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Pygmy Python

Breeding and Care of Pygmy Pythons (Antaresia perthensis)

Picture of By Andrew Horlor

By Andrew Horlor

Andy has over two decades in the animal industry and reptile and fish hobby alike.

Overview

The Pygmy Python Antaresia perthensis is often referred to as the Anthill Python and is the smallest python in the world, reaching a maximum length of approximately 60 cm. Pygmy Pythons are endemic to Western Australia and are found from Goldsworthy in the north (Pilbara region) to North West Cape, south to Mullewa in the midwest (Murchison and Gascoyne Regions) and east to Wiluna. Their coloration varies according to habitat and may be reddish brown (brick-red) to a sandy yellow/orange colour. Most specimens have a pattern of dark flecks, blotches or bars. Patterning is very pronounced in hatchling animals, but this tends to fade or disappear as the animal ages.

The name perthensis is a locality mistake when described by Stull in 1932. The type specimen was believed to have originated from Perth, Western Australia however this species doesn’t exist in this region.

This small python is a solitary terrestrial species that occurs in many different habitat types from Pilbara coastal sand plains dominated by spinifex grass and woodlands to rocky outcrops. The species can also be found around the gorges and caves within the Pilbara region. They will also utilize termite mounds for shelter, feeding and possibly for egg laying. Their range falls within an arid environment that has a limited seasonal rainfall and this makes them very adapted to long periods without water.

Typical behaviors of the Pygmy Python is similar to that of other species in the Children’s Python Complex. It is a nocturnal species, often found basking on and crossing roads at night and is very active at night in the warmer months of the year.

Housing

In captivity Pygmy Pythons do very well in plastic tubs either in rack type systems or setup individually and a minimum enclosure or tub size should be 60cmL x 60cmW x 30cmH. A melamine or timber enclosure of this size or slightly larger would also be sufficient. Belly heat is best suited to this terrestrial species and can be provided with a heat mat or cord connected to a thermostat.

Pygmy Pythons can be maintained on many substrates including rocky gravel, paper towel, newspaper, washed beach sand, red sand or coco husk. Enclosure furnishings may include rocks, spinifex grass and aged wood. It is important to note that any rock, rock face or pile of rocks should be properly secured so as not to become dislodged and injure or kill the snake.

These pythons can be provided with a small, fresh live branch as environmental enrichment. Animals may be observed exploring these, sensing new smells and lying on them. A water bowl should be supplied at all times and be stable and small enough not to spill or raise humidity in a small enclosure.

The basking spot should be approximately 32 Degrees Celsius, with a thermal temperature gradient of 24 to 30 C and its best to offer a hide placed over the heating source.

Breeding

Obtaining a Male and female Pygmy Python can be more difficult if purchasing younger animals. Both sexes of Pygmy Pythons have cloacal spurs with no distinguishing features in which visual sexing can be achieved. The size of the males head is sometimes broader than the females and the female’s tail is also slightly shorter and stouter at its base but the use of these features to accurately determine the sex is not recommended. Pygmy Pythons are very small and it is best to wait until the animals are 12 months old before attempting to probe.

Once a male and female has been secured captive breeding of A perthensis is not overly difficult and can be achieved by cooling of the animals over the winter months, this stimulates spermatogenesis in males and follicular development in females. The cooling period is between May and August. Toward the end of the cooling period males should be introduced to the females in July. Pairs should be separated after 2-3 days of being together and can be reintroduced until no more mating is observed.

Egg Laying

Pre-lay shed has been recorded at 25 and 30 days and gravid females can regularly be seen lying belly up in their nest box. These pythons live in an arid environment and should be maintained in dry conditions however, gravid females can be given a small amount of moistened sphagnum moss in their lay box to assist oviposition by creating suitable laying conditions. Females prefer a compact, stable box with a small or hidden opening enabling the snake to disappear within and small plastic tubs work well for this purpose.

Egg laying usually occurs between October and November with average clutch sizes of five and six eggs. I have had some clutches as large as 12 eggs and a smallest clutch size of 4.

Incubation

Maternal incubation of Pygmy Python eggs in captivity is not recommended and has often resulted in the demise of the eggs, artificial incubation is the preferred method. After eggs have been laid they should be removed and setup in clear plastic tubs with perlite (or vermiculite) mixed with water at a ratio of 1:1 water to perlite by weight. I have also successfully used the suspended water method where eggs are placed on a grate and raised above water in the sealed plastic tub.

Plastic tubs have a small 5mm hole drilled at opposing ends for air flow and can be opened once a week to check the quality of the eggs. Incubation takes approximately 60 days at 31 degrees and I have incubated one clutch at 35 degrees that hatched at 42 days.

Hatchlings

Hatchlings can be maintained in small click clack tubs that are well ventilated. Enclosure furnishing should consist of paper towel, a hide and water bowl.

In the wild Pygmy Pythons are recorded as having a diet that consists of 67% reptiles and 33% mammals with hatchlings feeding exclusively on reptiles. This can make convincing hatchling pygmy pythons to take a pinkie mouse a little difficult at times.

Unfortunately juvenile Pygmy Pythons are very small when they emerge from the egg and will not always be able to feed on pinkie mice. If this is the case assist feeding can be achieved with mouse-tails or limbs and young snakes can be raised successfully on this way until they are large enough to start taking day old pinkie mice. In captivity they can also be fed on small skinks until they are big enough to switch to a rodent diet. Stubborn feeders may need scenting techniques to use by taking a piece of gecko or skink tail placed in the mouth of a dead day old pinkie mouse. It can also be used to “scent switch” during a feeding response by using the smell of a skink then quickly switching back a mouse.

Another method I have found very successful using a dead day old pinkie mouse is to cut the skull and use some of the brain matter on top of the head to stimulate a feeding response.

Once feeding becomes consistent specimens will generally grow rapidly and are no different to other members of the children’s python group.