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Calabar Ground and Mexican Dwarf Pythons – Unique Burrowers for Python Fans

Mexican Burrowing PythonPythons, whether large or small, tend to be somewhat similar in their captive requirements and behaviors, and many have long been bred and studied.  Two species, however, break all python stereotypes and are poorly understood – the Calabar Ground or African Burrowing Python, Calabaria reinhardtii, and the New World or Mexican Dwarf Python, Loxocemus bicolor. 

Both species are rather small, and so can be kept in spacious naturalistic terrariums where they might reveal more of their secrets to observant keepers.  They live largely below ground, but forage on the surface after dark. 

Calabar Ground or African Burrowing Python, Calabaria reinhardtii

Natural History

Often compared to the Sand Boa, taxonomists are unsure of this species’ closest relatives.  The head and tail are nearly indistinguishable – when threatened it curls into a ball and waves the tail about to direct attacks there, and away from the head.  It is well adapted to life below ground, having smooth body scales, an upturned rostral scale on the snout and tiny eyes.  Unlike other pythons, it lacks heat-sensing pits along the jaw.

Calabar Ground Pythons are found in west and central Africa, from Sierra Leone east through Nigeria to Congo and Gabon.  They inhabit loose, moist soil and leaf litter in rainforests, marshes and along the edges of farms.  Some populations routinely shelter in termite nests.

Captive Care

Calabar Ground Pythons do well in a thick substrate of shredded bark and leaf mulch.  The substrate should be misted heavily each day, but should not remain wet.  Cork bark should be provided as an above-ground hiding spot.

Temperatures of 78-80 F, with a basking spot of 90 F, are sufficient.  Night-viewing bulbs can be used to provide heat without disturbing the snakes at night, and should aid in observing their nocturnal activities

Those I’ve kept fed well upon pink mice and rat pups.  Several keepers report that adult mice and other furred prey is often rejected.  This makes sense, as wild individuals likely raid rodent nests and may take burrowing lizards and amphibians as well.

Females produce 1-5 very large eggs and, unlike other pythons, do not incubate the clutch.

New World or Mexican Dwarf Python, Loxocemus bicolor

Upon first viewing a huge shipment of New World Pythons at an animal dealer’s facility years ago, I was confused.  All had a burrower’s typical cylindrical body, but their colors and patterns varied so much that I thought perhaps several species were present.  But such variety is typical, and enhanced by the ever-changing iridescence they exhibit in certain light.

Natural History

For now, Mexican Dwarf Pythons are the sole representative of their family in the New World.  Some herpetologists consider them to be more closely related to the Sunbeam Snake, Xenopeltis unicolor, and, confusingly, they are sometimes sold under that name.  Currently they are classified in their own subfamily, within the super family Pythonidea.

The common name is somewhat misleading, as these shy burrowers actually are found not only in Mexico but also in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

They share many of the Calabar Ground Python’s adaptations to life below ground, and are also nocturnal.

In the wild, Mexican Dwarf Pythons inhabit loose, sandy soil and leaf litter, and often shelter below fallen trees (please see photo).  They apparently spend a good deal of time foraging in rodent burrows, and have even been seen to enter iguana and sea turtle nests to prey upon eggs.

Captive Care

Calabar PythonMexican Dwarf Pythons can be kept as has been described for Calabar Ground Pythons, but need a drier substrate and less misting.  A shredded bark sand mix suits them well. Night-viewing bulbs are indispensible in observing them after dark, when they may forage above-ground.

Given their lifestyle, wild Mexican Dwarf Pythons likely take more nestling rodents, eggs and lizards than adult rodents.  Therefore, I prefer pink mice and rat pups as food, but others have reported success using adult rodents.

Males are said to fight viciously, and should not be housed together.

Further Reading

Calabar Ground Python Natural History

Field Research: Habitat Use

Mexican Dwarf Python Natural History

Very little is known about this unique snake.  Some important reference papers and books are listed here.


Mexican Burrowing Python image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson
Calabar Python image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by LtShears



  1. avatar
    Eric Ying-Hau Hsu

    Hi Frank!

    I am almost ready to capture breeding my spotted turtles next year, but I don’t know how to set up a great enviroment for the breeding. Can you help me or give me some advice? I am concerning about the ingredients of the sand and how to keep the sand’s humidity suitable for breeding.

    I had taken some photos about the turtle tank set up on my Facebook, but not sure it is sutable for breeding. I will get another tank to saperate male and female turtles when it is not the breeding season.

    Hope you can help me. Thanks :))

    • avatar

      Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again. The habitat looked good as far as I could see….they like shallow water and lots of cover. Easiest way to provide egg-deposition site is to position a large plastic container within habitat, if possible. Cut an access door in side, fit with a ramp if needed so they can enter easily. A mix of sand and topsoil, 4-6 inches deep, is fine (you’ll be removing the eggs for incubation in any event – hard to do in tank). Keep soil slightly damp, a small light above one area may draw gravid females. Gravid females become restless, may dig – may need to be placed in larger soil filled enclosure if they do not lay in regular quarters. Please see this article for info on incubating the eggs (the 1:1 ratio of substrate : water mentioned there is fine for spotted turtles).

      A winter cooling off period is sometimes, but not always, necessary to stimulate breeding activity.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar
    Eric Ying-Hau Hsu

    Thanks Frank~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~so useful

    Hi! I had studied your artical and ready to build another tank for my sprtties.
    If I have further questions, I will ask you.

    Thanks a lot!

    • avatar

      Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the kind words…I look forward to hearing about your progress.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Dear Frank

    Hope you are well?
    Just caught an eye on your blog and saw this Calabaria reinhardtii. What a beautiful snake indeed!
    One question though, we have a very similar looking snake in Namibia called “Cape Wolf Snake” Lycophidion capense, could it by any change be family or even Subfamily?!

    Best regards from Namibia

    • avatar

      Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you; I’m fine, thanks. I hope all is well with you and yours. Fall is coming on here, and I suppose spring is on its way there?

      The Cape Wolf Snake is a very interesting species that is not seen in zoos here at all. Right now it is classified as within the family Lamprophiidae within the superfamily Colubroidea; but the taxonomy of the group is not well studied and will probably change. The group includes House Snakes as well as many less well-known species. You can see a full list of member species here; click on individual names for range and other info.

      Do you come across this snake; I’d enjoy any observations you might have when time permits.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    All cool this side, thanxzzz

    We do come accros this Wolf snake regulary, but I did not keep them to long as I realease them back into the garden, for the prey on small mice comming from the field. In captivity I fed them lizards which they enjoy very much!
    When prey is put in cage, they grab it with their mouth and in split seconds curls it in and suffocates it till movement has stopped(hence the question of family to the python). They can be kept easily but stay fairly aggressive. Unfortunately that is the only observation I can share.

    Thanxzzz many for the valuble link!

    Best regards

    • avatar

      Hello Gert, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the interesting observation; first I can recall…so much to do and see!
      That site is usually up to date on latest taxonomy changes, I think you’ll find it useful.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar


    I have had the worst luck tracking down loxocemus bicolor in the pet trade. Any suggestions?

    • avatar


      Unfortunately, they are not bred regularly and only appear sporadically in the trade. Best to monitor dealers on kingsnake.com. Some suppliers will take requests, keep you on a waiting list, etc….worthwhile to ask.

      Please let me know if you need more info, and keep me posted, Good luck,Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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