may seem quite large.  Before buying a smaller enclosure however, please be responsible and consider all of the elements that will go inside the terrarium.

I have read that an adult Royal Python Python regius should be kept in a standard 91.4 cm long x 30.5 cm wide.  Others have recommended a size of 120 cm long x 75 cm wide.  I personally use the smaller terrarium to house a single Royal Python P. regius just fine in a naturalistic environment with plenty of room to cruise, bask, and soak.  Should you want to add another Royal Python P. regius you should definitely use the larger standard size.

Selecting your new snake

I am sure that all of us have been to the local pet store whether it is a superstore or not really doesn’t matter; they typically house their reptiles in a similar fashion.  You will go in to select your new pet and be faced with the choice of twenty to thirty snakes all in one cage.  The reason they do this is not cruel but actually economically sound and I will explain why briefly then move on to snake selection.  They are able to do this because they are selling large numbers of snakes and don’t have to worry about long term housing.  Also if there is a snake that is exhibiting signs of illness they are typically immediately quarantined along with the rest of the collection until it is proven that they are all healthy.

Any snake you select should be handled before you leave the premises.  Previous to even going to select a snake you should have already set-up the terrarium at home. This means you have had the light and or heating elements on, making sure the temperatures are all within the required ranges, the substrate, limbs, and water bowls are in place, all of these items will be covered in detail later in this article.   If you are not comfortable handling snakes I have heard it recommended that you should take someone with you who is.  This is completely wrong.  If you are not comfortable handling snakes you shouldn’t be purchasing a Royal Python P. regius as your first snake.

While holding the snake you should look for one that is plump with skin taught over the entire body.  The body itself should be free of any lumps and the spine should be straight not kinked in any way.  The body should also be free of any ticks and or mites as well.  The eyes should be clear unless they are in shed and the eyes are clouded over.  In this case both eyes should have the same amount of cloudiness to them.  The snake should exhibit interest via tongue flicking and cruising in your hand.  You should if at all possible view the snake head on and look carefully at the mouth area making sure there is no mucous wet or dried crust in the pits or labial/lip area.  This means that the snake either has or has recently overcome a respiratory infection.  Turn the snake upside down while in your hand the snake should struggle against this which is a good sign; look at the vent or cloaca making sure that the anal scale is flat against the body without protrusions, crust, and mucous.

Naturalistic Vivaria

Setting up the naturalistic vivaria is not something which can be taken lightly.  Setting this type of vivaria up takes time and patients.  I personally recommend this type of set-up to anyone who would care to ask me about setting up any type of vivarium for any reptile species.  The reason being is that as famed Herpetologist and Herpetoculturist extraordinaire Philippe de Vosjoli is always reminding us, these animals are “works of art”.  This alone should this be reason enough. In case it’s not, my personal experiences have shown that the reptiles I keep not only display better, but exhibit behavior patterns that I have never witnessed in the various pet shops where I have been employed.   They have however, exhibited behaviors known to occur quite often in the wild.


To set up a naturalistic vivarium for a Royal Python P. regius you should have first of all purchased a commercially designed vivarium with a screen top and locking pin(s).  When it comes to substrates for a naturalistic vivarium there a few opinions as to which works best; seeing the range of the Royal Python P. regius it is easy to see why.  Some people would recommend that commercially available coconut fiber found in dry bricks which can be re-hydrated works best because it can be spot cleaned easily and holds moisture better than other substrates.

Some advocate the use of small bark chips, also available commercially specially designed and treated for reptiles.  Personally, these very same small chips are available from most any home improvement store at a much cheaper cost and work exactly the same and come in larger bags, of course they are not known by the familiar names but if you look you will find them.  Still others promote the use of sterilized potting soil without perlite.  With so many choices it would be easy to become confused especially for the novice herpetoculturist.

Some argue that the small chips might be swallowed by the snake by accident when feeding.  This is a common myth that I have never once encountered anywhere.  This belief no doubt comes from those who feed their snakes in their cages.  This is a huge mistake and I highly advise against anyone ever feeding any snake in its enclosure not only for the safety of the snake itself but also that of the herpetoculturist.  The snake while being somewhat intelligent can sometimes miss its mark and bite the hand that feeds it, this not only a painful experience for you but also a very stressful one for the snake.  I will cover in detail feeding later.

Other people in the industry say that the coconut fiber becomes too dense within the vivarium and therefore begins to dry out too quickly.  In my experience its simply just not as attractive as some of the other substrates that are available and it does seem to have a tendency to dry out very quickly, this might be because I personally live in a very dry area but I have no data from other regions for comparison so I can only relay what I know.  The sterilized potting soil works very well and is both easily cleaned and retains moisture fairly well.  The only drawback to this particular substrate is that it is slightly more expensive.

My personal vivaria are set up in two different formats.  In the first I have the small bark chips which are at a depth of about ½ to 1 inch deep.  In the second vivarium I have a mixture of sterilized potting soil and small chip bark at a depth of about 3 to 4 inches deep.  The reason for the difference is because in the larger cage there are live plants growing within the vivarium itself.  This larger cage also houses the larger of our two Royal Pythons P. regius.

Heating & Lighting

When it comes to heating there are choices as to be made as far as the best method.  Lighting on the other hand is a subject where there can be no choices where the snake is concerned as I will explain here.  If you should decide that you want to keep live plants you must have some type of fluorescent bulb that emits the specific type of light needed to grow plants.  I know there are incandescent bulbs which are also sold for the same purposes, but not only are the less efficient in use of energy but they tend to heat the vivarium beyond the range of what is comfortable for the snake.

Incandescent bulbs are also sold as heating elements in a three colors which are red, blue, and sometimes purple.  Never buy a blue or purple bulb that will be left on throughout the night.  This is due to the fact that reptiles can see these colors at night and they perceive them as being daytime colors which inevitably puts their circadian rhythms of night and day activities out of sorts.  Red bulbs are a good choice for heating reptile cages because the reptiles can not sense the red wavelengths in light so as far as they are concerned they just have a warm environment.

While the red bulbs may make your pet comfortable they can be a very distracting element to your home life if like me you have your snakes on constant display.  To this challenge there raises a small but highly efficient and cost effective heat source known as the ceramic heat bulb.  This is in my opinion one of the greatest pieces of equipment to ever come to the herpetological trade.  These elements screw into the same metal shrouds that the incandescent bulbs do but they emit no light whatsoever but do emit heat at an extremely efficient rate.  With that being said, please always make sure to always use metal shrouds with ceramic sockets not plastic.  Many times I have had customers insist against my advice buy plastic socketed shrouds only to return them with the sockets melted or warped out of shape from the heat.

Another element that needs mentioning here is the U.T.H. or under tank heater.  All of the commercially available reptile cages I have seen are all built with a recessed bottom to which you can easily apply these devices.  It’s as easy as buying the appropriate size for your cage and peeling back the covering sticking it directly to the glass and you’re set.  Most of the U.T.H. sold today that I know of come with small rubber feet to be applied at the corners to raise the cage off of the surface where the cage will rest.  Please use these and save yourself a lot of trouble.  Not using these and setting the cage on a wooden shelf may start a fire.  I have never personally heard of this happening but the warnings are typically printed on the directions so I am mentioning it here.

While these are very useful I have as yet to use one that would raise the ambient temperature to the necessary 80˚- 85˚.  In my experience these temperatures can only be obtained through the use of a U.T.H. and a ceramic heat emitter or red reptile heater.  Besides the ambient or background temperature you should also provide a basking area of 90˚- 95˚.  This allows the snake to thermoregulate their own body temperature at will by moving in and out of the basking area.


When it comes to embellishing the vivarium with decorum many items will be appealing to you as you wander the aisles of the local pet store.  You being the responsible herpetoculturist must resist the temptation to buy everything in sight.  Myself I typically get the essentials first such as a water bowl, and sand blasted or regular debarked grapevine.  After which if I am planning on having live plants I will select those last to specifically fit the vivarium and the snake(s) size.

The water bowl should be of a size where the snake can fully submerge itself should it want to.  It should also be heavy enough that when the snake attempts to climb into it that it can not be tipped over.  Other than that the bowl can be any shape and texture that you find appealing.  As far my personal tastes are concerned I use the rock style plastic molded bowls as they are typically more appealing to the eye when setting up a naturalistic vivarium.

Most of the literature that we read tells us that the Royal Python P. regius is a terrestrial serpent.  I have no doubt that this is true in the wild considering it is consistently found in the open grasslands with few trees and rocky outcroppings.  Yet again my mentors’ words come back to me “There is big difference between book smarts and experience.”  I bring this point up here to reflect the fact that I have personally kept the Royal Python P. regius for many years and always with some type of climbing branch in the vivarium.

Never once have I ever kept one that didn’t use the branch at all.  Some would climb and hang from it for hours or even days at a time.  This was not to get to the basking area as some might perceive for the basking area is always half over the hide shelter.  They evidently simply wanted a change of perspective or just literally wanted to hang out.  Why they have specifically exhibited this behavior is unknown to me as of the writing of this article; regardless of the specific why more importantly the point is that this would lead me to believe that they should be classified as a semi-arboreal snake not terrestrial.

Other than just having a branch again the choice of debarked or sandblasted grapevine is one that is left to the herpetoculturist and their specific tastes.  I have used and have had the same experiences with both.  Plastic and or wire core rubber vines and branches are available for use within the vivarium I normally recommend against these types for the simple reason that when the snake grows they will not support their weight and will collapse.  Not to mention that if they for some reason; by the snakes natural movements or the careless keepers misplacement come into close proximity with the heating element you can seriously injure your pet and even start a fire.

When it comes to shelters I once again am a “Purist”.  I believe that there should be nothing in the vivarium that the snake wouldn’t encounter in the wild.  That being said I have used half logs as well as molded plastic made to look and feel like rock much similar to the plastic molded rock bowls I mentioned earlier.  When using either of these I typically bury about ¼ of the bottom into the substrate to give the snakes the opportunity to feel that they were protected from all sides.  That being said I have noticed that the Royal Pythons P. regius I have kept seem to be more apt to cruise while housed with the plastic molded rock shelter than they did when housed with the same size half log.  I have no explanation for this behavior other than they seem to be more comfortable with the half log.

When it finally comes to plants to put in the vivarium I try to select plants that are well suited for indoor use.  This is due to the fact that they will in fact be indoors and have minimal if any exposure to “real” sunlight.  Most plants are much too sensitive to survive very long within a vivarium which houses such stocky snake as the Royal Python P. regius.  I have seen Liriope Lily Turf used with some success in the vivarium but understand these will be become compressed over time as the snake cruises.  I have also seen Epipremnum aureum Pothos used as well to decorate the branches and the vivarium itself.  The Aspidistra elatior or Cast Iron plant is also another plant that I have occasionally used; this plant is really hard to kill even with a cruising snake.


Within today’s standards of reptile keeping (in pet stores) feeding your new snake should not ever be a problem.  I personally ask to see the snake I have selected feed before ever purchasing it.  This is unless I have previously purchased from the store or current owner with no regrets.  When purchased from most local pet shops Royal Pythons P. regius will typically be feeding on full size mice.  Buying directly from breeders you will typically be purchasing hatchlings which will be feeding on fuzzies.  I have heard of “problem” feeders.  As of yet I have yet to ever personally experience a problem feeder.  I have had customers come to me with Royal Pythons P. regius unwilling to eat but through careful steps and environmental conditioning I have as yet to ever own a snake that just won’t eat; therefore requiring me to force feed.


This is a subject that I approach with every customer I have ever sold an animal to which required the intake of another animal for survival.  This is particular necessary when dealing with snakes which are not piscivorous (fish eating).  Most books and experts in my experience will recommend the feeding of “pre-killed” prey.  This term has several different meanings and depends on who you ask as to what is meant by this.  Pre-killed prey refers to the prey either being stunned or frozen.  Stunned prey in my personal opinion is an option for those who are strong of stomach and simply can’t get frozen prey.  I will not go into the details of how prey should be stunned before presentation simply due to the graphic nature of what may occur when done improperly.

Pre-killed frozen prey is in my opinion the best choice both for the snake and the herpetoculturist alike.  The mice are sterile and are euthanized in a humane manner and then delivered to the pet store in a sealed bag ready for consumption by your pet.  The best method I have found for feeding this type of prey is to leave the mouse in the bag and place the bag in warm water in the morning allowing it to defrost “naturally” for a few hours.  You should never allow the prey to sit out un-refrigerated overnight.  This is because the prey itself may decompose even within the sealed bag as natural enzymes begin working.

The very first thing you should do is defrost the prey.  After the prey is thoroughly defrosted you can place the prey in the place where you intend to feed.  Next you will remove the snake from the cage and place it in a dark confined place where it can be left undisturbed for twenty four hours if needed.  Myself, I use a five gallon bucket with a locking lid which has been perforated for air.  If the snake is still small enough you can use a brown paper bag that has been stapled shut.  I will generally check on the snake every couple of hours to see if it has eaten.  If it has not eaten within twenty four hours then I remove the snake and throw out the prey item unless I have another snake which I know is regular feeder in which case I will feed it the other snake.

The reason it is safer to feed pre-killed frozen is very simple.  Pre-killed frozen mice will never wake up from being stunned.  They will also not fight back as would anything that was being consumed live by another animal.  Mice and Rats both can inflict serious damage when they are fed live to snakes of any kind.  After feeding the snake should be immediately moved back to its vivarium and then left completely alone for a minimum of forty eight hours.  This will allow the snake to digest and rest according to its needs.


As with any pet there should be an acclimation period where the pet is allowed to adjust and familiarize itself with its new environment.  Most people when they get a new pet whether it be a reptile or mammal their first reaction after bringing it home is to call all their friends and show it off.  With Royal Pythons P. regius this can be extremely detrimental to the snakes’ behaviors and feeding later.  I recommend at least a week long period of no handling of any reptile after it is brought home.

After a week of being in the vivarium you can begin to handle the Royal Python P. regius for about ten minutes at a time and even then handle the snake only every other day.  At about the third or fourth day is when I will typically attempt its first feeding.  When the snake has fed successfully on multiple occasions then and only then will I lengthen the handling time at ten minute increments.  You should never under any circumstances put any snake around your neck or anyone else’s.  You should also never put the snake anywhere near anyone’s face.  This is to keep yourself and your friends safe.  Too many times people forget that snakes have only two defenses and these are bite and squeeze.  Granted, Royal Pythons P. regius are not large snakes but if you have ever fallen victim to any snake bit you will understand that a bite to the face could be a very serious thing.

In closing I would like to dedicate this article to my wife Adelina who through her love has shown me the way back to my passion of writing and reptiles.

[i] The bolding of the word (all) was inserted by the author to exemplify the actual amount.

[ii] http://www.hsus.org

[iii] Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary Published by the Riverside Publishing Company

[iv] Philippe de Vosjoli, Roger Klingenberg DVM, and Jeff Ronne.  The Boa Constrictor Manual published by Advanced Vivarium Systems Inc Copyright 1998