A Captive Care Guide for M. boeleni, the New Guinea Black Python
The primary undertaking, before attempting to design and equip a habitat for a Boelen’s python, is attitudinal. Care of M. boeleni calls for a positive and determined mindset. This is in preparation for coping judiciously with a behaviorally and off-times medically fragile animal. Caring for this species is daunting, expensive, and too often disappointing. Before you begin this venture, find a vet specializing in exotics. Time spent now in discussion with the vet will make communication easier in the future should the animal develop a medical problem. Yes, it is highly likely that it will develop some type of medical concern when least expected.
Preparation is possibly the only condition that stands between you and a successful outcome. Anticipate, anticipate, and anticipate! Do not be afraid of M. boeleni, but be aware and be cautious. Be willing to spend the initial time and money necessary to provide the proper husbandry. When unsure of answers to a particular problem, speak with your reptile veterinarian, other owners, or zoological herpetologists.
Understanding the natural temperament of M. boeleni and factors that produce avoidant behavior is a key to successful husbandry. Be prepared to document observable behavior and to make use of this information to develop strategies for anticipated events. Take note of specific behaviors or patterns that are possibly idiosyncratic to the Boelen’s python in your care.
When you first acquire this species, isolating it for a minimum of one month is prudent, as a healthy looking Boelen’s python can be and often is infested with parasites. Select an area for its enclosure that meets or exceeds your requirement for isolation, lack of environmental disturbance, and drafts. In order to minimize stress, it is advisable to separate M. boeleni from all other animals in the collection or facility, including separation from other Boelen’s pythons regardless of sex.
When housing more than one Boelen’s maintain separate enclosures. These pythons prefer isolation. It is likely that the scent of other reptiles and animals would prove unsettling as Boelen’s are known to distance themselves from others of the same species as well as any territorial invaders. While I am aware that several animals do exist in one area, I have yet to observe any signs of communal living or the specifics of sexual ratios of male to female without observed anxiety and the presence of agitated behavior.
When designing an enclosure for Boelen’s pythons, remember that simple is best. Safety, security, temperature and humidity regulation, lighting, and diet are fundamental needs. Attending to these basics will result in a more positive environment than would occur if the focus were placed on preparing an elaborate enclosure.
You should provide a safe, secure enclosure that is of sufficient size to accommodate the snake’s length and girth. Avoid the inclination to provide excess room since too much space likely encourages constant roaming and increased stress. A reasonably sized area that is easy to navigate promotes the animal’s sense of security.
You should provide a safe, secure enclosure that is of sufficient size to accommodate the snake’s length and girth. Avoid the inclination to provide excess room since too much space can lead to constant roaming and increased stress. A reasonably sized area that is easy to navigate promotes the animal’s sense of security. This will also prove to be easier for controlling temperature gradients and humidity. Take note that several keepers have tried utilizing large walk-in enclosures and have had relatively good success.
In its natural habitat Boelen’s pythons inhabit shelved areas of earth formed around and near jagged limestone. These areas are covered by moist vegetation and rock. This species will squeeze into a tight fitting crevice when alerted to danger or when resting for the cooler portions of the day or night. When it is in an unfamiliar environment, having a sense of the physical limits of the surroundings is certainly more assuring to it than having to broadly move about to define its territory.
The protocol established for housing adults is equally appropriate for neonates and juveniles. Simple is best and minimal stress for the animal is the goal. Animals should be housed singly or in correctly sized enclosures. I suggest the use of white paper or paper towels as substrate in the cage of a neonate, juvenile or recently acquired adult, especially during the initial isolation period. Once you have determined that the animal is in an ongoing state of good health, you can consider changing the substrate of the enclosure. Newspaper or paper towels provide a very sterile environment, allowing for easier cleaning and fecal examination while minimizing the animal’s stress when cleaning the cage.
The cage should include at least one general hiding spot and a basking area (a good solid branch). Provide a shallow bowl for drinking and soaking. Clean and refill the bowl with fresh bottled water on a daily basis. Neonates and juveniles have a tendency to dehydrate quickly, so it is essential to prevent evaporation. As long as sufficient amounts of water are available for soaking or drinking, one misting per day on moss will provide an adequate amount of humidity. Some keepers use forest bedding with small wood sticks and such. This type of substrate holds the humidity but can cause problems with lacerations or accidental ingestion. It ultimately depends on the situation and your comfort level.
It is challenging to re-create the natural habitat of West Papua. Some climactic conditions cannot be duplicated in the captive environment. The climate varies throughout the highlands; one valley may experience a dry season and an adjacent one a rainy season, while yet a third nearby valley may have rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. (Dalton, 1988). In most areas the difference between the rainy and dry season is a matter of intensity of the daily rain, not necessarily the frequency or amount of rain.
In the captive enclosure the temperature should be equivalent to that in the highlands and mountains or the snake may engage in anxious roaming. To accommodate the variability of the climate in the wild, cycle artificial “dry” and “wet” seasons, and make each season six months long. During the dry season, use a misting system timed for three minute periods twice a day. During the wet season, schedule an additional three minute misting every day. However, keep in mind that these snakes appear to be most comfortable and to prefer to remain dry.
I recommend including both a dry area and an area for soaking so animal can submerge its entire body (more typically observed with adult snakes then hatchlings) Obviously you should increase the size of the enclosure as the animal grows. It also is essential for you to create a temperature gradient throughout the enclosure. Decisions about temperature regulation will vary depending upon the age of the snake. Within the enclosure establish a daytime zone for resting and exploration that remains in the mid 80’s (Fahrenheit), and provide a basking zone with a temperature in the mid 90’s (Fahrenheit) for certain portions of the day. Allow the evening temperature of the enclosure to drop to the low 80’s (Fahrenheit) and even high 70’s (Fahrenheit) while M. boeleni is young. Humidity should range from a high of 80 percent to a low of 60 percent.
Temperatures must follow a thermal gradient within the enclosure with specific care taken to prevent dehydration for hatchlings or juveniles. For neonates and babies, allowing the temperature to reach higher then 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius) in the warmest part of the day in my opinion is not recommended. A comfortable temperature is 81-86 degrees Fahrenheit (27-30 degrees Celsius) for this age group. For adults inside the nest area, the temperature should be maintained in the mid 80’s (Fahrenheit). While it is true that I have recorded temperatures of 48 degrees and lower (Fahrenheit) in the mountains of West Papua, it is important to note that these readings were for outside temperature, not the ambient temperature of the snake’s resting place or nest site.
To guarantee optimal lighting in addition to temperature, it is advisable to use a timer on your lighting system. Set the timer for early morning, mid afternoon and a brief period of exposure before evening. The combination of heat and ultraviolet lighting – there has been a lot of debate about UVA and UVB ultraviolet exposure – will allow the animal to return to a natural schedule of basking, eating and perhaps even breeding.
Improper temperature and light, a lack of satisfactory hiding places, and improper hydration are all factors that will increase the likelihood of the animal becoming distressed. A Boelen’s that is in a constant state of agitation will not eat, and a Boelen’s that will not eat will eventually die.
Feeding the captive Boelen’s can be difficult. Without knowing the exact circumstances of the capture, collection and transportation of the individual, it is reasonable to expect that it will be on heightened alert and consequently not inclined to eat (although in my experience hatchlings are quite prompt to catch on to feeding in captivity). To lessen the animal’s potential for anxiety, create a routine that allows plenty of time to address uncooperative behavior. It is not unrealistic to double the amount of time you think is necessary. The first several months will be critical since this is the period of acclimation.
When offering food for the first time, prepare an area with low lights. The room must be free from distractions such as noise, strong odors, animals and people. This will allow the snake to move at its own pace, have relatively little distraction and fewer scents to identify, which will limit the potential for over-stimulation. Everything about this snake is finicky so it is not a surprise to have problems with stubborn feeders.
Offer prey at least twice a week. My recommendation is to offer pre-killed prey items. If you are using frozen food, you will need to thaw the food in a sanitary manner until it is room temperature. I recommend smaller food items – it is often easier for this species of snake to eat two small mice or rats then struggle with a large rodent.
Feeding an adult, can be very frustrating, especially for someone who has not had experience working with this snake and dealing with fresh imports. First make sure the animal is relatively relaxed and accustomed to its new environment. Initially offer food in the same matter as you would a juvenile or hatchling (see below), but try a small thawed chick. Wild caught animals seem especially willing to accept food in this manner. Once it begins to eat the chick, continue to feed but replace the next chick with a small thawed rat. If you are motionless, the snake is unlikely to notice that it is not the same food item and it will continue to swallow. After several feedings the animal ought to accept rodents.
Hatchlings and juveniles can be offered food in several ways. I recommend providing food in an area with low lighting to help relax the animal. Don’t worry, Boelen’s have excellent vision. Feed off tongs first. If this is not successful, dip the mouse’s snout into chicken broth or rub chicken broth onto a small chick, then leave the prey in a dish outside of the hide box. This strategy is likely to work after several tries.
Sometimes it is useful to offer prey items from an elevated area such as a branch or perch. Babies seem to display some arboreal tendencies although they are not actually arboreal. This could be due to several factors. One possibility is that in the wild they search for food in branches and small bushes where competition from adults is unlikely. Perhaps while climbing above the forest floor seeking safety from predators they find fledgling birds, small bats, lizards, frogs, or insects to eat. New theories about the fossorial behavior of neonates and young are being researched (A. Flagle, T. Mendelson 2008).
I hope that this introductory guide will help those with questions about the captive care of M. boeleni. While there is still much to learn, I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the specimens that have been made available to me. I have not forgotten those who have helped me get where I am today. I am always available to answer questions and share ideas and research with anyone! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.Tags: boelen, captive care, herpetologists, observable behavior, parasites, proper husbandry, reptile veterinarian, stress, temperament