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Jungle Carpet Python (Morelia spilota cheynei)
Many would agree that the natural colours of the Jungle Python make it one the most attractive of the carpet pythons. Even non-reptile enthusiasts would struggle not to look twice at the beautiful blacks and yellows associated with these animals.
The name jungle python implies that these pythons are only associated with rainforest habitat but this is not entirely true and have been commonly found in cleared and highly modified areas. Adult Jungle Carpet Pythons tend to be small and a very large specimen would be pushing 2.2 metres with most specimens reaching an average of 1.8 meters, the smaller animals are often found in closed canopy habitats like rain forest and the larger ones in cleared lands.
Jungle Carpet Pythons are generally distinguished from other carpet pythons by their prominent and distinctive head markings. These feature a dark blotch or line that extends along the side of the head through the eye. There are also dark markings on the top of the head that usually link with the partially or completely black nasal scales. These markings combined with rich colours make Jungle Carpet Pythons very popular amongst reptile hobbyists.
An unfortunate trait of many Jungle Carpet Pythons is a nervous temperament often associated with and extreme willingness to bite. This bad temper is most often displayed by juveniles and can be mistaken for aggression when in truth the animal is merely trying to defend itself from the large “predator” that it believes may be going to eat them.
If a keeper can see past the initial nervousness of the hatchlings and are prepared to put in some regular handling from a young age then Jungle Carpet Pythons can become trustworthy sub adults that will tolerate regular interaction with humans. However a specimen that won't accept handling by the time it reaches adolescence will probably never settle down.
Jungle pythons are a robust and easily cared for species that can be long lived with some understanding of their needs. Jungles can be kept and bred successfully in large plastic tubs that have a floor area of approximately 1000mmL x 600mmW but would benefit from wood or melamine cages with a minimum size of 1200mL x 600mmW x 600mmH. Heating can be provided by a heat mat placed on either the ground or on a raised shelf, alternatively ceramic heat emitters also work well provided there are some branches placed underneath to offer a basking spot. Heat sources always need to be connected to a quality thermostat and should be set to offer a hot spot of 28-30°C, this should run for at least 8 hours a day before switching to night time temperatures of 25°C.
You may find jungle pythons spend quite a bit of time draped over their perches, however a hide box is still needed and can be placed on the floor or in a raised position at the warm end of the enclosure.
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 as well. Personally I recommend these loose substrates as the make scooping out and topping up soiled sections a very simple process.
Before you decide to put two adult jungle pythons together it is important to know if you have a male and female. If two males are put together they will engage in a “wrestling match” to determine who is a better candidate for breeding with local females. Males should never be left alone for extended periods as this could physically or physiologically case irreversible harm to the less dominant animal, especially one that is trapped in a confined space with no way to escape. However with short supervised sessions this behavior can be used to confirm the sex of suspected animals and to encourage a lazy breeder to become more motived.
Mating tends to occur from late July through to late September with eggs being laid mostly in November and some clutches being laid in early September. Pairs can be housed together permanently for this time.
You can begin to drop night time air temperatures to 20°C around May but it is essential that pairs have access to sufficient daytime basking heat of 30°C and normal heating is restored around late September. Gravid females will need a suitable nest site provided around the time of the pre-lay shed, this usually occurs 30 days prior to egg deposition, and a plastic tub or polystyrene box placed at floor level can work well. A large entry hole is cut into one side and the box should be filled with damp sphagnum moss.
Like most pythons females will lay in the early hours of the morning when they feel the most secure and relaxed. They will make a depression in the moss and lay the eggs in the middle, once the last egg has been laid the female gently brings the eggs together into a single mass. The eggs adhere to each other and become difficult to separate. The female then covers the eggs with her coiled body in a beehive shape with the head always at the top. A properly formed clutch will be totally covered by the females coils and it is critical for successful maternal incubation.
Clutch sizes can vary in number from 6-25 eggs and large clutches of 20 or more eggs can be expected from well fed, older females. Fertility is usually 100% in well maintained jungle pythons and freshly laid eggs often have a pinkish colour that become a crisp white once they have dried. Infertile eggs are referred to as “slugs” and are usually a yellow colour and smaller than fertile eggs and should be discarded.
A technique known as candling can be used to identify if an egg is fertile or not. This technique uses a thin torch placed firmly against the shell of the egg to see if there is an embryo and strong red healthy veins running through the egg. This indicates the egg is strong and fertile and should make it through incubation.
Artificial incubation has been the preferred method for many years but the term “Mum knows best” seems to be leading some people back to maternal incubation. This can produce good results if the female is provided with the right conditions and a suitable lay site. Females that are incubating in indoor housing need access to morning basking sites that will allow their body temperature to reach 31-35°C for at least 4-6 hours a day and ambient temperatures in the range of 25-32°C for the remainder.
If artificial incubation is the preferred method it has the advantage of quicker female recovery time after the reproductive effort. It is the technique of choice if the keeper intends to breed their females consecutively.
For artificial incubation you will need to have an incubator setup with an accurate thermostat set to 31.5°C. Eggs can be incubated in a single mass or separated by gently rolling them apart. Separation of the eggs may cause some tearing of the surface layers of the egg but this does not harm the developing embryo. The best incubation ratio of water to perlite is 1:1 by weight and humidty should stay above 90% inside the tube throughout the 60 days.
Hatchlings will begin to cut through the eggs with their egg tooth after approximately 60 days of incubation. Maternally incubated clutches may need to be transferred to escape proof housing when hatching is nearing. If maternal incubation hatching is early and many of the hatchlings have already dispersed, count the empty egg shells to determine how many escapees you are looking for.
Hatchlings usually shed within 2-3 weeks of hatching but don’t be alarmed if some individuals take 4-6 weeks to complete this task. Neonates should be housed separately, preferably in small plastic containers with paper towel as substrate. A hide is essential for these nervous individuals and specimens that are reluctant to feed can be provided with a raised perch to allow timid specimens to examine a food item from a position of safety. Jungle hatchlings are best started on velvet or fuzzy mice and difficult feeders may need to be offered live food items left in overnight to allow them to feed when they feel at their most confident.