Savu Python Care: Keeping One of the World’s Smallest Pythons

Savu Python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TomVickers

Pythons are highly valued by snake enthusiasts, but most become too large for the average household, and cannot be safely handled by young or inexperienced keepers. But in the early 1990’s a “big python in a small package” appeared in the pet trade, and its popularity has since soared. Averaging only 3 ½ to 4 ½ feet in length, the Save or White-Eyed Python (Liasis savuensis) is beautifully iridescent and calm in demeanor. And, with a natural range that spans a mere 60 square miles, this interesting snake is also important from a conservation perspective.



The Savu Python was first described in 1956, at which time it was classified as a one of three subspecies of the Macklot’s Python. Today, there is disagreement as to its species status, and many herpetologists continue to list it as Liasis mackloti savuensis.


Savu Python Description

The Savu Python’s outstanding features include brilliant iridescence and its noticeably-white eyes. Hatchlings are reddish-brown to rich orange in color. They undergo a radical color change with maturity, by which time most are dark brown and bear rusty-orange spots on the belly and sides. Some adults, however, are nearly black in coloration, while the scales of others retain an orange tinge.  Few adults exceed 5 feet in length, with most topping out at 3.5 – 4.5 feet; only 3-4 of the world’s 40 python species are as small.


Range and Habitat

The Savu Python is found only on the 10 mile x 6 mile Indonesian island of Sawu (also known as Savu), off Australia’s northwestern coast. It has the smallest natural range of any python.


Liasis mackloti savuensis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TimVickers

Although this snake’s natural history has not been well-studied, reports indicate that it is a habitat generalist. Savu Pythons have been found in wooded grasslands, palm thickets, thorn scrub, and along the ocean shore.


The Terrarium

Hatchlings may be started-off in 10 gallon aquariums. Adults can be accommodated in a 30-55 gallon aquarium. Screen tops must be secured with clips and a hide box should always be available.



Newspapers and washable terrarium liners may be used as a substrate. As some keepers have reported that Savu Pythons seem prone to mouth irritations and infections, those kept on cypress chips or similar substrates are best moved to bare-bottomed enclosures at feeding time.



Pythons do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of a UVA bulb.



The ambient temperature should range from 75-84 F. Incandescent bulbs can be used to create a basking site of 90 F. Ceramic heaters or red/black reptile “night bulbs” may be employed to provide heat after dark. If needed, under-tank heaters can be used to further warm the basking surface.


Provide your snake with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow reptiles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.



Little is known about the diet of wild Savu Pythons, but they likely prey upon small mammals and, perhaps, ground-dwelling birds and lizards. Small food items, such as mice or rat pups, are preferable to large, even for adults. Except for females being readied for b breeding and growing youngsters, Savu Pythons are best fed every 14 days.


Water should always be available. Bowls should be filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up within.



Savu Pythons are typically calm in disposition, and generally tolerate gentle handling. Like all snakes, however, care must be exercised when working around them.



Breeding activity is stimulated by a 2-3 month period of reduced temperatures (72 F by night, 82-85 F by day) initiated in late autumn. Clutches generally contain 5-10 eggs, which may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 88-90 F for 55-65 days. Hatchlings average 11-14 inches in length.




Further Reading


Python Eats Crocodile: Giant Snake Meals


Green Tree Python Care and Natural History

My Frog’s Color is Fading! Diet Changes can Brighten Frog Colors

Congo Reed Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nhobgood

Frogs that are clad in yellow, orange, and red, such as Fire-Bellied Toads and Red-Eyed Treefrogs, often become somewhat dull in coloration after a time in captivity. I’ve noticed this in a variety of species under my care in zoos and at home, yet the phenomenon is rare in the wild or among animals kept outdoors under semi-natural conditions. Color loss can also indicate a health concern (please see below), but often the affected animals are robust and doing well. A photograph showing an astonishing difference in coloration between Red-Eyed Treefrogs maintained on 2 different diets recently caught my eye, and I thought it might be useful to summarize the related research here.

Acquiring Color: Why are Red Frogs Red?

Pigments known as carotenoids are responsible for most of the orange, red and yellow coloration exhibited by frogs. Color is important not just from an aesthetic point of view (or a monetary one, for those who breed “designer frogs”!) but may also affect breeding success and the ability to hide from or deter predators.

Fire bellied toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pkuczynski

In addition to these roles, carotenoids also act as antioxidants and function in the immune and other systems. Carotenoids are manufactured by plants, bacteria and fungi; frogs and other vertebrates must obtain them from their diet.

Improving the Carotenoid Content of Feeder Insects

Researchers at the University of Manchester and the Chester Zoo investigated carotenoid levels in three species of crickets and three different cricket diets (Zooquaria, No. 5, p.6). One of those studied, the Domestic or House Cricket, Acheta domesticus, is used for pet food in the USA. The others – the Tropical House Cricket, Gryllodes sigillatus, and the Mediterranean Field Cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus – are more commonly seen in European and Asian collections.   A diet comprised of fruits and vegetables provided crickets with the highest carotenoid levels. A tropical fish food (flakes) diet resulted in intermediate carotenoid levels, and the lowest levels were seen in crickets feeding upon wheat germ and other grains.   Mediterranean Field Crickets achieved higher concentrations than did the other species, but none retained carotenoids for very long. Carotenoid levels plummeted within 48 hours, so gut-loaded crickets should be used within a day or so after consuming fruits, vegetables and other carotenoid rich foods; please see the article linked below for further information.

Painted Mantella

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Esculapio

Future Research

Although the study was spurred by an interest in the effect of carotenoids on the immune system, the coloration aspect is starting to attract attention (please see photos of red-eyed treefrogs here). Further study is needed, but it’s clear that adding fruits and vegetables to the diets we provide crickets, roaches and other feeders makes good sense. Bear in mind also that this study looked at one aspect of diet…fresh produce no doubt offers a wide variety of other health benefits.   As a novice bird keeper long ago, I learned that flamingos denied sufficient shrimp and canthaxanthin soon “bleach-out”…today we still know far more about this topic as it relates to birds than to amphibians. But some of that knowledge may have applicability to herps – in any event, I hope that more private keepers and researchers will take an interest. I’ll stay alert for updates; in the meantime, please post any relevant thoughts and links below, thanks.

Further Reading

Nutritious Foods for Frogs and Toads Cricket Nutrient Level Study Cricket Care and Feeding

Small Pet Turtles: Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle Care

Geoemyda spengleri

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stavenn

Small size, a uniquely-beautiful shell and the habit of raising the long neck to “stare” at its owner with large, protruding eyes endears this charming turtle to all. I first came across the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle (Geoemyda spengleri) while working on plans to conserve Asian turtles devastated by collection for the food and medicinal trades (please see article linked below). Although reputed to be a delicate captive, zoo and private turtle keepers have learned much about its needs in recent years, and captive-born animals are becoming more available. Under the care of an experienced turtle keeper, this personable beauty can make a wonderful pet that exhibits all the spunk of its larger relatives.


Turtle Description

This little turtle’s “bug-eyed” stare is often the first characteristic to grab one’s attention. The elongated carapace is strongly notched at the rear, and each marginal scute (scale) is pointed and flared upwards. The carapace ranges from dark to rich orange-brown in coloration, and the plastron is black with a yellow border. Adults top out at a mere 4-5 inches in length.


Leaf Turtle Natural History

G. spengleri habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jtri

The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle ranges from southern China through Laos and Vietnam, where it is mainly restricted to moist hillside forests; the uniquely-shaped carapace offers excellent camouflage among the leaf litter. Although largely terrestrial, shallow forest pools and streams are used for soaking and foraging. Its life in the wild has not been well-studied.


Pet Qualities

Although shy at first, these alert turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to feed from the hand. Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have a reputation as delicate captives, and losses were high when they first showed up in the US pet trade in the 1980’s. Parasitic infections, the stress of shipping and a poor understanding of their needs were largely responsible for early difficulties with wild-caught individuals.


The Terrarium

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are native to thickly-vegetated habitats, and will not thrive in bare enclosures. Cover in the form of live or plastic plants, caves, and a substrate into which they can burrow is essential to their well-being. A pool of shallow water should be available.


Although small in size, these turtles are quite active once habituated to their new homes, and should be provided with as much room as possible. A single adult may be kept in a 30 gallon long-style aquarium, but additional room is preferable.


Terrarium Substrate

A mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, deep enough for your pet to burrow into, may be used as a substrate.



Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles must be provided with a source of UVB radiation. Natural sunlight is best, but it must be direct, as glass and plastic filter-out UVB rays.


When using UVB bulbs, be sure that your turtle can bask within the distance recommended by the manufacturer. I favor Zoo Med bulbs, which are available in a wide variety of strengths and styles.


Heat and Humidity

Although native to tropical regions, Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles prefer cooler temperatures than one might expect. A temperature gradient of 68- 74 F should be established, along with a basking site set at 80 F.


Humidity should be kept at 50-60%, and areas of both moist and dry substrate should be available.


tp35833Turtle Feeding

The wild diet consists primarily of insects, worms, snails, carrion, and small amounts of fruit. Pets should be offered a diet comprised of whole animals such as earthworms, crickets and other insects, prawn, canned snails, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits (many refuse fruit, and seem to do fine without). Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species.


Commercial turtle chows are not accepted unless moistened, and then not always. The calcium requirements of Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles, especially growing youngsters and gravid females, are quite high. All foods (other than whole fish) should be powdered with a reptile calcium supplement. A cuttlebone may also be left in the cage. Vitamin/mineral supplements may be used 2-3 times weekly.



A single, unusually-large egg (rarely 2) is produced 1-3 times yearly. Females sometimes have difficulty passing their eggs, especially if the diet lacks sufficient calcium.


Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection known as egg peritonitis. It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if un-mated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.


Eggs incubated at 82 F typically hatch in 62-75 days.


Males may stress or bite females during mating attempts. Males cannot be kept together, as they will usually fight. Females also establish a dominance hierarchy, and must be watched closely if kept in groups.




Further Reading

The Asian Turtle Extinction Crisis

Nest Sites for Female Turtles


Venomous Snake Identification: the Best Online Guide for US Species


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Geoff Gallice

As the weather warms, snake identification requests are becoming more common on my blog. Of most concern to those unfamiliar with reptiles is the possibility of encountering venomous species. Often, a fleeting glance is all that has been had, and identification proves very difficult. So today I’d like to direct folks to some useful online and published resources that are useful to review before a snake is sighted as well as after. Of course, please continue to post your questions and observations as well…some species are quite distinctive, and other times the location of the sighting or certain behaviors can be used to narrow down the possibilities.


I’ve been involved with snake bite response efforts through the Bronx Zoo and other organizations for most of my working life, and have learned that, in the USA, most bites occur when people disturb snakes or keep venomous species as “pets”. Worldwide, the situation is different, with an astonishing number of people being bitten, often fatally, in the course of their daily activities (please see the article linked under “Further Reading”). Please heed the cautions provided below.


Note: The following information should not be used to determine if a snake is safe to handle or approach, nor should any other printed guideline. Aberrations in color or pattern, injuries, hybridization and other factors – including the very real possibility of escaped non-native “pets” – can render identification impossible to all but a well-seasoned expert. Concerning exotic escapees, bear in mind that we still have much to learn…and that two prominent herpetologists were killed by snakes thought to be relatively harmless! Also, please note that the flood of both accurate and outright ridiculous information on the internet sometimes inspires a feeling of false confidence in the inexperienced, and gives credence to the old saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”!


Coral Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The primary resources listed here are based on Florida’s venomous snakes. However, Florida is home to representatives of each type native to the USA, and the state’s museums and universities have a long history of fine educational efforts in this area. Specifics as to species found in other parts of the country will vary…please see the notes on field guides, and post below if you would like a guide to the species present in your state or region.


University of Florida Website

Prepared by the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Dealing with Snakes – IS IT VENOMOUS? provides a great overview of the 4 general types of venomous snakes found in the USA – copperheads, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and coral snakes.   The most easily-recognizable characteristics of each are highlighted, which makes it simpler for inexperienced observers to decide whether a harmless or venomous snake has passed their way.


You can also view individual pages on each of Florida’s venomous snakes. These include additional characteristics, habitat notes, photos, range maps and other useful details.


Timber rattlesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rkillcrazy

Florida Museum of Natural History Website

The FMNH Snake Identification Key is based on the detailed identification tools used by professional herpetologists and serious snake-watchers. However, it has been modified to focus on color and pattern only – those characteristics that tend to catch the average observer’s attention, and which are easier to recall than finer details. Once you’ve eliminated characteristics that do not fit the snake you’ve seen, and have made a tentative identification, you can click on a photo and see if it matches your observation.


Using keys to identify a snake can be fun, and it’s easy to turn the process into a game that children will enjoy and benefit from.


Field Guides

I’ve relied on the Peterson Field Guides and their predecessors since childhood, and they remain the gold standard for on-site reptile and amphibian (and other animal) identifications. There is also a “first field guide” series and a wonderful field guide coloring book for children. Please check here for further information on these.



Further Reading

Venomous Snakebites: My experiences and a New Study


Black Mamba Memories 


Rattlesnake Overview

Zoo Med Pacman Frog Food for Horned Frogs and African Bullfrogs

t264488Frog owners have recently been presented with an interesting alternative to live insects and rodents as a pet food source. Continuing its trend of pioneering innovative, well-researched products, Zoo Med has introduced a powdered food that can be molded into various sizes and tong-fed to frogs. Although long-term studies on the value of commercial diets are lacking, experience indicates that some prepared/artificial diets have proven very useful. For example, thousands of generations of Mexican Axolotls have been bred (in research labs) on beef liver alone, African Clawed Frogs and many newts do well on Reptomin-based diets, and trout chow seems useful for American Bullfrogs. In both in zoos and my own collection, I have raised Mexican Axolotls and various newts, salamander larvae, and tadpoles primarily on trout chow and Reptomin. Zoo Med’s Pacman Food is eagerly accepted by African Bull and Horned Frogs (no surprises there -please see video below!) and Marine Toads. It’s likely that other “bold” amphibians, such as White’s Treefrogs, Fire Salamanders, American Toads, would be willing give this untraditional food a try as well.


Why Consider a Prepared Diet?

Usually, commercial diets are promoted for convenience-sake and as an option for pet owners who do not wish to handle live insects or rodents. However, I’m mainly interested in Zoo Med’s Pacman Frog Food because it may help to solve 2 recurring problems faced by frog owners. The first is the difficulty in providing adequate dietary variety. Wild amphibians utilize dozens to hundreds of species as food, but most pets must make do with 2-3 food items at best. Owners of African Bullfrogs, Horned Frogs, Cane Toads and other giants face the additional task of “filling-up” their pets and providing enough calcium without over-using rodents (while some success has been had on

Argentine Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by avmaier

mouse-based diets, there are also risks…please see this article).


Providing enough high-quality food can be a major undertaking – please see the article linked below to read about an African Bullfrog caught in the act of swallowing 17 baby cobras! Zoo Med’s product, which one mixes with a bit of water, can be molded into any size (or shape!), and so might be useful to people keeping dinner-plate sized amphibian behemoths.


Some Considerations

We do not have studies illustrating benefits or problems associated with this food; long-term success is claimed by a Japanese company manufacturing a related product. The examples I mentioned earlier (amphibians fed dry foods, liver, etc.) may be somewhat relevant, but we cannot draw any direct conclusions about Horned Frogs or others from these.


Surinam Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maarten Sepp

I would suggest trying Zoo Med Pacman food as a portion of your pets’ diets. Continue to provide as much variety as possible, and choose from nutritious foods such as roaches, earthworms, sowbugs, minnows, crickets and silkworms. Please see the article linked below for other ideas, including the use of wild-caught insects.


In posts on other sites, some folks have expressed concern over the plant-based ingredients in this product, or the fact that fish is used as a protein source. While on-point research is lacking, it is well-known that frogs and other carnivorous animals take in a good deal of plant matter in the course of feeding upon herbivorous prey species. Fish, which I and others have long fed to many large frogs, does not seem to present any problems. Zoo Med Pacman Food also contains added vitamins and minerals, including calcium and Vitamin D.


Those who have tried will not need this warning (I’m sure!), but I should remind you not to feed Horned or African Bullfrogs with your fingers. The bony, tooth-like spikes that protrude from their jaws can inflict severe injuries. As most frogs seem to lack “self-control” when it comes to lunging at prey, use plastic feeding tongs only…sharp-edged metal models may injure your pets’ mouths.




Further Reading

Video: Using Pacman Food

African Bullfrog Consumes 17 Baby Cobras

Nutritious Live Foods for Frogs


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