Heating - where it counts!
The two most critical factors that will determine the relative success of any enclosure for hatchling pythons are: appropriate physical conditions within the enclosure - including a suitable ‘hide’ space to enhance a sense of security; and the maintenance of suitable thermal conditions, particularly in the area where the snake is able to secure itself with. Most people get the first of these requisites right – though excessive handling during the critical first week or two can unravel much of the confidence-building effect of good internal design. However, far less success is achieved with regards to the second of these overwhelmingly important environmental conditions – the provision of correct thermal conditions. The challenge is to ensure that the python is able to rest safely in a position where it can maintain its body temperature within a very specific, very narrow range of temperatures: i.e. 30ºC +/- 1 ºC for at least 12 hours a day, and preferably more like 24 hours a day. There should be scope within the chosen retreat/hide area for the snake to shift to a slightly cooler position (to establish and maintain a body temperature of say 28.5 ºC) as well as to a slightly warmer position (where it can achieve a body temperature of say 32ºC). It is essential that these specific temperatures are measured and thereby regulated within the preferred hiding area. Time and time again python keepers find out the hard way that the use of a thermometer and/or thermostat mounted on the inner wall of the enclosure can be very misleading with regards to the temperature of the preferred hidey-hole of the snake – in many cases the temperature differential between the two locations being as great as 5ºC. To expect a hatchling python to emerge from seclusion, where the temperature might be either too cold or too warm – and into an exposed position in order to achieve the desired 30ºC body temperature is a very common mistake.
Heat pads and heat cables can be very helpful, but unfortunately, most floor-heating systems are problematic if they are operated without an effective thermostatic control. That means placing the probe from a suitable thermostat in the only place it counts: on the floor where the snake lives. More times than not the conditions created by underfloor heating are too hot. The common practice of positioning the cage/plastic box/hide area partially over and partially not over the heat source frequently results in highly contrasting areas that are either too hot or too cool – with insufficient ‘middle-ground’ in the very narrow yet critically important 29 ºC to 31ºC range. We have seen floor temperatures of up to 47 ºC on one end of a clear plastic ‘Pet-pac’, contrasted by a low of 22 ºC at the opposite end of the cage floor. In this scenario the snake will either hide in the cold, refuse to feed, and eventually develop illness; or attempt to shuttle continuously from warm exposed position and the cold but ‘safe’ retreat. Left unchecked, the snake will not feed, will become increasingly stressed, and eventually ill.