Python curtus 'complex' / Shorttail python - Care
|Reproduction:||ovipaar / eierleggend|
|Cites:||B / II|
The Python ‘curtus’ complex.
Introduction: Snakes from the Python curtus complex, especially the Python brongersmai are regularly offered via this website. This group of snakes have proved to have an interesting character, great size and appearance and with the introduction of captive bred and several morphs people have learned that the previously known aggressive species is in fact a joy to keep and can be maintained fairly easy in a captive environment.
The ‘curtus complex’: There are currently four recognized species of shorttailpythons, the Python breitensteini (Borneo shorttail python), Python brongersmai (also known as Malaysian bloodpython) and Python curtus (Sumatran shorttail python). In 2002 a possible new species was found that in 2011 was named as Python kyaiktiyo by Zug, Gotte & Jacobs. Since there is very little known about this species and just a handful of animals found that match the description of this species many do not fully recognise this species and think it is a local form of the Python brongersmai. As the Python kyaiktiyo is still under discussion and there are no known individuals of this species represented in captivity. We will focus this article on the three known species. For many years. The now known three full species where described as subspecies of the Python curtus. Originally named by Schlegel in 1872.
Python breitensteini was originally described in 1880 by Steindacher from an animal from Kalimantan, Borneo. To be classified as a subspecies of the Python curtus by Stull in 1935 making it Python curtus breitensteini. After many papers claiming Python curtus breitensteini was correct it was reclassified as a full species within the ‘curtus complex’ by Keogh, Barker & Shine in 2001. This was done on genetical basis, origin and scale count.
Python brongersmai was when described directly placed as a subspecies of Python curtus by Stull in 1938 naming it Python curtus brongersmai from a specimen originating from Malay peninsula, Singapore. In 2000 this species was re-elevated to a full species by Pauwels in 2000 to be named as Python brongersmai. This was confirmed by Schleip & O’Shea (2010) and Keogh, Barker & Shine (2001)
In the hobby the re elevation of the subspecies to three full species is widely accepted. But there are still many animals offered (incorrectly) as ‘Python curtus curtus, Python curtus breitensteini and Python curtus brongersmai’
Status: All three known species are listed under Cites, Appendix B. This means there is a quota on animals and also skins that are exported from their country of origin. All three species are exploited together with the native Python reticulatus and Python bivittatus for the skintrade. With the Python breitensteini and Python curtus being most used with about 100000 skins per year. With only a very small amount being ‘captive bred’ or better called. Farm bred. Still many shorttailpythons get exported as farmbred animals to Europe and the US. Which often means they caught a wild pregnant female, let her lay and then use her for her skin. As there are a lot of people breeding this species now we all should take the obligation to only buy captive born and bred animals. This will lower the demand on wild caught animals and will save yourself a whole lot of issues with your new addition. As captive bred animals are much more acclimated to a captive environment, have a better character (less defensive) and the risk of any pathogens or parasites that cause health issues is much lower.
General appearance: Shorttail pythons are by Python standards a medium sized snake. Average size is about 100/130 (Python curtus) 130/150cm (Python breitensteini) and 150-180cm (Python brongersmai). They have a strong muscular heavily build body. The tail is relatively short and stout. The head is shaped similar to an arrow point. With a relatively blunt nose and flat surface. The three species all have a similar pattern consisting of (elongated) blotches and saddles along the back. With a pattern of lighter round blotches on the side starting from the ventrals to about mid dorsals. The belly of Python breitensteini, Python brongersmai and the western form of Python curtus is a light cream colour with often a grey washing.
The southern form of Python curtus ‘Blackhead’ is almost totally black with depending on the gradation of black a faint pattern. Giving it the name ‘Black blood’ or Sumatran black shorttail python. This form can have bright orange eyes. Within this form there is a so called ‘Chromehead’ or ‘Silver’ type. In this form the pattern can be more distinguished and has a light grey colour and the head is a light grey. The western form of Python curtus, Python curtus ‘Yellowhead’ has a lighter more brown appearance with a lighter pattern and yellow to orange head. The Python curtus ‘Yellowhead’ is the smallest of the curtus complex. Often reaching no more than 120cm with adult males weighing 2.5 till 3kilograms and adult females about 4.5 kilograms. This type looks a lot like many Python breitensteini but genetics and scale count on the head distinguish the two species. There has been found a T- albino form of the Python curtus ‘Blackhead’ but we have no info what happened to this animal. Within Python curtus ‘Yellowhead’ there is a T+ albino form also known as the Caramel albino.
Python breitensteini, commonly known as the Borneo shorttail python has in general a brown base colour with a lighter yellow pattern. They are very polymorphic depending on their origin. Some can be very yellow while others have a more red head or grey washing inside the lighter pattern. There are several morphs found from the wild and in captive collections. With the ‘Ultra (several lines)’ and ‘Superstripe’ being the most profound and bred. Recently the T+ albino variant also hit the market. There was knowledge of a T- albino but that particular animal died.
Python brongersmai common name is the ‘Red shorttail’ ‘Malaysian blood’ or ‘Red Bloodpython’ for a very obvious reason. Many individuals have in general a red bodycolour. With the pattern being lighter till a yellow or cream colour. The most known red form are the animals from the Malaysian ‘Bangka’ island. But this is certainly not the only locality. On Sumatra there is also found the so called ‘Yellow’ form. Python brongersmai has the widest range of available morphs/mutations being bred in the hobby.
General behaviour: For those who have read older articles about these snakes or have been in the hobby for some years. Will know the shorttail and bloodpythons don’t have the best reputation. They were known to be bad tempered, defensive, terrible to handle and adapt badly to captive environments. Wildcaught animals came in to the country under bad conditions, where heavily dehydrated and riddled with parasites and other health issues. Most animals originated from collectors who caught them for the skintrade and would be kept in terrible conditions before they were exported. Deceases where common in these conditions and none of these normally very reclusive snakes had good experience with the human species. Because of this the demand and availability of these snakes was very low in the hobby.
Luckily. Some breeders did not give up on these wonderful animals. And with time, people learned more about them and started to breed them. With this knowledge the availability of captive animals and even some morphs hobbyist learned these snakes are actually in general very calm, robust and relatively easy to breed. Causing the market for snakes of the Python curtus complex to grow.
In the wild Python curtus, breitensteini and brongersmai are mostly active during the sunset and night. Looking at their body type you can tell they are not active hunters. But rather take up a strategic position along a trail to wait until a possible prey comes by. Which they will try to grab and constrict. They will almost never climb and spend most their time hidden between leaves or low vegetation on the forest floor.
Natural range and habitat: Overall still very little research is done on the natural habits of the pythons within the ‘Curtus complex’. Blood and shorttail python prefer humid, well vegetated forests, swamps and marshy areas. With plenty of places to hide and close to water. Many specimens are found in and around rice paddies cultivated by man. Attracted to the rodents that will come to these places to feed.
Python breitensteini is endemic to the island of Borneo. Where they are found in almost the entire country. Python brongersmai is mostly found in western Malaysia and a diverse group of island along Malaysia and Sumatra and the eastern half of Sumatra. Python curtus is found on the western (yellowhead) till southern parts (blackhead) of Sumatra.
Captive requirements: With the years people have learned that these Pythons are very capable of being properly maintained in a captive environment. They do not need any specific seasonal care, UV light or massive setups. There are a few aspects we need to consider when setting up an enclosure for these snakes.
Setting up hatchlings: In the wild, hatchling and young shorttail or blood pythons are very rarely found. They live a very reclusive life and hide a lot between leaves, fallen branches and between the vegetation. We need to take this in consideration when setting up the enclosure. It is not uncommon for people to have a non-feeding shorttailpython because the enclosure is too big or better said does not provide well enough when it comes to hiding. They like to feel secure and when they are placed in a big open container with very little to hide under they will feel unsecure and will stop feeding in many cases. Best is to set hatchlings up in a relatively low container or faunabox measuring about 30x40x10/13cm. With a layer of paper towel or a more natural layer of cypress mulch as an substrate. Paper towel is very easy to maintain and change while cypress mulch can also act as a big (humid) hiding place as these babies love to dig in it. Add a hide on each side of the enclosure so the animals can always thermoregulate without leaving their safe space and provide them with a waterbowl that is big enough for them to emirs themselves.
Juveniles: Blood and shorttailpythons are very efficient and when feeding on a normal schedule will grow very fast. It is possible to keep these snakes in a so called ‘snakerack’ as long as the tubs are big enough and provide them with the proper hiding spaces. That being said, we all like to see and observe our animals and many well established animals will do well in a terrarium setup. As long as we keep in mind there are enough hides so they feel secure.
Adults: Depending on the species and size. Animals can eventually be set up in an enclosure that measures 90x60x35(animals till 120cm), 120x70x35 (animals till 160cm) and 150x70 or larger for big individuals. These snakes might seem sluggish and they are most certainly not as active a Coluber species of some kind. But they do forage looking for better ambush positions and need to stretch to keep a good muscle condition and stimulate their bowel movement and we need to keep enough space and options for them to thermoregulate. U can use several items as hides. From the manufactured reptile hides, upside-down plastic boxes with a hole cut in it or cork bark and tubes.
We always advise to house no more than a single Python per cage and only introduce animals during the breeding season. Pythons can be territorial and although sometimes the signs are not that obvious housing several pythons together can cause stress. Which can lead to a drop in their resistance and overall health or cause the snakes to stop feeding. Although this behaviour is mostly know with Python reticulates and some Amethystine Pythons, there have been several reports of especially males, but also male to female fights of the Python curtus, breitensteini and Python brongersmai. The snakes can cause serious damage to each other during these fights and some snakes will not survive the wound that are caused.
Substrates: Many hobbyist, especially those who keep their animals in racks like to use some sort of paper material as substrate such as newspaper, paper towel etc. This is very cheap, easy to change and waste is easily identified after which it can be removed. The downside for media like this is the fact it won’t absorb any moist or waste efficiently. This does not only make it harder to maintain a certain humidity level in the enclosure. But these massive snakes drink and pee a lot and although animals do not defecate a lot, when they do it will be often a huge amount of faeces and urates. As the paper will not absorb a lot, the whole paper can get very dirty very fast. So you need to make sure you replace the substrate as immediate as possible. Otherwise the snake will lay in their own waste which can cause several health issues.
Cypress mulch and Cocohusk are the most used substrates for Python curtus, breitensteini and brongersmai. It absorbs moist and waste well and will help in keeping a certain humidity level in the enclosure. Because their substrate is more humid (not wet!) this often helps with shedding. Do note that you can’t see if an animal has peed. So to make sure the substrate is not filthy u need to change it ones a month or after they defecate. Other substrates u can use are reptibark or cocopeat. Do not use aspen, hemp or any similar substrates. There have been several reports this will get under the upper lip of the Pythons. Get stuck between the teeth and when not spotted in time cause infections like stomatitis.
Heating: Like many other subtropical ground dwelling reptiles these snakes do not bask. So the use of a spotlight can be very unnatural. Temperatures in their wild range are fairly constant and there is not a lot of difference between day and night temperatures. The best way to heat the enclosure of your blood or shorttail python is to use, depending on the size and type of your enclosure, a heating cable or mat under the enclosure. Or to use a (ceramic) heat panel attached to the roof of the enclosure. These types of heating equipment do not create one concentrated hotspot. But will more evenly distribute the heat. Creating a warmer condition that better suits their tropical surroundings. Always place the heating on a side of the enclosure covering about 30% of the surface and not in the middle. So there is some difference between the warmer and cooler gradients in your terrarium and the snakes can move between these gradients. Preventing they get to hot or to cold. That being said, these snakes do not like fairly high temperatures and will spend most of their time on the ‘cooler’ side of the enclosure only to spend time on the warmer side just after feeding or during gestation. On average the hotspot needs to be 30/32C. With temperatures in this warmer zone being 27/28C. With an average of 25/26C on the cooler side. During the night temperatures can drop 2 or 3 degrees but never long-term below 20C. As this can cause respiratory ailments. When temperatures get to high they can regurgitate foods, or become very stressed.
Hobbyist who have a big collection of Python curtus, brongersmai and/or breitensteini sometimes choose to not heat per enclosure but to heat the whole snakeroom. Using a radiant heater and fans to distribute the temperatures and humidity. On average these rooms measure a temperature of 27/28C and a few degrees lower during the night. In these circumstances no hotspots are provided to the hatchlings and non-breeding animals but only to breeding females.
Water: Shorttail pythons drink a lot and hydration is an important part in keeping your snake happy and healthy. So clean water needs to be readily available. Provide them with big and clean waterbowl. Change the water and rinse the waterbowl minimal every other day and disinfect the waterbowl regularly. Animals that ate a big meal, that go into shedding or are breeding need to get new/fresh water every day. Keepers will notice that the pythons will drink a lot after replacing the water and females that are producing follicles and eggs need to hydrate a lot to help them manage all the ‘waste’ in their bloodstream. These snakes love to bath. So when possible provide them with a waterbowl that is big enough for them to soak in. Or soak them in a tub with tepid water ones a month. This also helps with any shedding.
Metabolism and stool: We often get questions on peoples shorttail pythons about their bowel movement. These pythons are very efficient and will retain their faecal matter for a long time to make sure they get out all the nutrition. Especially juveniles and adults can take weeks till months in between pooping. So do not think your shorttail python is constipated when it has been a while. Do not forget these snakes will lay still in a certain place for a long time, hidden between leaves or roots waiting for a prey to pass by. So it is not very ‘smart’ to constantly defecate on the spot you lay. This can not only cause health issues but also attract any potential predators. You will see that ones the python has passed they will lay as far away from the faeces as possible.
When in doubt, soaking your python in a tub with a layer of tepid water will often stimulate the bowl movement and cause them to poo. Please note that although they do not defecate a lot. They will produce a lot of liquid waste. So replace your substrate regularly even when it looks all clean.
Diet: All three species of the Python curtus complex will feed without much trouble in captivity. In general their diet mostly consists out of rodents, small mammals and birds that live on the bottom of the forest floor. In captivity these snakes do well on a diet of mouse, African softfur rats, rats and sometimes small rabbits and Guinea pigs. There are many methods when it comes to a feeding schedule and all have their pros and cons. Some people try to feed very little. On average ones a month for babies and ones every few months a very big prey for adults. Seeming this is more natural then the abundance of food we provide them with in captivity. That being said an animal in the wild will take what it can get and a very lean animal has a lower resistance as a well fed healthy animal. The aim is to keep our animals in as oprimum conditions as possible, while in the wild often they need to struggle to survive. We do need to prevent our snakes from getting fat. As a very fat high protein diet can in the long-term cause liver and renal issues, resulting in an early death of the snake.
We advise to feed hatchlings up till 12 month old shorttail pythons to be fed every 7 days and use any shedding period as a small pause. Hatchlings often start up well on (life) springer till adult mouse and after a few meals can soon be set on small rats weighing about 50 till 90 grams. Feed your shorttail and bloodpythons with prey that are about as wide till 110% as wide as the biggest part or their midbody. After 12 months you can offer a prey ones every 10 till 14 days and again use the shedding cycle as a possible pause. After 30 till 36 months you can feed your then young adults ones a month with big rats. Like said these snakes are very efficient and a big rat (or rats) of 300grams + can still be a prefect prey item for an adult specimen. For very big individuals we can also use several rats or a small rabbit. On average their food needs to weigh about 10% till 15% of their bodyweight per feeding. Rather feed a little bit less then too much. So the snake develops in an steady manner. A very good sign of a heavily fed immature snake is a very small head compared to a very big heavy body.
When your shorttail python is refusing to feed often there is something wrong with their setup. So check the temperatures, are there enough hides ? or is the enclosure maybe too big. When all seems correct chicks can be a very useful prey item to get a reaction from reluctant feeders. Other prey options are gerbils and hamsters.
Handling: We have learned that blood and shorttail pythons do not nearly deserve the bad reputation they ones had. They can be very calm and easy to handle. We need to keep in mind that when we take these snakes out of their enclosure they are often in food mode. That is what they do, they lay somewhere waiting for something to pass which they can grab, constrict and eat. So abrupt movement in the enclosure can trigger a feeding response. It is very simple to take them out of this response by rubbing them with a tool like a snakehook ones we enter the terrarium. The snakehook can be used to pull a certain body part toward you to better manoeuvre them out of the terrarium, preferably the midbody, but never only grab them by the tail. The snakehook can only be used in this manner and must never be used as a way to handle or lift a bloodpython. These snakes get big and are very heavy and having all that weight on just a single or two small metal parts can cause bruising and damage to the muscles, ribs and spine. Best is to support as much of the body with not only your handle but also lower arms. Shorttailpythons do not climb and do not feel comfortable hanging above the ground on just two small hands. This will cause them to get restless and seek a more solid ground. So support them well and no longer then needed. Never put adult big snakes like this around your neck.
Morph list: There are more and more known morphs within Python brongersmai. Here you will find a list of all the commonly known and proven genetic mutations and/or lines.
- Matrix – Ivory: This is a codominant or incomplete mutation and probably the best known and certainly most bred and combined mutation within this species. Matrix is the name of the incomplete (heterozygous) form and Ivory is the homozygous or ‘superform’ of this mutation. Matrix are very variable and can do some cool things when combined with other mutations. On their own Matrix can be identified by the lack of grey washing in the white/cream blotches along the dorsals. Making for a more bright white. Pixelation along the scales on the sides. A brouder suboculair stripe. 90% of the time a pink tongue and a cleaner pattern. Ivory is a different looking appearance. Hatching a light yellow/ivory color. Thet turns white after some sheds. Along the back a pattern of blotches and speckels that can be yellow, brown or black.
- Batik – Superbatik: is co-dominant. Batik being the heterozygous form and superbatik being the homozygous form. Batik has a very cryptic hectic pattern. The superform is completely patternless, mostly creamcolour with some oranges on the head. This form is said to have kinks and therefor is not commonly bred.
- Goldeneye – Magpie: On of the coolest single mutations within Python brongersmai. It is a co-dominant morph with Goldeneye as the heterozygous form and Magpie as the homozygous form. Goldeneyes can be recognized by their golden eyes, hens the name and often have a very bold thick creamy till yellow pattern. Magpies rre hatched white. With an irregular amount of black blotches and black markings on the sides of the head. The eyes are silver/white. With age Magpies get very pink/red.
- Wroung iron: Is a mutation currently developed by VPI. It is at least a dominant mutation. More breeding needs to be done to learn more.
- Toba: Is a mutation found in a certain locality. It is at least a dominant mutation.
- Frostbite: Another mutation that still needs to be learned more about. Again this is at least a dominant genetic mutation
- 007 = a combination between Matrix + Goldeneye
- Pixel = a combination of Goldeneye + batik
- Batrix = a combination of Batik + Matrix
- T+ albino: One of the first available mutations within Python brongersmai. There are several lines of this recessive mutation but all seem to be compatible.
- T- albino: Is another recessive mutation. These are the albinos that miss all melanin. Causing for a dramatic appearance. Red eyes, and a bright white/yellow/red pattern.
- Striped/Superstripe: There are several genetic stripe lines. Most seem to be a form of dominant. But many will also randomly pop up from normal appearing snakes or are improved by line breedings.
The last few years more mutations and combinations have come available. But especially in Europe these mutations and the combinations are very new. Leaving much potential for the future.