Olive pythons, the gentle giants
Updated: Jan 11
Keeping the Olive python
NATURE 4 YOU – Tie and Scott Eipper
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We at Nature 4 You do not endorse the keeping of large pythons without suitable experience, and only when you have the appropriate permits and facilities to care for the animal properly. A large snake should never be handled alone.
COMMON NAMES: Olive python
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Liasis olivaceus olivaceus
PRONUNCIATION: lee-ah-sis ol-iv-ah-say-us
ETYMOLOGY: Liasis - possibly from 'lias', a type of blue limestone, olivacues - olive-coloured liasis
ADULT SIZE: 450+cms
ADULT WEIGHT: up to 20kg
LIFE EXPENTANCY: 40+ years in captivity if cared for well.
The Olive python is native to Australia, found in the northern parts of Australia - Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Olive pythons are a large terrestrial and semi-arboreal python, predominately found in open woodlands, savannah, rocky hillsides, swamps and river edges. Occasionally Olive pythons are found in houses. Olive pythons are ambush predators, preying on mammals, reptiles, bats and birds in the wild, and are occasionally found in outdoor bird aviaries/guinea pig and rabbit hutches. Olive pythons are primarily nocturnal but have been seen basking during the day in the cooler months. Olive pythons have a long, robust body form. The only species surpassing them in size are Oenpelli pythons and Scrub pythons. Olive pythons very in colour from dark grey to olive to dark brown with a cream to yellow underneath. The lips are also a creamy colour. Olive pythons are not overly commonly encountered in the wild but are extremely common in captivity. As juveniles Olive pythons can be quite snappy, but by the age of about 2, they generally settle down to become an extremely rewarding python to keep.
A single Olive python needs a terrestrial enclosure about 600mm wide X 1500mm long X 600mm High. The bigger the enclosure, the better. The housing of juveniles is best done by housing them in plastic style enclosures with ventilation holes either drilled or melted with a soldiering iron. This plastic tub can be placed inside the larger enclosure. Plastic tubs are often utilised for small snakes as they are cheap, easy to clean and seal very well. This is important as a small snake can escape through very small gaps, which are often present in timber enclosures. Juveniles can be kept in smaller conditions but should be kept by themselves. Cage-mates can turn on each other. We house our juveniles singularly in plastic tubs. These tubs have clips on the side to lock the lids in place, are readily available and easy to modify. We start our hatchling Olive pythons in 7L tubs measuring 32cms L x 21cms W x 12cms H and move them up to appropriately sized caging as they grow. We use paper towel on the bottom of these tubs as it is easy to clean - simply remove the soiled paper towel and replace with new.
Olive python, Liasis olivaceus olivaceus in her enclosure
The adult cage can have a variety of substrates ranging from bark to paper. We personally use either a kitty litter made of recycled paper – it helps absorb some of the smell and clumping “deposits” or newspaper or butcher’s paper as its easily cleaned. Other effective substrates include synthetic grass mats, bark chips and paper towel. If using the bark chips for a more natural look, make sure no fertilizers or chemicals have been added by reading the bags and try to avoid as much dust in the enclosure as possible. If using synthetic grass, you should have 2 pieces cut to size so when one gets soiled the other can be put in while other gets washed. Pet shops sell a variety of suitable substrates as well as the synthetic grass and bark chips that are available from hardware shops.
Olive pythons need cover in which they can hide. This can be provided by a
hollow log or a rock near the back wall, leaf litter etc. Pet shops have an ample range of naturalist looking hides readily available also. At least one hide should be in the warm end and one in the cool end of the cage. As Olive pythons grow in size one of the cheapest way of providing a hide is a large plastic pot.
The cage needs to be well ventilated. A series of cupboard vents cut into both the front and back of an adult enclosure work well allowing the air to flow though. In housing for younger animals, the holes should be placed in both the lid and around the sides of the plastic containers.
The water bowl should large enough for the snake to soak in. This is invaluable in the hottest parts of summer and also for sloughing. This should be situated in the cool end of the cage. For adult Olive pythons, large kitty litter trays work well. The water bowl should be washed when clean water is added, not just topped up. Not washing the bowl and continually topping up the water can lead to illness in the animal and a green water bowl.
The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week to prevent the build-up of germs etc. Cleaning out weekly will also allow you to check the animal over whilst removing them from the cage. This is when you will pick up things you may miss from just looking at the animal in the enclosure. However, traces of faeces and urine should be cleaned as soon as it’s noticed.
Albino Olive python, Liasis olivaceus olivaceus
All heating should be placed at one end of the cage and controlled by a thermostat. This creates a thermal gradient. This is vital for the survival of the occupants. If the cage is either too hot or to cool the snake has a place to retreat to. Excessive heat will kill your snake very quickly - ideal temperatures for an Olive python are approximately 32 degrees Celsius at the warm end of the cage and 24 degrees at the cool end of the cage.
Ways of heating include light bulb(s) placed at one end of the cage connected to a thermostat. A light makes viewing easier as well as heating. A heat mat or heat cord at one end, or both the light bulb and the heat mat/cord. Any light globes inside the enclosure should be placed in such a way that the snake is unable to come in contact with them. A mesh type globe cover is ideal as it prevents the snake coming in direct contact with the globe but the allows the heat generated from the light to escape. Uncovered light bulbs usually result in nasty burns to the snake. Heat cord under the enclosure is another way to heat the cage effectively. Heat rocks are commercially available, however we do not recommend using heat rocks with any animal as they are not reliable and may cause fire. We use heat cord in a rack system for our younger animals and for our older Olive pythons in cages we run heat cord under tiles on the bottom of the enclosure.
If heating the cage with a globe set up, the cage should have dark coloured globes
such as green or blue. This will then not interrupt its photoperiod. The Olive python is mainly nocturnal (active during the night). Thus the photoperiod of 14 hours light to 8 dark in summer and 12 hours light and 12 dark in winter is acceptable.
Cooling allows for the male’s sperm to be produced and the in the females ova to be made. The temperature of cooling should drop to about room temperature. However this drop should not be sudden, by turning on the heat for 4 hours in the morning for 4 weeks either side of the cooling period (1-month) this will allow the snake to gently go into torpor. (In Australia most reptiles don't truly go into hibernation.) Olive pythons should be cooled from April. While being cooled the animal should not be handled or fed. If fed, the food may kill the snake, as it may not be digested properly and may just sit and rot within its stomach, as heat also plays a role in digestion. You SHOULD NOT cool juveniles, gravid (pregnant), sick or under weight individuals as this can lead to the death of the lizard. When your Olive Python is an adult (over 175cm Snout to Vent (S.V.L.) it should be cooled in the winter months.
Your adult snake should be feeding on XL rats, adult chickens, rabbits – meals of a larger size. The size of the prey item and the amount of them is dependent on the snake in question. As hatchlings, they should be fed mice or rats weekly, but once at adult size this can be reduced to once every three – four weeks if the feed is a decent size. A suitable feed for the snake is a meal that will cause a slight bulge in the snake’s mid body. Food should generally not be offered while the snake is coming into or having a slough.
Male introductions should be from May - July. The males can be removed in and out of the females’ enclosures, allowing them time to rest. Olive pythons are oviparous. The clutch can vary from 5-20 young, with an average litter of 17. Eggs should start hatching at about 80 days when incubated at 31C.
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Elliot A (2014) A Guide to Australian pythons in Captivity, Reptile Keeper Publications, Tweed Heads, NSW
Ehmann H. 1992 Encyclopaedia of Australian Animals - Reptiles, Angus & Robertson, Pymble
Eipper S & Eipper T (2019) A Naturalist's Guide to the Snakes of Australia, John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom