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Children’s Python (Antaresia Childreni)
The Children's Python occurs across northern Australia from northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory to north-western Queensland. The species was named after the English naturalist J.G. Children and not as is erroneously believed, because of their suitability as children's pets. These are small and relatively slender snakes with a head that is only slightly wider the neck. They are amongst Australia's smallest pythons with an average adult length of about one metre. Children's Pythons have an indistinct pattern of small blotches moderately or barely contrasting with the ground colour. Some individuals are patterned at hatching and lose the dorsal pattern as they grow becoming a uniform brown colour. The body colour ranges from pale yellowish brown, to dark purplish brown through various shades of red. The underside is whitish with a salt opalescent sheen. A dark streak is generally present from the nostril through the eye to the temple. Both sexes possess cloacal spurs.
Usually found in association with rocky outcrops within grasslands, woodlands and monsoon forests. They shelter beneath rock, bark, ground litter and in caves termite mounds and hollow logs. Their diet is varied and they are recorded feeding upon small birds, frogs, lizards, snakes and small mammals. Children's Pythons are terrestrial and nocturnal and regularly cross roads on warm evenings. Males engage in combat rituals and mating takes place in June July with 7-20 eggs laid in September October.
This python is hardy in captivity and will tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. Adults can be housed in banks of white melamine wood cages with glass-fronted doors, that measure 90cmL 50cmD 35cmH. Childrens pythons are a terrestrial species and a heat mat or heat cord is the best way of providing warmth to your animal and must be used with a good quality thermostat. Temperatures should be between 28 - 32 degrees at the hot end of the enclosure with a 5-8 degree drop at the cool end and should never drop below 18 degrees Celsius.
Animals should be housed singly for most of the year, by housing them individually it is easier to feed and service the enclosures. Separation for feeding is not required and social interaction resulting in the formation of social hierarchy and stress is eliminated.
There are many options for substrate from paper towel, newspaper, butchers paper, eucalyptus mulch, cypress mulch and aspen bedding, there are many commercial brands you can find at your local pet shop also. When using a loose substrate any soiled areas are easily scooped out and topped back up making the cleaning process much easier.
“Hides” in the form of small hollow logs, plastic tubs or purpose bought resin hides are important for the animal to feel secure and are best placed over the heating source.
A water bowl for drinking should be placed at the cool end of the enclosure and should also be large enough for soaking. Ensure the water is changed regularly.
A nearby window is sufficient to provide natural day/night light cycle and uvb emitting lights are unnecessary and provide no additional benefit to children’s pythons.
Temperatures are cycled throughout the year to initiate breeding responses in the pythons. During spring and summer the temperatures are held within a relatively narrow range of highs and lows. When the breeding season begins in autumn, the daytime high and nighttime low temperatures are changed gradually with the lowest temperatures recorded in winter in June and July. Daytime high temperatures are increased to compensate for lower night time temperatures.
Specimens are introduced during May, June July and August. Most mating activity has subsided by the end of August. The male is always introduced to the females enclosure and will respond by scenting and searching the cage. Courtship and mating usually occurs within 1-2 days after introduction. The male may chase the female around the enclosure and mating within several hours may occur and last for several hours. Male combat has been used to induce mating but is not considered essential. An otherwise disinterested male may be stimulated to mate the female following the introduction and removal of another male. The males should be closely observed when introduced as intense fighting can occur and one or both males may be injured. Males will often enter a pre-mating season slough in May and June, and again following the breeding season in September. Females may also enter a pre-mating season slough but not as reliably as males.
Copulation's have been noted to last for several hours and up to 12 hours, being most often observed around nightfall and in the early morning at the coldest time of day.
Males are generally removed from the female's enclosure after one week, given a week on their own and then reintroduced to the female for another week. This pattern is repeated in May June, July and August, with males being rotated through up to six females enclosures. Males are permanently removed at the end of July and early August.
Once a female is gravid they will often become reclusive and hide from view, During late July and August females can be observed basking in the inverted position, with the ventral scales upturned. Ovulation is not noticeable in children's pythons and determining if the female is gravid is not always easy. This species generally has good muscle tone and by running the females through the fingers it may or may not be possible to feel the presence of eggs/ova If the female refuses food and lies in the inverted position it is a good sign that she is gravid.
Eggs are laid in spring in either laying boxes provided for the purpose or under the hide. The female forms a shallow depression in the substrate several days before laying. Small tubs/containers filled damp sphagnum moss with an entry hole cut out of the lid or front should be provided after the pre-laying slough, once it is determined that the female is gravid.
After laying the female will gather the eggs together into a clump and incubate the eggs if permitted to do so by the keeper. I have found maternal incubation to be quite enjoyable and to have a relatively success hatch rate.
A water and vermiculite mixture of 1:1 by weight is used in small plastic click clack style tubs with two 5mm holes drilled in opposing ends. Sometimes eggs cannot be separated from the clutch after they have hardened in the air and stuck to the clump. If the eggs could not be separated safely without tearing the shells then the clutch needs to be incubated in a clump in the incubating container- half-buried in the vermiculite medium.
Sudden changes in the temperature and humidity regimes should be avoided during incubation. It is much easier to incubate eggs if they are separated and placed into an incubation container individually. If one egg dies it is easy to remove if they are already separated. If an egg is attached to the clump and it dies then it may need to be cut away if it can be done so without interfering with the other eggs, or if cant safely be removed it is likely the surrounding eggs immune system will keep them healthy and protected from the moldy or decomposing neighboring eggs in the clump.
Eggs are incubated at 31.5 Degrees Celsius and are marked on top with dot to mark the original position of the eggs during incubation. The eggs must not be rotated during incubation. If they are removed from the container they should be placed back in the same position with the marked side upright. Eggs can be removed from the containers and handled for inspection without harm to the developing embryos, sudden shocks or quick movement of the eggs should be avoided.
Containers should be sealed but checked once a week for any decaying eggs and that humidity levels are sufficient. In the last 2-3 weeks of incubation it is normal for the eggs to lose moisture and appear dehydrated. It is not necessary to add more water at this stage. When the first egg is cut by the egg tooth of the first snake emerging, then all the other eggs can be “pipped” using a curved pair of nail scissors or razor. A small incision is made about 10-15 mm long on top of each egg. Young may take one or two days to emerge from the eggs after their heads have appeared and should be left to fully emerge from the egg before removing.
Once hatched all neonates need to be removed into individual plastic containers that measure approximately 25 cm long by 15 cm wide by 8 cm high. Ventilation holes will need to be drilled into the front or lids. A small plastic water bowl is used along with paper towel as substrate and a small plastic lid with a hole in it as a hide. Heat cord will need to be placed at one end of the container, which is set at a thermostatically controlled temperature of 32-35°C
Feeding is not attempted until the hatchlings have their first slough at about two weeks post hatching. Most specimens will take pink mice as a first meal, the remainder will require mice scented with natural prey items such as skinks and geckos. This species can be slightly more difficult to entice to accept pink mice than the Spotted Python (A. maculosa) and Children's Python hatchlings are generally smaller and seem a little more nervous.
Various methods have been used to entice hatchlings to feed on pink mice. Once hatchlings accept mice as food they are given these at subsequent feeds to avoid specimens developing a preference for natural food, such as skinks. Some specimens will require a live skink or a gecko to be rubbed on a mouse before they will accept it. Others require a small piece of skink tail about 2mm long to be placed in the mouth of a dead pink mouse, before they will accept it. Specimens that refuse all food are assist-fed on day old pinkie mice until they accept their first meals.