Freckled Python: Information and Care

Barker and Barker

Freckled Python

Scientific name:  Liasis mackloti

Other common names:  Indonesian water python, Macklot's python.

Size:  This is a medium-sized python of medium girth. The head is wider than the neck, the tail is relatively long, but not particularly prehensile. Occasional specimens, particularly females, can become relatively heavy-bodied. 

             Freckled pythons are sexually dimorphic in size, females are larger than males.  Adult females average seven to eight feet in length and weigh about 12-16 pounds; males average six to seven feet in length. The maximum length of this species exceeds nine feet.

             Hatchlings are 15"-20" in total length. Hatchlings are very dark brown in color. 

Distribution:  The freckled python is found in the eastern end of the archipelago of the Lesser Sundas Islands of Indonesia. The species in found on the large island of Timor and the smaller nearby islands of Roti, and Semau.

             Freckled pythons are primarily creatures of the grassy uplands. Despite their occasionally being identified as “Indonesian water pythons,” the species is not particularly aquatic in its habitat preference. This species occurs in many habitats, but it is most strongly associated with the rolling hills and open grasslands found in its range. Smaller specimens are agile climbers and all are good swimmers, but the species is rarely encountered off the ground or near water.

Availability:  Several hundred freckled pythons are imported from Indonesia in most years. Indonesia did stop the export of this species in 1995, but has issued export permits for the species since 1996. At that time the CITES export permits issued by Indonesia specify only the species Liasis mackloti, and from 1996 up to recently, a significant percentage of the exported animals have actually been Sawu pythons, then identified as Liasis mackloti savuensis; even though they were more difficult to obtain, Sawu pythons brought a higher price to the exporters.

             Most captive specimens of freckled pythons are from Timor, very few are from Roti or Semau. In the U.S., most of the imported animals seem to go into the pet trade, and some are encountered at weekend reptile shows.

             This species breeds readily in captivity, at least three generations of freckled pythons had been bred in the U.S by 1998. Captive-bred hatchlings are available every year. Most U.S. lineages are descended from Timor stock. Small numbers of Roti and Semau animals are captive-bred every year.

            Captive-bred freckled pythons are available from many professional breeders, as well as private keepers. Most hatch in early-to-mid spring. The species is listed as for sale on many price lists, web sites, and classified advertising.  Captive-bred animals are often encountered at weekend reptile shows.

Pattern variation:  Freckled pythons have pale heads with yellow chins and throats, and dark bodies with pale freckles. The undersides of their necks are pale yellow, and their bellies become increasingly dark posteriorly. The underside of the tail may be uniformly dark.

             Timor specimens tend to have an even flecking of pale scales on their bodies. The backs may appear darker than the sides in some pale Timor specimens. Freckled pythons from Roti are overall very dark with few pale freckles. Semau specimens may have dark speckling on their heads; they may have so many pale freckles on the body and particularly on the sides as to appear overall nearly as pale as the head coloration.  

Color variation:  The color of the heads of most freckled pythons is brown and is very similar to the color of the pale freckles seen on the bodies. The color of the bodies varies among individuals from olive-browns to rich dark browns. Semau specimens tend to have the palest overall appearance, while Roti specimens are the darkest.

               There are no records of albinism or other forms of hypomelanism for this taxon. While freckled pythons do exhibit considerable variations in color from individual to individual, we know of no reports of dramatically unusual or anomalous conditions of color in this species. 

Maintenance requirements:

—Cage size:  Freckled pythons require a secure well-ventilated cage. A glass aquarium with a secure ventilated top (screen wire or perforated metal) makes a satisfactory cage for young specimens. Large plastic storage boxes, with numerous perforations for ventilation, can be satisfactorily used to maintain freckled pythons. There are a variety of commercially available accommodations for pythons the size of adult freckled pythons including cages constructed from polyethylene, ABS plastic, PVC and fiberglass. These are available in various sizes from several manufacturers. 

            We first maintain hatchling freckled pythons in a small enclosure with about 40 square inches of floor space. It is generally true that hatchling and young snakes placed in too-large enclosures may become insecure and fail to feed. However, in the case of freckled pythons, they typically are such voracious feeders that cage size is not as important a consideration as it can be for other species of pythons. By six months of age we move youngsters to their next cages.

            Young adult freckled pythons are kept in cages with two square feet of floor space. This amount of space is adequate for about a year. Most adults could live out their lives quite happily in an enclosure with six square feet of floor space. Some very large females may require 8-10 square feet of floor space.

—Substrate:  It has been our experience and observation that adult freckled pythons are most easily maintained when kept on newspaper. When using newspaper as a cage substrate, it is a good maintenance practice, after papering the bottom, to crumple several pieces of newspaper in the cage, under which a snake can hide if desired.

            Youngsters and subadults can be kept very satisfactorily on paper or on aspen bedding. Large specimens also could be kept on aspen, but to do so we would recommend a large cage and lots of aspen.

—Water:  Clean water should be available in a glass or ceramic water bowl at all times. For hatchlings and juveniles we supply a small water bowl measuring about 2½" in diameter, 1" in depth. Most adult freckled pythons are supplied 16 oz water bowls that are 4” in diameter and 2½” deep. The largest specimens are provided water bowls that are 8” in diameter and 2½” deep.

             Freckled pythons are rarely observed to soak in their water bowl in conditions of normal health and security. Most often the reason for freckled pythons to sit in their water bowls is that they are plagued by snake mites. This is generally a confident species, but, as is true for any python species, when stressed or insecure in their cages, some shy individuals may sit in their water bowls, "hiding" in the water.

—Temperatures:  As a general starting point, freckled pythons seem to do best if kept in the low-to-mid-80s 0F. It's a good maintenance practice to provide a temperature gradient for freckled pythons, making one end of the cage 5-8 0F warmer than the other end. The cool end of the cage should be maintained at 78-80 0F.

             In actual practice, for adult freckled pythons we provide a warm basking spot in the floor of their cage that is 88-92 0F, using either heat tape for small cages or FlexWatt for larger cages. The cages are well-ventilated, so that all heat escapes. The cages are in rooms with ambient temperatures that vary from 75-82 0F. Young freckled pythons, including hatchlings, are kept in small cages that do not have basking spot or a temperature gradient. They are kept at ambient temperature in a room that varies from 78 degrees at night to 84 degrees in the day.

            As is true for many snakes, freckled pythons can better tolerate temperature extremes if they do not have food in their digestive system. If recently fed, freckled pythons should not be subjected to temperatures more than 90 0F or below 74 0F. When empty of food, freckled pythons are tolerant of a wider range of temperatures.

—Feeding requirements:  Young freckled pythons eat mice. Older freckled pythons are fed rats. Large specimens may eat small rabbits. One appropriately-sized prey item per week is an adequate feeding schedule. Large sexually-mature specimens will usually stop feeding during the winter months.

            Hatchlings usually begin feeding on live small mice (just weaned, 4-5 weeks old) for their first meals. Once feeding has commenced, most freckled pythons readily accept dead prey as food, either thawed or fresh-killed.

             REMEMBER!  Don't leave live rodents in with pythons unsupervised for any period longer than 30 minutes. A live hungry adult mouse left in the cage with any captive python may attack and damage or even kill the python. When feeding a live mouse to any snake, always place some food for the mouse in the cage at the same time.

—Shedding:  Freckled pythons generally have few problems shedding their skin. When a snake incompletely sheds, and a portion of the skin is left adhered to the snake, the snake should be soaked in pure or slightly-soapy shallow water for several hours, after which the adhered shed typically comes off very easily. 

           Small patches of skin that remain adhered to the snake are not expected to have any deleterious effect and it is at the option of the keeper to arrange for the removal. It’s probably best to see that skin is not left on the face and eyes. Typically, “stuck” pieces of shed will come off with the next shed. Incomplete sheds and adhered sheds are an indicator that the ambient humidity in the cage is too low and the careful keeper will “tweak” the system to increase the humidity.

—Special considerations for hatchlings and juveniles:  Some hatchling freckled pythons are ferociously nippy for the first few months of their life. Not to worry. The snakes are small and the bites are harmless. Feed them lots of food and get them growing. Once they're about 4-6 months old, they begin to settle down. Adults are typically very good-natured.

—General comments:  Freckled pythons are beautifully patterned pythons, large but not too large. They grow fast, if encouraged by lots of food, and they can sexually mature in their second year. They breed readily in captivity. To date, they've been rather overlooked by python fanciers, but they have a growing fan club.