Burrowing Python, Loxocemus
Zoopark acquired its first Loxocemus, in the early 1980s. (Some
are therefore over 15 years of age now!)
A collection of 15 adults (4 females), and 8 juveniles (hatched
1998) has been built up.
called the Mexican Burrowing Python, and it does occur along the
Pacific coast of central Mexico south to Costa Rica and north-western
Honduras, it is probably not really a python, but a member
of the Xenopeltids , or Sunbeam snakes. However,
it remains classified as a sub-family of Boidae - the
profile, its pointed face is clearly designed for poking under moss
and small logs, thus accounting for the descriptive, but incorrect,
English name Sharp-headed python , or Spitzkopf python
have found the young to be dark brown with an iridescent sheen (reminiscent
of baby slow worms) and no white markings. We assume these fleckings,
which usually cover just a scale or two at a time, are some form
of cryptic camouflage, designed to break up the snake's outline
in the shadowy habitat it occupies in the wild. Several of our adults,
presumably wild-caught specimens, have large healed white areas
which seem clearly to be healed rodent, cat, or bird bites.
nearest relative to this unusual snake is the Calabar Ground Python
from West Africa! Ours were acquired from individual Herpetologists
and Customs seizures at Heathrow Airport. We have experienced breeding
behaviour steadily through the 1990s, with eggs being laid (in clutches
of 2-4) from 1994 onward. The early clutches were infertile, but
fertile during the period 1995 to date. The mating ritual is surprisingly
savage as the males spurs appear to be razor sharp
and can cause deep slashes down the flanks of the female - these
can be tricky to treat in temperatures of about 27 degrees Celsius.
We have experienced some deep slashing cuts, caused by the sharp
spurs of the male in courtship of the female, and these can be difficult
to get to heal, but when they did so, have not left any scars so
keep all our Loxocemus off-exhibition, in individual holding
enclosures, with sheets of newspaper for tunnelling under, and a
shallow bowl of water.
temperature is maintained at 72-78 . They feed usually on mice,
and appear to be long-lived - we have several specimens over 15
years of age at least.
they have never bitten, they are far from lethargic, taking a keen
interest in what is going on, and any changes. The character of
individual snakes varies, with some, irrespective of the amount
of handling, being more nervous than others. Such snakes tremble
and twitch when you pick them up, and may take a couple of minutes
to calm down. If they hiss, something is wrong
one occasion, an imperfect shedding had left an eyescale over the
eye, causing the snake evident discomfort. It was clearly relieved
when this was quickly removed. During summer months, our loxocemus
shed every 4 weeks or so, increasing to 6 or 7 weeks in winter.
We don't handle them for two or three days before the shed and for
two or three days afterwards. Nor do we handle them for two or three
days after feeding.
older, bigger males become quite heavy for their size - just over
a metre in length. Care should always be taken to ensure they body
is properly supported along its length.
mature, the pattern of white scales over the skin, does not vary
from shed-to-shed, year to year. It is easy to recognise favourite
snakes at a glance, and photographs could be used to build-up an
accurate stud-book, should this ever become necessary.
Herpetologist; and Head Keeper, Les Brown appears to have cracked
these behavioural problems, with eggs being incubated to almost
full term (about 70 days) in 1997, before failing. In 1998, two
clutches, totalling 10 eggs were laid by 2 females at the beginning
of April, and all developed normally, in the incubators in the Incubation
room of the Tropical House (in full view of visitors).
Loxocemus are oviparous, laying small clutches of 2-4 eggs.
The eggs are long and thin, 2.5 cms in length by 0.75 cms in width.
The dark brown young are 7 cms in length on hatching. Apart from
Glasgow, the only other significant captive group in a public
collection is, we understand, at the National Zoo in Washington.
One of the most spectacular breeding success at Glasgow Zoopark over
the last few years has been the hatching of Mexican Burrowing python
(Loxocemus bicolor) eggs. After many years' work by the reptile keepers
at Glasgow Zoopark, seven eggs hatched out of a clutch of eight. This
attracted much interest from the media because it probably a first
zoobreeding outside the USA, although a private British herpetologist
probably also bred this species within the last twelve months. The
Mexican Burrowing python is much appreciated by many thousands of
our visitors because it has proved particularly suited to close contact
sessions. There are few aspects of a zoo's work more fulfilling than
convincing visitors of the beauty and value of the so-often despised
of the 1998 youngsters are a deep coppery colour. We are waiting
to record the development of the characteristic, randomly distributed
white scales. A tentative hypothesis is that this is related to
a change in behaviour, from a largely subterranean habitat to a
surface habitat, requiring more cryptic camouflage amongst the moss,
dead leaves and shadows. The white tail tip may possibly be a predator
distraction strategy. Larger white patches on the bodies of one
or two adults, are almost certainly scar tissue from healed rodent
or other bites on wild-caught adults, and we would obviously never
expect to see these on captive-bred specimens.
have been interested in Loxos for 20 years now, and still have some
of our original animals. The older males are regarded as 'past it',
I'm afraid, so even if we tried now, we wouldn't get any activity.
find some pairs are better breeders than others, but we do swap
the males around each year. You can try two males together with
a female at the same time, but they must be under CONSTANT supervision.
We have experienced horrendous injuries early on caused by the slashing
of spurs (See Ross' Python Breeding Manual).
maintain a constant 30 degrees C when incubating the eggs and usually
get at least 90% hatching. A 'good' egg usually hatches.
females which are laying are all several years old. However, one
person who contacted us felt that smaller animals (i.e. less than
60 cms in length) were easier to get to breed.
Mexican Burrowing pythons is problematic, and as difficult, or otherwise
as any other python. Males alone have spurs and, if you have several
individuals, you can tell their sexes behaviourally.
Light is on all the time, as it is also a heat source. They have
sheets of newspapers to hide under if they wish, and the bubl
is coveredby an opaque plastic luncheon box.
Photo period: none, though they know when its winter.
Temperature - kept at a steady 28 degrees celcius.
Humidity - There is a shallow galvanised bowl of clean water (1
cm deep) in a small cage (1 metre x 1 metre x 15 cms high) at
all times. So the conditions are not very humid.
Housing: in a small cage (1 metre x 1 metre x 15 cms high), in
blocks of 8 with glass fronts which slide up.
Cooldown or bumation - very little, but the lower cages are cooler
and we utilise this when necessary.
in late December/January. Keep all animals individually, and introduce
a male to a female in the morning so we can supervise what follows.
We never leave them unsupervised, because the male is capable
of inflicting deep slashes in the female with his spurs; these are
difficult to treat.
On a final
note, the young are a dull coppery colour with no white markings.
We suspect these develop later and are a form of cryptic camouflage,
designed to break up the snake's outline. The white tipped tail is
probably a decoy for predators. More extensive white areas look like
healed bite wounds on adult snakes (perhaps rat bites?)
Two months from copulation to egg laying.
Two months from laying to hatching.
Eggs incubated in sterilised vermiculate in a human baby hospitalincubator
at 30 degrees celcius.
Clutch size varies, but usually 4 or 5
Keep babies separate and feed on pinks.
1999 BREEDING SUCCESS CONTINUES WITH MEXICAN BURROWING PYTHONS
Richard O'Grady, Director of Glasgow Zoopark.
clutch of four Locoxemus eggs hatched at Glasgow Zoo on
Saturday 29 May, 1999, after an incubation period of 65 days. After
hatching they are kept in a small tank hidden under damp paper towels.
This is to allow the full absorption of the egg yolk and the final
healing of the umbilical scar. This takes several days, after which
the baby snakes will be on the move, looking for food.
Glasgow Zoo possesses four female and thirteen male Loxocemus pythons.
Two, perhaps three (we are not entirely sure), have produced eggs
that have hatched. The other female's six eggs, laid this year (her
first clutch), regrettably did not hatch. It is important that as
many females as possible contribute to our gene pool at the beginning
of a captive breeding programme, as this allows (mathematically
at least) very many more breeding combinations into the foreseeable
future without jeopardising the effort by in-breeding.
this year's four youngsters are already almost as large as those
of last year. The incubation period was a few days longer and the
eggs were also bigger. It may, of course, be that it is a different
mother, but, regrettably, with all the moving about from cage to
cage and prospective mate to prospective mate, we are unsure whether
this is so, or not, at the moment.
breeding programme is the result of fifteen years effort, and we
now have quite a number of youngsters of differing ages, from two
to three years downwards.
of you familiar with Fred, the large adult male favoured by Reptile
Keeper Tracey for the snake handling sessions, may notice
that the young are all a solid, dark copper colour, unlike Fred,
who is liberally speckled with white scales in a random pattern.
Disregarding the healed scar tissure from rodent bites in the distant
past (suggesting Fred is of distant wild-caught origin), these markings
strongly suggest a cryptic camouflage adaptation for life amongst
the dead leaves on the shadowy forest floor. The youngsters, on
the other hand, probably burrow more and tuck themselves away in
the darker, earthy areas under stones.