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Diamond Python (Morelia spilota spilota)
The Diamond Python is a gorgeous looking and highly sort after animal with colours that range from dark grey to black with a small cream or yellow rosettes in the southern part of their range through to green and yellow specimens with much larger rosettes in their northern range, ventral’s are usually a cream to yellow coloration. The Diamond Python is a medium sized python attaining an average length of 2.5-3.0 metres. They occur along the south eastern coastline of Australia from mid-northern New South Wales (where they naturally intergrade with the Coastal Carpet Python) to the far eastern tip of Victoria, east of the Great Dividing Range.
They are the world’s most southern python species and this makes them well adapted to cold climates. The climate in this pythons region have four definite seasons, consisting of a wet and dry season. Mid-winter days are usually mild with temperatures averaging between 15°C - 20°C maximum and occasional nights with temperatures below freezing especially in its southern distribution. The summer period has warm to hot days when the temperature can sometimes exceed 35°C and this python has evolved a different set of behaviors compared to other pythons to survive in conditions with such broad temperature ranges. The Diamond Python is recorded frequenting dry woodland, forests and rocky outcrops and is also known to use human dwellings as well, such as house rooves, barns, and gardens over winter for feeding and nesting.
It’s important to keep in mind when setting up these pythons that they are a cool climate species that source their heat from basking in the sun during the day. At night they protect themselves from the cold by finding an insulated retreat where they wrap their coils around themselves tightly to reduce surface area and slow heat loss. There is a term in captive animals called "Diamond Python syndrome" where animals lived shortened lives and struggled to reproduce in captivity, it is believed this stems from them often being kept similar to their northern counter parts.
An adult python will do very well in an enclosure of approximately 1200mmL x 600mmW x 600mmH. The length and width can vary slightly but the height should not be less than 600mm so the snake can move to the floor of the enclosure if it feels too warm should you be using an overhead heat source. Enclosures are best constructed of 16mm melamine or wood with front sliding glass doors. My enclosures are placed on the floor of the reptile room where the ambient air temperature is coolest. If you live in a warmer climate than which Diamond Pythons naturally occur you could increase the ventilation in the enclosure to allow more heat to escape. I have used ceramic heat emitters with a cage around them with great success but if you wanted to use a large heat mat that would work well also, these must be used in conjunction with a thermostat. I usually give my animals 4-5 hours of heat a day set at 28-30°C from 10am to 2pm the rest of the time the heat is off.
It’s important to offer a large and secure hide box that could also include good thermal properties, a polystyrene box may work for this purpose or a thick rubber or plastic tub and should be position in conjunction with the heating source. Substrate can consist of many different options including newspaper, butchers paper, eucalyptus mulch, cypress mulch and aspen bedding, there are many commercial brands you can find at your local pet shop. When using a loose substrate any soiled areas are easily scooped out and topped back up making the cleaning process much simpler.
Captive Diamond Pythons would also do very well in large display type setups as these are often notoriously hard to heat. Since a diamond python would not require the entire setup to be heated in the same way a tropical species might it could be a good option for someone looking for species to keep in a large naturalistic setup. However it would still need a designated basking site and an insulated retreat area to ensure appropriate thermoregulation.
Diamond pythons breed much later than many other carpets and I begin introducing males to female enclosures around September, breeding will continue through October and start to die off during November. Males and females tend to be secretive with their copulations and usually take place in or under their hides with both coming out to bask during the day. For at least a couple of months I will usually leave a male with a female for 5 days at a time then remove for 2 and stop if I think a female is gravid or ovulation is observed. There is no particular reason for this method other than I find it easy to remember by following the days of the week. Once I believe a female is gravid I will offer her a slightly longer basking time and increase the length of heat to 6 hours. However I have had females lay with less hours of heat with no detrimental effects to eggs.
Females will go through prey lay shed approximately 20-25 days prior to egg laying and this event should be recorded to prepare for the coming eggs. Females are best provided with a lay box and a large plastic tub with a hole cut into the top or side works well for this purpose, it can be filled with slightly damp sphagnum moss at about 50mm and will help to maintain moisture for the eggs and to aid in oviposition.
Once eggs have been laid the female will wrap her coils around the eggs and form them into a single mass. You will need to unravel the female from the eggs and having a second pair of hands may be a good idea as females are generally not happy about this situation. Once they eggs have been removed and setup in the incubator you will need to wash the snake and the enclosure with soapy water to remove any egg smell or the female may continue to try and incubate the phantom clutch of eggs. You can then leave the female to recuperate for a week or two before attempting to feed again.
Due to the late breeding season of diamonds in the wild and with the added time for maternal incubation it is highly unlikely they would breed annually and this should be considered when thinking of breeding females multiple times even when eggs are artificially incubated.
You will need to have reasonable sized plastic tubs ready for incubation the eggs and is best to have them setup in a well calibrated incubator at least a week beforehand. They can be setup either in moistened vermiculite, perlite or using the no substrate method over water. It doesn't matter what you use as long as the eggs are kept nearly dry, surrounded by high humidity and a steady temperature maintained between 30°C and 32°C. The shells of the eggs should not be covered in condensation or sitting in water. They can be treated the same as any other python egg, as I have found no difference in the management of Diamond Python eggs in temperature or humidity requirements.
If using the substrate method to incubate and it seems to dry and eggs are starting desiccate, make sure adjustments are done gradually as to not over saturate the eggs. This is why many people are turning to the no substrate method of using a plastic containers with one cm of water in the base and a plastic grid inside on which the eggs sit above the water. The lid is then placed back on there should be a small 5mm hole at each end allowing some small amount of airflow which should create some condensation on the top and sides. Thus the eggs are fairly dry on the grid all while being surrounded by high humidity.
Never discard discoluored eggs or any that are growing fungi or bacteria until the egg actually starts to smell, which indicates that the egg has died and then it should be removed from the container. The eggs have their own immune system to combat infection and can look quite sick while still alive and protecting the developing embryo.
Incubation times are approximately 55 days at the temperatures previously mentioned. You will notice during the last 1-2 weeks of incubation the eggs collapsing and looking very dented. This is no cause for alarm as the fully developed python is absorbing the yolk and getting ready to hatch from the egg.
Once hatchlings start pipping the eggs with their egg tooth I will start to cut the rest of the eggs with a small a pair curved nail scissors by carefully cutting a small triangular “window” into the top of the eggs to avoid spilling unnecessary fluid. They can also be left to emerge from the eggs on their own accord if you choose to and many keepers do prefer to let nature run its course.
It will take 2-3 days for all hatchlings to fully emerge from their eggs and there may be some that are reluctant to leave and may take a day or two longer than the rest. Once the neonates are out of their eggs they are removed from the incubator and placed in small hatchling tubs and kept on paper towel that is kept warm and humid by heat cord and regular spraying until the neonates have had their first shed. Tubs should have a small water bowl at the cool end with a small stable hide at the hot end, this can be made from a large lid or flower pot saucer with a hole drilled in it.
Hatchlings should be kept at 30 degrees and will go through their first shed within 2-3 weeks after hatching and feeding trials can begin 2 weeks after the shed. Due to how late diamonds hatch in the wild its likely they evolved to make long periods should they not get a meal in their first summer. I have had hatchlings survive for 6-8 months before accepting their first meal so non feeders are not an urgent matter.
I attempt to feed pinkie rats first but find fuzzy mice to be preferred, however I have had some animals that refuse to switch back to rats and so starting on rats is my preference as it reduces the worry and headache of trying to switch an older animal at a later date.
For the most part diamonds will with time start to accept rodents as a food item but for the occasional stubborn ones we sometimes need to resort to scenting techniques. Firstly live fuzzy mice that have had their scent washed off and left in the tub overnight is a good method to allow the hatchlings to feel secure enough to engage in some natural predatory behaviors. If there is still stubborn feeders it’s time to scent a washed fuzzy mouse with some skink scent as this is a more natural prey item for them and can usually convince the most stubborn python.