The older herpetological literature often speaks about high-grown Amethystine pythons. Worrell (1963) is said to see a dead amethystine python of 860 cm. But experts are more ready to believe the reports of Kinghorn (1967), Dean (1954) and Gow (1989) describing specimens of 670-760 cm. The largest captive specimen was 500 cm long (Barker, 1994). But these reports were all about animals captured in Australia, so the information refers to the Morelia kinghorni. But the Amethystine, which is more often brought in Europe, grows much smaller. Adult females are 250-350 cm, while males are 180-250 cm long. A smaller male’s body is slimmer than the wrist of an adult man.
Their build may remind us of the representatives of the genus Corallus, but their bodies attain sufficient bulk rather than to be laterally compressed. The elongated tail and the neck give the half of their body. The slender body is very strong-built. Their scales, especially on the belly, are large. These characteristics refer to their arboreal lifestyle. The head is big and is strongly separated from the neck. Their eyes are big and bulging, and they have fine thermo-receptive labial pits which help them in the orientation at night. Their teeth are the biggest among pythons, and may help them to capture birds.
Due to the isolation, these snakes are varied in colour. From the reddish-orange specimens of the highlands of the Wamena area to the zigzag striped animals of the Merauke island, many variations exist. I myself keep snakes from the Sorong peninsula connected to Irian Jaya. It is called the “Sorong bar neck” in certain publications. The colour of this morph is quite difficult to describe. The adults are olive-green, sometimes greyish or dark yellow. Each scale is darkly contoured. The thickness of this may vary with the parts of the body, so there are lighter and darker parts, too. At certain specimens these smudges may add up the ringed tail. At others there are more pale parts. This colour imitates the visual effects of the sunshine coming through the foliage. The belly is white or off yellow. On the neck there are two wide bars and some more black smudges, that is why it is called the “bar necked”.
There is a black stripe passing from the eyes to the labials. The large scales on the top of the head are bordered with dark pigment, so they seem to stand out of the skull. The labial thermo receptors are black and white patterned, and this makes us believe that the teeth of the animal are standing out of the mouth. To sum up, the amethystine has one of the most striking facial look among the pythons. In sunlight its skin is iridescent, its official name was given after this.
Diffusion and habitat
This species can be found on most islands of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It lives in tropical rain forests, scrubs and coastal areas of rich vegetation.
The amethystine pythons are active during the night. The young live an arboreal, while the adults of more than 1.5-2 meters live a partly arboreal lifestyle.
The amethystine pythons, just like the Morelia and Liasis species spread in the region, are not very friendly animals. But this habit can be broken easily. Before reaching into the terrarium, we should kindly touch the nose of the animal with any longer object (like a stick or forceps). This will make the animal recoil. (But never do this when feeding!) If this rite is regularly repeated from its infancy, the animal will learn when it can approach. It will not associate the opening of the terrarium with feeding, so we can avoid a lot of bites. (Similar methods are used with other captive animals, too.)
If we have to catch it, we should start taking by the back of the neck. It will cover us with foul discharge, like other snakes do, too. The shocked animal may seize the hand keeping its head, so it is better if we have a help there. The only dangerous situation is the feeding. These snakes are able to keep their elongated bodies in horizontal position while clinging only with their tails. So the animal, excited by the smell of the prey, can attack its victim from a long distance. But just because of the long distance, it may miss the target and bite something else that is moving, our hand, for example. Although they are not able to cause great harm, their bites are quite unpleasant, so we should pay attention and offer the food with long forceps. Moreover, it is better if we keep the animals separated.
The amethystine pythons are not as large and dangerous as they are often said to be, but their care is not always easy. I recommend it only to experienced breeders.
Habituating to the terrarium
I acquired my own specimens from Indonesia between 1999 and 2001. Then they were 70-120 cm long and six month-one year old. After their arrival to Europe, they were treated with chemicals including fipronil against mites (acarina). Later on they were given an inermecin injection to get rid of inner parasites.
The animals were placed to a common terrarium of 70x60x80, but later they turned out to feed and develop better if kept separately in quite narrow cages of 35x40x50.
All of them accepted the dead mouse put in for the night. Later on, they took this food from forceps, too. There was one problematic specimen which kept on refusing rats, so it ate only mice until the age of 5 and the length of 3 meters. Then its taste changed and now it is ready to accept rats of appropriate size.
At the beginning we should pay attention to the water supply of the animals, because it is often neglected on wild farms and especially during transport. Wild captured animals are often close to dehydration, and this may cause serious renal damage. Their water should not be too cold. We should change it several times a week if possible, because most snakes are sensible to the quality of drinking water, and if it is stale they are not willing to drink it. We should put some water-bowls between the branches, because younger specimens are not ready to climb down to the ground, and they do not drink, at least not as much as their organisation may claim.
The specimens longer than 1.5 meter should be placed to their final cages. I keep the adults in a terrarium of 150x70x80. For the ground I mix black mould and peat in equal proportion. It stays crumbly but does not stick and retains water well. I put branches and artificial plants in the terrarium. My animals have water-bowls which may serve as baths, but the bowls should not be too wide as they do not like floating but prefer baths which are just appropriate for their bodies, so they can feel more secure. If hiding places are ensured, the animals become more relaxed and less ready to bite, so they will be easier to deal with. Make sure that the ground of the rest-, and hiding places remains dry!
The appropriate temperature is ensured by a simple flex-bulb and a ceramic heater connected to a thermostat. The heating facilities should be outside, on one side of the ventilating bars on the roof. We should choose bulbs which ensure 28-32°C in the middle of the terrarium, and at least 22-24°C at night. So the animals can choose between warmer, “sunny” and calmer, shaded places.
The amethystine pythons require constantly high humidity. We should spray the terrarium with lukewarm water more than once a day and keep a part of the ground (not where the animals tend to rest) wet. Exposure to too low temperature and humidity may cause respiratory infections, problems with sloughing or indigestion.
In the wild the amethystine pythons feed on smaller mammals and birds, while we can feed them with constantly available mice and rats in captivity. The adult males are given one or two, while females two to four rats every time. I feed them in every 15 days, with already killed rodents. This is a more considerate and practical method compared to giving live animals.
The satisfied animals drink several times and a lot. The amethystine pythons are very greedy, make sure the males are not overweight!
Nutritional supplements like vitamins should not be given to the animals, as this may lead to overdosing of certain vitamins in the case of animals feeding on whole rodents.