Name (Common): Brown Water Python
Name (Scientific): Liasis fuscus

Distribution: Monsoonal Belt of Northern Australia, Cornwallis Island (Torres Strait), E. Irian Jaya, W. Papua
Size (Mature): 5-6'
Diet: rodents
Habitat: on water margins (creeks, swamps, lakes, rivers, lagoons)

The Water Python is a robustly built snake, with a long head slightly distinct from the neck. Dorsally its color is a uniform iridescent dark, blackish brown with the ventral surface being dull to bright yellow, with the yellow color extending onto the lower few rows of lateral body scales. The underside of the tail is a dark blackish brown. The throat is cream in color. The scalation is smooth, with 47-51 mid-body rows, 270-300 ventrals, a single anal and 60-75 paired subcaudals. (Raymond T. Hoser) The head scales are large and symmetrical. When viewed under sufficient lighting, it’s easy to see how the liasis fuscus earned the nickname “rainbow python.”

TEMPERAMENT While most liasis have a reputation for biting, the temperaments of brown water pythons seems to vary from one to the other. I keep two, one who is as tame as they come, and another who will bite you just as soon as look at you. I have read of other keepers with the same situation. Some claim that the variations in temperament are related to the snake’s native area, but when dealing with captive bred animals, the point is moot.

Generally, I find the liasis fuscus a very rewarding species to keep. They are more social and inquisitive than ball pythons, and if you have an even-tempered specimen, that can make for some very satisfying interaction. Mine tend to come out of their hides whenever I come into the room, and if I stay, they will come out and roam around. My friendlier fuscus will come out of his enclosure and climb onto me without fear or trepidation. He also comes out whenever I mist his cage, usually climbing to the topmost point of the enclosure to “bask” in the humidity.

As with all pythons, three approaches to housing a brown water python include glass, plastic and professional housing solutions each of which will be explored in more detail below. When choosing your housing, keep in mind that the liasis fuscus requires a humidity level of 70% to 80%. Plastic containers make maintaining humidity far easier than glass containers. If you choose to keep your water python in glass, be prepared to either work overtime maintaining humidity or invest in an automated humidifier. Whichever option you decide to pursue you should ensure that it can:

• provide sufficient space without being too cavernous
• maintain the necessary humidity level
• allow for a thermal gradient
• provide adequate ventilation to avoid air stagnation
• fasten or lock securely to prevent escapes

GLASS – This approach employs glass tanks or aquariums with screen lids – while readily available and certainly offering the greatest visibility this approach sometimes requires modification of the lid to hold decent humidity and offers ventilation from the top of the enclosure only.
PLASTIC – Uses plastic storage boxes (“Tupperware”) usually by Sterilite or Rubbermaid modified for housing. This is an increasingly popular option which is cost effective, utilitarian and very functional. When cleaning adult-sized enclosures this approach is more manageable due to the lighter weight. Holes for ventilation can be made in the plastic using an inexpensive soldering iron and can be placed strategically to allow vertical air movement and cross-ventilation. The downside is that these plastics lack the true transparency available in glass and this can be an aesthetic deterrent to some.

PROFESSIONAL/CUSTOM - Professional-level snake enclosures from manufacturers such as Animal Plastics, Neodesha, etc. These can be purchased online or at reptiles shows and come either fully assembled or requiring assembly. Many of these can be ordered with custom features such as heat tape, heat panels, ventilation and lighting options as well as featuring great visibility but also tend to cost significantly more than glass or plastic.
You may do well to choose a container with enough height to allow your water python to climb. Despite the fact that they are terrestrial snakes, they do seem to enjoy climbing on vines and limbs. Floor space should be no less than two-thirds the length of the snake’s body. Most fully-grown specimens will be well-kept in a 3’ x 2’ enclosure.

Before exploring some of the options you have for substrates let’s first clarify what should NOT be considered a valid or safe choice. Under no circumstances should you keep these animals on pine or cedar. Pine, cedar and other phenol containing woods contain toxins which can cause significant health problems in a variety of herps and other animals and should not be used. Aspen is not recommended because of it’s tendency to mold and/or mildew in high humidity environments. Your choice on substrate should be something readily available and one which lends itself to easy spot cleaning and other cage maintenance chores. You should check your enclosure daily for odors or more visible signs or waste and remove them – replacing the substrate when necessary.

Some viable options for substrate include but are not limited to:
  • Repti-Bark or Jungle Bark type chips
  • Newspapers/Newsprint
  • Carpet (harder to maintain)
  • Cypress Mulch
  • Coconut Husk-based substrates
  • Bed-a-beast, Care-Fresh or similar products that do not pose impaction risks

Due to the high humidity requirements of the brown water python, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle by choosing a substrate such as cypress mulch or Repti-Bark that holds humidity well. Some of these snakes also enjoy burrowing. If yours is one, you’ll do well to choose a light, loose substrate like cypress mulch.

While not a shy as ball pythons, your fuscus will still appreciate a good dark place to curl up and feel safe. It is very important that you provide 2 adequate hides in your enclosure – one on the warm end and one on the cooler end so that it does not have to choose between regulating its body temperature and feeling secure. Hides can be constructed or bought in a wide variety of forms shapes materials – for an exhaustive look at what you can buy or use click here. For best sanitation you should avoid hides that are very porous, difficult to clean or which could rot mold or mildew. In the wild, these snakes are often found in hollow logs, down holes, in vegetation, or under creeks and river banks. You’ll do best to choose hides without much height to them, and you may want to add some damp sphagnum moss to them for added security and comfort.

~90F (warm side)
~80F (cool side)
75 or below is unhealthy
Maintaining proper temperatures is essential to keeping any python healthy – failure to do so can lead to a host of issues from poor feeding to potentially lethal respiratory infections. For this reason you want to make sure you are able to measure the temperatures accurately. The sticker-type label thermometers sometimes seen used on aquariums are not sufficient for measuring much more than the temperature of the surface they are stuck to and many of the dial-type analog thermometers available in pet stores are routinely inaccurate. Do yourself and your python a tremendous favor and invest in a digital thermometer – one of the most cost-effective and easily available is the Accu-Rite digital thermometer/hygrometer combo available at large stores such as Wal-Mart. These retail for appx $15 and include a probe making it possible to monitor the warm side and cool side temps as well as the humidity levels all simultaneously. You can also invest in a temp-gun for appx $25 which uses a beam to give you instant surface temperature readings (note – these cannot measure humidity or air/ambient temperature however).

You should NEVER use a heat rock with any python or put any sort of heat source inside the enclosure with your fuscus that it can come into contact with! These snakes are not very sensitive to dangerous heat levels and can easily burn and injure themselves.

Pythons do very well when heated from below (UTH = under tank heat) and several methods of providing this include heat-tape (such as Flexwatt), commercially available reptile heating pads or human heat pads. Whenever utilizing UTH heat sources you should be sure there is some clearance room below the enclosure to prevent too much heat from building up – this is especially critical if you are using any sort of aquarium type solution which has a pocket of dead air underneath. Small blocks of wood, rails or rubber “feet” can be easily used for this.

There has been mixed reaction to commercially available reptile heating pads found in most pet stores with a number of complaints that these suffer unpredictable heat fluctuations and failure (several members reported cracked or broken glass). These also seem to usually feature a peel-off adhesive backing designed to attach the pad to the underside of your enclosure. In some cases this may be extremely difficult to remove and efforts to do so can damage the pad itself.

Heating pads designed for human use have been used with great success by a large number of keepers – but it must be noted that you must obtain one which does not have the “auto-shutoff” feature or you will be unable to maintain your temperatures. These are usually available in large stores and pharmacies for appx $10 and the same caveats for UTH apply – make sure you have some clearance under your enclosure.

Custom-wired heat-tape solutions such as FlexWatt are also available and heavily employed by breeders or those who keep a large number of snakes, especially in rackmount type configurations. Use of this technology requires you have a comfortable enough working knowledge of wiring and electricity to get it set up safely and a thermostat is critical in regulating temperatures properly.

Radiant heat panels are most often available as options is custom designed or professional level caging solutions and do not restrict themselves to UTH mounting approaches, often offering heat from a vertical or overhead source.

MONITOR YOUR TEMPERATURES – If the ambient room temperatures in your house fluctuate then likely the temperatures in your reptiles enclosures are as well. If you find it difficult to maintain your temperatures adequately you should invest in a thermostat to help regulate your temperatures and keep your reptiles healthy.

Heat lamps make decent supplemental heating sources but when using this approach be aware that light-based heat can contribute to the quicker evaporation of moisture in the air of your enclosure. Unsuitably dry conditions can leading to difficult sheds and other health issues. When using this method to supplement heat make sure visible light sources are not left on 24hrs – this constant light can cause great stress in these creatures. Non visible heat lamps (red or black bulbs) should be utilized if the source must be kept on overnight.

As with measuring temperature, gauging the humidity with a hygrometer is very important with this species. Again a digital solution is far superior to an analog one – the Accu-Rite unit mentioned above will handle measuring your humidity as well. Providing the proper humidity required by your water python is important in maintaining good health and non-problematic sheds. Inadequate humidity levels can lead to illness in the form of respiratory infections and an excessively wet environment easily lends itself to the growth of mold and fungus which can contribute bacterial or fungal infections, scale or belly rot.

Methods to raise humidity in the enclosure include but are certainly not limited to misting, placing the water bowl directly above the heat source on the warm end or covering screen lids with contact paper or plastic wrap, or using a humidifier. Do NOT sacrifice ventilation or otherwise contribute to stagnant air conditions! You can also add a humid hide, giving your python a humidity-rich spot it can hang out in whenever it wants.

Neither UV lighting or supplemental lighting is required for brown water pythons – they generally do well with ambient room light as long as the light is not constant. Scheduled lighting is sometimes used in preparation for breeding but otherwise if lighting is desired it can be kept on a 14-on 10-off cycle.

Your liasis fuscus should have a readily available ample supply of fresh water at all times. I recommend using a weighted bowl or dish to prevent it from being overturned. A relatively oversized bowl can be used as a means for maintaining adequate humidity, and water pythons will sometimes climb in and go for a dip or a soak. Often snakes who do enter their water supplies for the occasional soak will also defecate in it – so be prepared to clean and replace as needed. It is recommended the water be replaced (not just “topped off”) and the dish cleaned while doing so every few days at a minimum. Some attentive keepers exchange their snakes’ water supply on a daily basis. You shouldn’t have to use special water such as Evian etc but you may want to consider bottled spring water or filtered water if your local tap water is known to be heavy with particulates or minerals (i.e. “hard water”).

Feed your water python one appropriately sized rat or mouse on a weekly basis. “Adequately sized” is a rodent of equal or slightly larger girth (width) to the thickest part of your snake. Most water pythons are hearty eaters and will readily accept either live, pre-killed, or frozen/thawed prey.

If you have an even-tempered fuscus, feed by introducing the prey item unobtrusively. If you can, lay it near the entrance to the hide the snake is currently inhabiting. Use tongs or a similar instrument to introduce the prey item. Do not hold the rat/mouse by the tail because the proximity of your hand near the prey may create a larger heat signature to the snake’s heat-sensing “pits” resulting in a case of mistaken identity and your hand being struck. If your fuscus is aggressive, just drop in the prey and watch the show.

Once your snake has consumed the prey avoid handling it for 24-36 hours to avoid the potential of regurgitation.

If by chance your snake does not eat, remove the prey item from the enclosure and wait until the next regularly scheduled feeding time to make another attempt. Leaving a dead mouse or rat in the enclosure with the snake can result in obvious unsanitary conditions while leaving a live mouse or rat in the enclosure unattended is asking for potentially serious problems.

In feeding you may use frozen/thawed, pre-killed or live prey – however please be aware that a snake should never be left unobserved when in the same enclosure as a live rat or mouse as injury to your python could result. Feeding frozen/thawed or pre-killed prey items eliminates the possibility of the rat or mouse inflicting damage to your liasis. If you buy your feeders from a pet store, check the conditions in the cages where they keep them to ensure it is not unsanitary to the point the rodents could be carriers of disease or parasites.

Given good husbandry practices and properly maintained humidity your water python should have no problems shedding successfully. Many folks tout “one-piece-sheds” as a hallmark of good husbandry, but this is sometimes heavily dependent on how the snake sheds and what items within the enclosure can be used to rub against. So long as the snake sheds completely without retained patches, eye-caps or partial/incomplete sheds requiring special attention or intervention you are doing quite well. When a shed is imminent (eyes have “milked over” into a pale bluish translucency and the skin has paled) it is a good idea to pay special attention to your humidity to ensure there is enough moisture present to assist in the process.

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