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The Captive Care of Carpet Pythons

Article and Photos by Anthony Caponetto Written February, 2006 - For a constantly updated version, please visit www.ACReptiles.com.



Part I - Overview
About This "Care Sheet"
Let's talk about carpet pythons

Part II - Common Myths
Carpet pythons need high humidity
Carpet pythons are aggressive
Carpet pythons are arboreal

Part III - General Care


Part IV - General Housing
Cage Sizes

Part V - Cage Setup & Logistics
Secure Cage
Water Bowl
Heat Source
Hide Boxes

Part VI - General Information
Carpet python Sizes
Buying a carpet python

How do I choose a good looking hatchling?
How do I choose one that will be a tame adult?


Part I - Overview

About This "Care Sheet"
I don't really like the term "care sheet" because there is no set recipe for keeping any reptile in captivity.  This page just outlines the way I generally keep or have kept carpet pythons and what I've learned along the way.

This page isn't meant to be the “final word” on keeping carpets (Morelia spilota) and it's definitely not meant to sound as if my way is the only way.  To be honest, Carpets are pretty easy snakes to keep, so there are different methods that will also work quite well.  This is just what I’ve found to be most convenient for me, while keeping the animals' best interests in mind.  Everything you read here is based on my personal experience.  If you read something elsewhere that is different, it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is wrong.

jaguar carpet pythonLet's talk about carpet pythons...
In my opinion, carpet pythons are one of the easiest and most undemanding species of snakes to care for. They offer a lot of choices in size, color and pattern, so there is literally a carpet python for everyone.

Carpets used to be a fairly expensive snake, but most have come down in price considerably in the past five to ten years, probably due to their popularity amongst advanced hobbyists. Now that they're being produced in fairly decent numbers, they can actually be quite inexpensive, while getting even more stunning to look at.  Thanks to selective breeding efforts, I expect that carpets will start to be seen more and more often in collections.

At the same time, carpet python mutations are fairly new on the scene and can command as much as tens of thousands of dollars.  In addition to Jaguars and Tigers, we can also look forward to several pattern and color morphs becoming readily available in the near future. 

Note: Throughout this page, I will refer to ball pythons over and over again. I use the ball python as an example/reference for three reasons.

1. While I don't know if I agree, Ball pythons are very commonly thought of as a perfect beginner snake.

2. I also keep about 30 ball pythons, breed them and at one time owned about 60 of them.

3. Carpet pythons can be kept in the same basic manner as ball pythons…in fact, I keep most of my carpets just like I would ball pythons...in the exact same setup, with the same temperatures, and at the same humidity.  The only real difference is cage size for some of the largest specimens.

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Part II - Common Myths

A lot of novice keepers tend to make things more difficult or complicated than they need to be.  Carpets are hardy and easy snakes to keep.   I've found out over time, that some of the "care requirements" being passed around the internet are unnecessary.  Although I do touch on some of these things throughout this page, there are a few that I’d like to clear up before you read the rest of this paper.

Carpet pythons need high humidity.
I nearly cringe when I see keepers telling people to keep their carpets at 70% humidity.  If this were necessary, I would have killed a lot of carpet pythons by now. :-)  Over the past few years, I've basically stopped misting my carpets altogether, except when trying to instigate breeding activity.  I live in Kansas City, Missouri, where humidity dips below 30% in the winter and I rarely see a carpet have a bad shed.  In fact, I think that internal hydration plays a more critical role in facilitating proper shedding.  It should be noted that I see far fewer shedding problems with carpets than I do with ball pythons. 

Conversely, too much humidity will promote bacterial and fungal growth, which can cause a myriad of health problems.   With that being the case, I'd rather keep them a little too dry than a little too wet.

Carpet pythons are typically aggressive.
Whenever I see someone selling a nippy yearling (or older) carpet python and they play off the snake’s bad temperament by saying that it has a “Typical carpet python attitude,” it really makes me wonder how many carpet pythons they’ve really worked with.  They won't curl up in a ball and hide from you when they're nervous, but most of them are not bitey or defensive snakes. 

Hatchlings may or may not be nippy, but they are so tiny that their bites aren't painful. At a year or two of age, most nippy carpets tend to calm down and become very deliberate, trustworthy snakes. Some hatchlings may be docile after the first couple of days that you handle them, while others may take as long as a couple years to fully calm down.   Nippy hatchlings and juveniles do not necessarily have to be handled in order to eventually calm down.  Day to day maintenance and the growing snake's increased confidence will usually do the trick.

If you are genuinely concerned about having a nippy snake, ask the breeder/dealer if the snake is nippy before you buy it.  Of course, it helps if you trust them. :-) If they tell you that it is nippy, keep looking because you will eventually find a docile one if you look hard enough.  

Carpet pythons are arboreal.
Although carpet pythons can climb very well, and will usually make use of any branches or perches in their enclosure, it is not really a necessity.  Mine do just fine with nothing more than a hide box or two and a water bowl.  Carpets do make great display snakes when given something to drape themselves across, but they can be housed very efficiently if needed.

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Part III - Care and Maintenance


Day Time Temperature Gradient:
72-80F Ambient, 86-90F under the basking lamp or over heat source.

Night time Temperature:
72-80F - (A night drop is only necessary for breeding purposes.)

Although I’ve never seen problems with the cool end of the cage dipping into the low 70’s, there is no need for it, aside from breeding purposes.  

In the winter, I reduce the temperature of their basking spot during the day and turn it off at night. By doing that, I'm able to get my carpets very cool at night (for breeding purposes) without worrying so much about respiratory infections.  

It's been said that humidity should be kept at around 75-80%. Honestly, I don’t buy it.   Constantly high humidity actually promotes bacterial and fungal growth, which can lead to respiratory infectiirian jaya carpet pythonon, as well as numerous other health problems.

I’ve kept jungle carpets in screen top ten gallon fish tanks, with a heat pad underneath and a dome lamp on top, which would be a terrible set up for keeping humidity.  I never misted those cages until the animals' eyes turned blue for shedding, and they always had perfect sheds. Those particular jungle carpets reached four feet in their first year.  Not bad in my book!

If you want your carpet to grow quickly, I highly recommend starting them on rat pinkies.  Switching from mice to rats can be a problem with some carpets.

I start hatchlings on pinky rats and move them up  from there.  Contrary to what most people recommend, I generally feed prey items that are about twice the girth of the snake itself.  The frequency of meals will vary, but I generally always feed them what most people consider to be large meals. 

Corn Snakes they are not. 
Carpet pythons can take relatively huge meals, so don't be reluctant to try something that is twice or even three times their diameter.  If they have sufficient heat, they will digest the meal without incident.  Conversely, I have seen carpet pythons begin to swallow a meal of questionable size and then decide not to take it.  With that in mind, I'm comfortable letting them be the judge of what they can and cannot eat.  If a carpet is healthy, stress free and being kept at proper temperatures, you should never have to worry about this.

Carpet pythons generally speaking, are voracious eaters, however hatchlings can sometimes be tricky to get started.  In almost all cases, a picky youngster will not be picky forever. I’ve had carpets that were terribly difficult to feed at first, but once they got going, there was no stopping them.  I have an adult female who was a nightmare to feed as a hatchling and still grew to 4.5 feet by her first birthday.

Hatchlings typically prefer a fuzzy mouse over a pinky, which is a relatively large first meal, but don’t worry…we aren’t talking about Corn Snakes. Again, these are pythons, and they can handle relatively large meals.  Have I said that enough yet? :-)

If you've hatched some babies and are having trouble getting some of them to eat, usually an assist feeding is all that’s needed. Just poke the fuzzy mouse’s head into the snake’s mouth, hold for a few seconds and then set the snake back down in it’s cage. A lot of times, they will instinctively constrict the prey and eat it.

Brand new hatchlings can be picky about the method in which they are fed. Some of mine prefer live prey or for prey to be dangled overhead on forceps, while others will take pre-killed.  Some nervous hatchlings may have to be placed in a paper sack or cardboard box with the food item (pre-killed or non-weaned only), which I then place in the cage overnight.  I don't sell baby snakes before they're past this difficult stage, but not every breeder takes the time to get them started...That's why it's important to ask questions before you buy!!! 


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Part IV - Carpet Python Housing

Cage Sizes

• Young Hatchlings
Hatchlings are only usually 10-14 inches long. After hatching, to start them off, it’s been said that it’s best to keep them in a small plastic “shoe box” sized enclosure, which are approximately 4-8” wide by 10-14” long. I would recommend nothing bigger than that, at least until they have started to accept food on a regular basis.
tiger carpet python
• Hatchlings to Juveniles
After they have started to feed on a regular basis, you may move them to something a bit larger, such as a 10 gallon aquarium (with a very secure screen top) or even a large plastic "Critter Keeper" type cage.
In rack systems, I’ve housed carpets for over a year in Rubbermaid 12 quart containers (approximately 12” x 16”) with great results. For carpet pythons up to 5 feet in length, I’d say a 28 quart box (approx. 23” x 16”) would be sufficient.

• Adults
Adult Jungle carpets and Irian Jaya carpets should be kept in a cage with a minimum of 4-6 square feet of floor space, such as a 2'x2' or a 3' x 2' cage.  As a rule of thumb for pythons in general, some keepers say that one square foot of floor space per foot in length is optimal, but I think slightly less than one square foot is fine for carpets, due to their slim build.

• Large Adults
Adult coastals will require a cage that’s at least 3-4 feet long by 24” deep and 16-24” tall.

Carpet pythons are semi-arboreal as hatchlings and juveniles, and even adults will make use of any perch or branches available. This really is not a necessity, but it does seem to help with the general happiness of the snake. With that in mind, if you aren’t housing a dozen of them, you might consider a cage with sufficient height to facilitate climbing. The cage does not have to be extremely tall to accommodate a sufficient perch. A ten gallon aquarium is more than tall enough to make a hatchling feel like it's far enough off of the ground. With that in mind, some of the smaller plastic sweater boxes are only 3.5 to 4 inches tall, which makes it kind of difficult to provide any kind of perch.  In this case, you'll find that a lot of carpets are just as happy to "perch" on top of their hide box.

Just a thought…The good old 10 gallon tank
You can afford the snake, but not a cage? A ten gallon aquarium with a screen top will work great and only cost you about $20…and you can pick one up at Wal-Mart on the way home from the reptile show. For an established hatchling (one that’s feeding regularly) to 3.5 foot carpet python, a good old ten gallon fish tank with a screen top is really all you need for a cage. Aquariums can be a pain to keep looking good due to all the glass, but before I started using rack systems they really worked well in a pinch. If you don’t have a small cage laying around, a good old ten gallon tank ($10) and a screen top ($10) is a great, affordable way to house a new carpet python until you can afford a different cage…or until it outgrows the tank.  Once they outgrow the ten gallon tank, you may as well start looking at reptile cages instead of fish tanks.  Larger aquaria are expensive and heavy, not to mention still a pain to keep looking clean. That said, aquaria larger than 10 gallons are not all that practical…especially when you can buy a cage that’s light weight, easier to clean (not to mention built for reptiles) at a comparable price.

Newspaper, Disposable Cage Liners, Cypress mulch, and shredded Aspen bedding are the most popular substrates for keeping most, if not all species of pythons, and carpet pythons are no exception.

Cypress mulch and Aspen - In my experience, Aspen or Cypress Mulch seem to be even easier than newspaper when housing only one or a few snakes, and are better looking without a doubt.

When Aspen or Cypress are used, it's not necessary to change all of it out, every single time the snake soils a spot. I just remove the part that has been soiled, and then change it all out every couple of months. Aspen and Cypress may also have further benefits, as hatchlings will also burrow under it rather than use a hide box. The only marked difference I’ve seen between Aspen and Cypress, is that Cypress holds humidity better and resists mold growth better in higher humidity, but humidity is not much of an issue with carpet pythons, so choose what you like. In my opinion, Cypress is the way to go. It looks better, and is undoubtedly less expensive.

The only downsides that I have found is that Aspen or Cypress mulch tend to stick to water bowls and cage furniture (hide boxes, branches, etc.), and will ultimately end up on the floor, whenever you clean a cages or even change out the water bowls. For that reason alone, I use newspaper or indented craft paper whenever possible.

Newspaper- Newspaper is even more economical than Cypress Mulch and may sometimes be more practical to maintain, when housing larger specimens. Personally, I hate having to vacuum the floor every time I clean a cage or change water bowls, so I have switched to newspaper in all of my racks, and even some of my display type cages.

Indented Craft Paper (Disposable Cage Liners) - Indented Craft Paper is a great looking alternative to newspaper, and is actually even easier to work with.  I have been using it recently, mainly due to the fact that it's so much better looking and only one layer is needed.

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Part V - Cage Setup

Here’s what you will need…

1. Secure cage.
2. Water Bowl
3. Heat Source(s) – Under tank heater (heat tape or reptile heating pad) and for some applications, a heat lamp.
4. Hide Boxes
5. Thermometer

Secure Cage - Whatever method of housing you choose, make sure it’s escape proof, or you’ll no longer have a carpet python to house in it.  Make sure that the lid is secure and tight fitting.

Water Bowl - Choose a water bowl that is heavy, so that it doesn’t tip over when your snake is cruising around at night. With carpets, where you place the bowl within the cage isn’t much of a concern, in my opinion.

Note: Some keepers prefer to place the bowl on the warm end of the cage, in order to increase evaporation, which will equate to higher humidity. Personally, I think that it leads to more rapid bacterial/fungal growth (which means more work for you), and I don’t see any real need for this with carpet pythons, with the exception of during shed cycles.

Heat Source – I fully recommend using an under tank heater (which I will refer to as a UTH from here on). Make sure that it takes up no more than 1/3rd of the floor space. I try to keep the UTH at one extreme end of the cage, not in the middle. This will allow the other end of the cage to be cooler, allowing the snake to better control it’s body temperature (thermo regulate) by creating a better thermal gradient. Most commercial UTHs will not require the use of a thermostat or rheostat, however it is still wise to make sure that the temperature on the “hot spot” (the area directly above the UTH) does not exceed 100 degrees.

In larger collections, it’s more economical to use “flex watt” heat tape controlled by a thermostat or rheostat. Although heat tape functions in the same manner as a UTH, it is not regulated. This means that, it can get extremely hot. This can cause serious problems, including electrical fire, burns to the animal, overheating, and even death. If using heat tape, be sure to consult with a professional.

In my collection, I use heat tape on a thermostat, and prefer to keep the “hot spot” at about 90-94 degrees, which will effectively cause the ambient temperatures (in my particular cages) to fall into the proper range.

Use of a heat lamp is completely optional in my opinion, provided the UTH (or heat tape) is providing sufficient heat. If using one, put it over the same end as the UTH, so that the snake can still find a cool spot in the cage, should it wish to do so. Using a heat lamp as the only means of heat will usually cause the air in the cage to become very dry, especially in an enclosure with a lot of ventilation, such as an aquarium with a screen top.

By the way, if you do use a heat lamp or any light at all, make it easy on yourself and get a timer (Under $5 at Wal-Mart), and set it to be on for 12 hours per day and off for 12 hours.

Hide Boxes – These are one of the most important aspects of snake husbandry, in my opinion. Almost all snakes must have somewhere to hide and feel secure. Some owners only use one hide box, and that’s usually on the warm end of the cage. This makes the animal choose between hiding or being at the correct temperature, since it now has to hide on the hot end. Because of this, I prefer to use a long slab of cork bark that runs all the way from the hottest end of the cage to the coolest end of the cage. You can also place a hide box on each end of the cage, in order to give the snake a cool place to hide and a warm place to hide.  When choosing a hide box, it's best to choose one that sits low to the ground. Snakes actually feel more secure in tight, close quarters. The comparatively tall and roomy commercial hide boxes used in many collections are not usually the best choice for a hide box.

With older carpets, hide boxes aren't so important. I find that a lot of them don't even bother using a hide box unless they're digesting a meal or getting ready to shed. 

– Obviously, you need a thermometer to measure the temperature.  Measure the temperature where the snake spends its time....not the wall of the cage.  I use a temperature gun, but if you don't have one, you should actually keep thermometer in the hide area so that you can read the temperatures that the snake is actually exposed to.  Obviously, if you have a larger collection, it may not be practical to go out and buy 100 thermometers, so a temperature gun will be much more practical and cost-effective in these situations.

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Part VI - General Information

diamond x jungle carpet pythonCarpet Python Sizes

Average Size: There are several different subspecies of carpet pythons, so I will just touch on the main three, which are by far, the most common in captivity.

• Jungle Carpets (M. s. cheynei)
These guys reach 5 to 7 feet on average, though the largest females may grow to even 8.5+ feet in length.

• Coastal or Queensland Carpets (M. s. mcdowelli)
These grow the largest. Although some females have been known to grow to 10 or 11 feet in length (and maybe even more), most adults stay in the range of 7-9 feet.

• Irian Jaya Carpets (M. s. variegata)
The smallest of the carpet pythons. Males typically top out at around 4.5-5 feet, and females at about 5.5 to 6 feet, although I own a single specimen that is at least seven feet in length.

Remember, length is NOT the only factor when considering size. A lot of new keepers tend to stay away from carpets because they believe that they get too large. Keep in mind, carpets are long and slender. For example, a seven foot carpet python may weigh less than a healthy five foot ball python. That said, it really bothers me when people choose something like a ball python over a carpet python as a first python, solely due to the fact that they get longer. In contrast, an adult male Irian Jaya carpet python may not exceed 4 or 5 feet in length, making it comparable in size to many popular colubrids.

Buying a Carpet Python

How do I choose a good looking hatchling?
I am extremely particular in choosing my animals, so to me, this is the most difficult part of the process of buying and keeping a carpet python. My advice is to never buy a carpet python without at least seeing a picture of it.  Carpet pythons are extremely variable in both color and pattern and everyone has good looking snakes if you go by what they tell you! :-) They change dramatically in appearance from the time they hatch until they are several years old, so I like to see pictures of the hatchling’s parents whenever possible. When purchasing a hatchling carpet python, I always request to pictures of the parents. This will help give you an idea of what to expect as the snake gets older, as it will not be apparent in hatchlings or even yearlings.  I just can’t say it enough. Picking a hatchling carpet python can be a crap shoot even when the parents are nice, so it’s always wise to at least know what the parents look like.

How do I choose one that will be a tame adult?
Again, if you are genuinely concerned about having a nippy snake, ask the breeder/dealer if the snake is nippy before you buy it…and make sure that you can trust them. If they tell you that ALL young carpet pythons are nippy, they’re either lying to you or they don’t know any better. Either way, it really is possible to find a docile hatchling carpet python. I’d say 90% of carpet pythons will calm down within a year or so, but not always. 


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All images and content Property of Anthony Caponetto
Photos may not be used without express permission. Please do not link to photos in order to post them on forums or other websites.



Mark Chapple, author of "How to build enclosures for reptiles", would like to thank Anthony Caponetto for permission to use this article.

Find out how to build these cages as well as arboreal cages. Full color pictures, detailed diagrams and easy to follow, step-by-step instructions.