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Latin Name Bothrochilus albertisii

Common Name

(Northern) White Lipped Python.

Adult Size

180cm - 210cm.

Distribution

The Northern white lipped python (Bothrochilus albertisii) is found on the island of New Guinea and is distributed to the north of the central dividing mountain range that runs the length of the island. Populations are found from Sorong on the Birds head (Vogelkop) peninsular and a few large islands in the west of Irian jaya, to Madang in the east of Papua.
There are reported populations on the St Matthias islands to the north of the Bismarck archipelago. (O'shea 2011)

white lipped python distribution map


Habitat

Lowland forests and rainforest often found near river systems, streams or other water sources.


General Description

The recent name change from Leiopython albertisii to Bothrochilus albertisii comes after a paper in 2014 suggested subsuming Leiopython into Bothrochilus based on mtDNA and recognising two species of white lips, Bothrochilus albertisii (Northern or Gold phase) and Bothrochilus hoserae nomen dubium (Southern or Black phase).
The study also showed a close relationship between Bothrochilus albertisii and Bothrochilus boa (Bismarck ringed python).Click here to open Ringed python page.

This paper also recognised a further four species of white lip python making a total of six: Bothrochilus albertisii, Bothrochilus meridionalis (formerly hoserae), Bothrochilus montanus, Bothrochilus fredparkeri, Bothrochilus huonensis and Bothrochilus biakensis.(Reynolds et al 2014)

young white lip

 

A very young White lipped python showing olive gray body and characteristic head colouration.

At first glance Bothrochilus albertisii is a rather uninteresting brown snake with a black head, although upon closer inspection the beauty of these snakes really shows through.
Undergoing an ontogenetic colour change as they mature, young albertisii have a base body colour of dark olive gray with small darker markings scattered along the lateral surface and have a black head with the characteristic white lips. The ventral surface is a greyish brown and can have darker speckling.

It is as they mature that the skin takes on the most beautiful iridescence and when captured in the right light looks as though the entire snake has a covering of oil on it's scales. As they mature the body colour changes to a dark brown along the dorsal surface, fading through a rich golden brown to a cream along the lateral into a rich cream white on the lower lateral surface. Around the mouth the black head colour gives way to a pure white on the labial scales with the anterior portion of the upper labials retaining the black colouration. The underside of the head is a brilliant white and this brilliant white colouration continues along the entire ventral surface. There are small white markings on each side of the head just behind the eye.
The head is distinct from the neck and is elongated. The body is reasonably slender for the size of the snake compared to many other terrestrial python species, even so they are extremely powerfully constrictors. The eyes are grey in colour and have a vertical pupil indicating their nocturnal nature.


white lipped python

Close up view of the upper labials showing the
black anterior and white posterior colouration
of this species,

There are heat sensitive pits in the upper and lower jaws, with two pits on each side of the upper jaw and five on each side of the lower jaw. These pits are used in the location of prey by these nocturnal hunters.
Bothrochilus albertisii will spend the daylight hours resting in the leaf litter and under debris on the forest floor. At dusk they become active and start foraging for prey rather than waiting in ambush like many other python species.

Young albertisii are known to feed on small lizards, whilst larger more mature animals have a diet that consists mainly of mammals, with remains of bandicoots and small rodents being found in the stomachs and faeces of specimens. (Natusch, Lyons 2012)

Although mostly terrestrial in nature white lipped pythons can and do climb. Unlike the more arboreal pythons found in the same geographic region, white lipped pythons do not have prehensile tails.
When young however they do have what I would describe as semi-prehensile tails and will often hang from branches in a terrarium by their tails to consume prey.
They have fairly small teeth but what they lack in size they make up for in number having a highest number of teeth of any python species.

 

Captive Care

Housing. Although highly nocturnal and very secretive during the daylight hours, Bothrochilus albertisii are extremely active at night and require a reasonable amount of space in captivity.
There are various options as to how you can house your white lip python, including, all glass terrariums, plastic boxes, home built wooden terrariums and commercially made acrylic or plastic terrariums. All these examples have advantages and disadvantages compared with each other such as cost, how well they hold heat / humidity and how easy they are to keep clean.

Young animals tend to do very well in small plastic tubs in a rack style set up for the first six months to a year. The humidity can be easily maintained and this will help keep the young delicate snakes hydrated and help them shed well. The substrate can be paper towels as they are easily changed to clean the enclosure and will help keep the humidity up if kept slightly damp. Plastic netting can be used to provide a climbing structure and young white lips will often emerge around the time the lights go out to climb and rest on top of any perches provided. I raise young albertisii in 50cm x 39cm x 26cm boxes and this size container works well for younger animals up to and around a year of age.
I used to change from a paper substrate to bark chip once the snakes were around six months of age although more recently I have been using Coconut Fiber as a substrate for young white lips. I decided to change to the Coconut Fiber substrate after trying it with young ringed pythons. The ringed pythons would bury themselves in the substrate and form tunnels within it. Although the white lips do not seem as fossorial in nature as the rings they will still burrow into the substrate.

Once the animals are around a year old they can be moved into a larger tub or terrarium. I move them up into 98cm x 60cm x 60cm terrariums at this age. As mentioned earlier these are extremely active pythons and will relish as much space as they can be provided with. Once in this size terrarium or larger I keep the snakes on a soil substrate that lets me control the humidity in my enclosures at consistent, relatively high levels. There is more information about the soil substrate I use in the terrarium section of this web site.

I keep my sub-adult and adult animals in terrariums that measures 120cm long x 90cm wide x 60cm high.

During the day white lips are very secretive and need secure hiding places in order to avoid stress. For larger adult animals large pieces of cork bark can be used and several should be provided per animal at different locations in the terrarium. This will allow the python to choose a hiding place in the terrarium that best suites its needs at any given time with regards to temperature and humidity.
Damp sphagnum moss can also be placed in piles in the terrarium and will often be used by the snakes as hiding places and somewhere to burrow beneath.
Younger animals can be provided with cardboard boxes, tubes or small plastic tubs as hiding places.


Humidity.White lipped pythons require high humidity (60%-80% RH). This should be provided although care must also be taken not to allow the terrarium to become and remain too wet as this can cause health problems such as scale rot in this terrestrial species. Spraying water over the substrate on a daily basis can help keep humidity levels up. The surface of the substrate should be allowed to dry out over the following 24 hrs after spraying.
Bothrochilus species have very thin delicate skin and can dehydrate very quickly if humidity drops too low and fresh water is not provided at all times. The thin skin can also cause problems when shedding if humidity is not kept high.
If maintaining high humidity is an issue then damp sphagnum moss can be placed inside the hide boxes to help meet the needs of the snake although care must be taken to ensure that the moss does not become moldy.

 

Temperature. White lip pythons require a temperature gradient within the enclosure. This allows the snake to choose the temperature that it needs at various times. In general the enclosure should have a warm side and a cooler side. Heat can be provided by heat mats, heat panels, heat cable or ceramic heaters. Again there are advantages and disadvantages to each but whichever heating method you choose, it should be controlled by a reliable thermostat.
I provide my adult animals with a daytime air temperature of 28 deg C to 24 deg C using heat panels fixed to the terrarium ceiling and controlled by pulse proportional thermostats. The terrariums my white lips are housed in are stacked and so also receive some heat from the terrariums below them and this warms the substrate to a temperature of 30 deg on the warm side of the enclosure. At night the air temp drops to 26 deg.
I provide young albertisii with a constant temp gradient of 30 deg at the warm side of their tubs to around 26 deg on the cool side with no night time drop. These temperatures are provided using heat mats placed under the tubs and controlled by a thermostat. The heat mat covers around 30% - 40% of the surface of the bottom of the tub.

 

 

Lighting. White lipped pythons are highly nocturnal and so do not require special lighting. They will however still benefit from some sort of light reaching their enclosure as this will provide a light cycle. It can be as simple as making sure the area in the house where they are kept receives some natural light from a window each day or by using artificial lights inside the enclosure.
I light my white lip enclosures with LED lights and with full spectrum fluorescent and provide a 12 hour light cycle as this replicates their natural environment.
By using low output LED night lighting and keeping a regular daylight cycle, I have found white lips quickly sync to the daylight schedule and often will emerge around 30 minute before lights out. After the daylights go out the snake can be viewed without disturbance using the low output LED night lights.

Food. Young white lip pythons will eat small defrosted fuzzy mice. These pythons have a fast metabolism and so can be fed quite frequently. I will feed young animals every five to seven days up to a year of age and then reduce the frequency to every seven to ten days.
I have found that younger animals that are able to take adult mice may sometimes take a little provocation to strike at the prey but often much more readily take rat pups.
Adults and animals over two years of age can be fed one or more appropriate sized defrosted rats around every fourteen days. Once feeding well, they are veracious feeders and will eat almost as much as you offer them. Care must be taken to keep an eye on their weight and body condition, as although they have a high metabolism and are extremely active, they can quickly become obese. Keeping an eye on the snakes scales can help reduce obesity. Scales along the body of the python should sit flush to each other and show no skin between them. If you start to see skin between the scales when the snake is not digesting a meal, the snake is possibly getting fat and feeding frequency and/or prey size should probably be reduced.

In the wild snakes are opportunistic feeders and food does not come along on a regular schedule. With all my snakes I follow feeding schedules loosely and prefer to watch what the snakes are doing. When they become more active after digesting a previous meal and seem to be looking for food I will wait a day or two before feeding them again. However with white lips it is wise to wait several days after they start to forage before feeding again as these snakes are naturally very active.
As a rough guide to how big a meal your white lip python will eat, I offer young animals up to two years of age rodents that are 10% - 15% of their body weight and animals over two years meals between 5% and 10% of their body weight.

This leads onto record keeping. It's a good habit to record dates when your snake is fed, when it sheds and to keep track of it's weight. Not only will this go some way towards avoiding the overfeeding of your snake, it can also help show any health issue that might arise before they become problematic.

Water.Water should be provided at all times and should be kept fresh. Plastic, glass or metal containers can be used and the water should be replaced a couple of times a week or when soiled. Bowls should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected every couple of weeks or again when the water has been soiled.
White lips will often soak if provided with large water bowls. I keep my younger animals in tubs and provide them with a small glass water bowel placed at the cooler end of the tub and also place a larger shallow plastic tub of water over the heat mat. This helps keep the humidity in the tub high as the water evaporates from the heat and also provides somewhere for the young white lips to soak. I generally only provide larger animals with bowls for drinking rather than soaking in as the soil substrate I keep them on is working very well in keeping the humidity high.

leiopython albertisii

Points of interest.With larger white lipped pythons that have attained their adult white ventral colouration, often the first sign that they are going into a slough cycle is the change in colour of the belly scales. Before the snake takes on the familiar opaque look common to many snakes in slough, white lips belly scales will often turn a flushed pink colour. Often the pink colouration will extend along the whole ventral surface replacing the white but occasionally the pink colouration will appear as blotches on the snakes belly. When first seen it can look like the snake has some sort of skin infection but the pink flush will disappear as the snake turns opaque and the snakes belly will be brilliant white again as soon as it sheds it's skin.

I kept a 2.2 group of white lips in England in the 1990's and tried a few substrates including bark chip, newspaper and wood chip. During this time they constantly suffered with bad sheds and I had to assist shedding often, rarely having any of the group give a complete shed. My adult white lips in Sweden are housed on a soil substrate. It is unusual to have anything other than complete sheds nowadays with my white lips. The soil if kept damp from the bottom up retains high humidity in the terrarium without the surface of the soil remaining wet. This provides the conditions needed to maintain this species whilst avoiding any possible skin infections that could be caused from the snakes laying on a constantly damp surface.

Fresh water should be provided at all times. Bothrochilus albertisii will quickly dehydrate without fresh water. This is something that I learned the hard way in 1997 whilst maintaining the 2.2 group. I had to take a trip away for a little over a week and before leaving I gave all my animals fresh water and checked that cages were clean. When I returned I found that the larger adult pair of white lips had moved their water bowl towards the warm end of the terrarium. It was sitting over the heated area of terrarium floor and the bowl was completely dry. The terrarium also had very low humidity from a week of no spraying. Both snakes were severely dehydrated and despite soaking both animals, the female died the following day. The male seemed to be ok for a while but he also died soon after the above incident.

leiopython albertisii

Defensive posture of a white lip python.

White lips are often referred to as aggressive snakes. This is generally not the case and a better way to describe a typical white lip temperament would be defensive. When reaching into the terrarium (the white lips home and somewhere the snake should feel secure and safe) the snakes first reaction will often be to escape. Within the confines of the terrarium this is not possible and so the python becomes defensive, often striking at the threat. The use of a snake hook in removing a white lip from it's enclosure is a good idea.
Once removed from the terrarium white lips, especially younger animals are fast moving. Many will still try to escape and in doing so the keeper may restrain the animal a little to firmly causing the snake to bite.
The group of white lips I kept in England in the 1990's were of wild origin, and although once removed from their terrariums would tolerate handling, they were never completely calm and retained a certain amount of defensive behaviour throughout their lives.
I have found with individuals that have been born in captivity, handling on a regular basis when young and always returning the snake to it's enclosure on a positive vibe often results in a white lip with a fairly mild temperament. If the young snake bites or defecates on you don't immediately put the snake back into it's terrarium but carry on handling it for several minutes. Let the snake move freely over open palms and after several minutes it should calm a little. Once it has stopped trying to escape and has sat calmly for a minute or two then return it to it's enclosure. If this process is repeated every two or three days when young I have found that even very nervous defensive white lips often become much calmer animals in a very short period of time. It may however still take several months of regular handling to reach a point where the snake is completely calm whenever handled.
My largest female white lip has never bitten after an initial few bites when very young and allows me to freely remove her from her terrarium without the use of a hook. Once out she remains calm and is extremely easy to handle but it took several months of work to get her to this stage.
I should also mention that I feed all my animals after lights out and never attempt to handle them after lights out unless absolutely necessary. I believe that this goes some way toward "training" the animal that any movement within the terrarium during daylight hours is not food.

White lips are fairly vocal snakes and will often make short hissing noises when first picked up or disturbed. These do not seem to be aggressive in nature but more a form of communication. Whilst handling, my largest female often emits short hisses but shows no sign of distress or aggression when doing so. She will always give a few short hisses when first picked up.
I have also found that the hissing only seems to happen once the snakes have grown to over a year of age. Before this, very young white lips will often flick their tails in a similar fashion to how a rattle snake rattles it's tail. This seems to be a warning to not touch and can often induce a bite if the warning is not heeded although once the young white lips begin to tame down and stop biting so much they will still often rattle their tails when disturbed.

Another very interesting behaviour in these pythons is the regurgitation of (for want of a better description) furr balls. Every so often white lips will cough up what looks like a long furry wet pellet. This happens at night and I have found it to happen four to five days after the snake eats.
Despite having kept white lipped pythons on and off for over ten years since the early 90's I had never witnessed this behaviour until March 2015. The particular snake that I saw regurgitate was a four year old female. She was sat out in the open in her enclosure around two hours before the lights went out in the evening. This was very unusual behaviour for her as she would normally only show herself around 30 minutes before the lights went out. She seemed unaware of me looking at her which was also unusual behaviour for her and when I open her terrarium she showed no alertness. I reached into the terrarium to move a piece of cork bark that she was resting on to see her reaction. She still seemed vacant not moving much as if in a trance. A moment later she began to move slowly around the terrarium. She then stopped and laid still for around 15 seconds before arching her back. What I would describe as a wave then rippled up her body from near her tail towards her head. Her muscles were contracting along with the wave moving up her body until it was approx 1/3 of her body length from the head and at this point she opened her mouth and started making rasping, gurgling, vomiting noises which ended around two seconds later with a sort of hissing cough and a shake of her head. She then lay perfectly still for another few seconds before moving off and hiding under a large piece of cork bark.
Although the movement was too quick to actually see the furr being cast she left behind a large furr cast where her head had been. The whole process from her convulsing to casting took between five and ten seconds.


 

The above information is collected from various sources and from personal observations.
The captive care section is based on how I personally maintain this species. This is not the only way to successfully maintain this species and other keepers use different methods.
This is what works for me, with my animals and the size of collection that I work with.
 
 
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