Woma and Black-Headed Pythons

A Complete Guide for Keeping Woma and Black-Headed Pythons in Australia

Last Updated 12 JULY 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Nicole Wynne BSc BVMS MANZCVS (Unusual Pets).

Both Woma and Black-Headed pythons belong to the Aspidites genus, and they're very special as they are both the only two members of that genus. These snakes are true-blue Australian natives, and they don't occur naturally anywhere else in the world! Both Woma and Black-Headed pythons generally have good temperaments and are easy to handle, but their desert habitat needs close attention for optimal husbandry.

Although these pythons usually are good natured, the Womas more than the Black-Headeds, they can grow to over 2 metres in length and are strong, fast snakes. Their beautiful colouring and patterns, as well as their finicky reproductive behaviour in captivity, also make them more expensive to acquire than Carpet or Stimson's pythons.

These snakes are desert specialists in the wild, and while they are quite hardy in captivity, they have some non-negotiable requirements such as proper desert substrate, low humidity, and good UV lighting. However, they tend to settle in well in a good enclosure, and are reliable eaters. Although these two species are of the same genus, the Black-Headed python prefers more tropical climates, and the Woma more arid climates.

A Woma or Black-Headed python may be a good option for you if you are a reptile keeper that has already kept larger pythons such as Carpet pythons successfully, and you are confident handling large, strong snakes. The experience will also help with getting your enclosure set up right the first time, especially with temperature and humidity requirements.

Contents:
Reptile Licensing Requirements
Facts About Woma Pythons
Facts About Black-Headed Pythons
Preparing for your Woma or Black-Headed Python
Enclosures
Heating
Lighting
Furniture
Substrate
Diet
Hygiene
Diet
Caring for Your Woma or Black-Headed Python
Handling
Natural Sunlight
Shedding
Further Reading

Reptile Licensing Requirements in Australia

All pet reptiles require a reptile keeping licence in Australia, and these differ from state to state, so ensure that you check your local requirements before getting any pet reptile. For Woma and Black-Headed pythons, the licensing requirements are generally aimed towards intermediate keepers.

Facts About Woma Pythons

woma python head

Size

Place of origin

Temperament

Large

Australia

Aggressive

Life expectancy

Length range

Weight range

20-25 years

150-200 cm

1-5 kilograms

Enclosure size

Activity level

Active period

Medium

Medium

Nocturnal

Facts About Black-Headed Pythons

black headed python

Size

Place of origin

Temperament

Large

Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea

Aggressive

Life expectancy

Length range

Weight range

20-30 years

200-300 cm

3-7 kilograms

Enclosure size

Activity level

Active period

Large

Medium

Nocturnal

Are Woma and Black-Headed pythons good pets?

These beautiful snakes make excellent pets as long as their size and husbandry requirements can be catered to. Woma pythons tend to be more forgiving than Black-Headed pythons, but both species are prone to developing illnesses like respiratory infections if they are kept under suboptimal conditions.

As they are larger snakes, these are suited for intermediate adult keepers. However, woma pythons are known for being gentle, even dopey, and so if keepers are comfortable with the size and husbandry requirements, Woma pythons are not challenging to handle. However, Black-Headed pythons can have flightier, more aggressive temperaments, and they also can grow larger than Woma pythons, and so keepers should have experience with larger, more temperamental snakes like Carpet pythons prior to keeping a Black-Headed python.

Are Woma and Black-Headed pythons nocturnal?

Yes, these species are nocturnal, but they are active for short bursts during the day. They are terrestrial species and live on the ground or amongst rock formations.

What do Woma and Black-Headed pythons eat?

In the wild, these pythons actually prey mostly on other cold-blooded animals, like other snakes or lizards. However, they take mammalian prey readily in captivity.

Appropriately-sized frozen, fully thawed feeder mice and rats are the usual diet. These pythons may require the prey item to be held in tongs and moved around to encourage them to strike. Adults are fed 2-4 weekly, and juveniles 1-2 weekly. Juveniles may display an increase in activity when they are hungry and ready to feed.

How big do Woma and Black-Headed pythons get?

These snakes average about 2 metres in length, with females generally growing larger than males. Black-Headed Pythons get larger than Woma pythons and can reach up to 3 metres in length. Like all snakes, these pythons shed their skin as they grow, and adults may still shed up to twice a year.

How long do Woma and Black-Headed pythons live?

These pythons live about 10-15 years in the wild, but can live up to 24-30 years in captivity. Good husbandry is required to ensure these snakes have a long lifespan, and they are particularly sensitive to excessive humidity.

Are Woma and Black-Headed pythons aggressive?

Woma pythons are generally quite a gentle species despite their size, but Black-Headed pythons can be more touchy and aggressive. As Black-Headed pythons can reach an adult size of 3 metres, this can lead to severe injury for inexperienced keepers.

Preparing for your Woma or Black-Headed python

woma python flicking tongue

As large, terrestrial pythons, these species should have an enclosure that is at least 1.8 metres long, 60 cm tall, and 90 cm wide, and ideally larger than that. Although you may be getting your snake as a juvenile, it can be useful to get an enclosure that suits an adult straight off, as it will save you from having to upgrade in the future. If your snake is still very small, you can house them in a plastic box within the main enclosure, which will allow you to keep the same heating and lighting system.

Apart from the size, setting up an enclosure for these species is otherwise quite simple. The most important components are the temperature control system.

Woma and Black-Headed Python Supplies Checklist

Python Enclosures

Type of Enclosure

Glass enclosures are always better than plastic, especially since heat sources can melt plastic! Glass enclosures will also last, are scratch-resistant, and are much easier to clean. Enclosures should be easy to access for handling and cleaning, and avoid enclosures with small doors. Well-designed enclosures will have large front doors that often will open an entire side of the enclosure, along with top access. They normally will include mesh panels on top for ventilation and UV access, and have no potential escape routes. Doors should all be latchable, and some enclosures will have attachments for locks. Exo-Terra enclosures are high quality, and come in several different sizes and configurations to suit most species.

As Woma and Black-Headed pythons are a terrestrial species, it is better to provide low furniture and hides that allow for exploration close to the ground. They will appreciate basking rocks and fallen branches that mimic their natural habitat in the wild.

Size and Location of Enclosure

Ensure that the enclosure you choose is large enough to accommodate your furniture, as well as allowing for enough space for your snake to stretch out and roam. This also involves planning where the enclosure will be located in your house, as you don't want to get an enclosure that doesn't fit in the location you've chosen. Your enclosure should be in a quiet room that isn't a common area or thoroughfare. Remember that stress can cause injury or illness in reptiles, and signs of stress may not be as apparent as in mammals.

Your enclosure should also be located in a room with as few temperature fluctuations as possible. For example, a room where the air conditioning is constantly being turned on or off is not ideal, or a room that gets strong sunlight for only a few hours each day.

Finally, other pets in the household should not be able to access the enclosure, even if they can't open it or get on top of it. Dogs and cats are predators of reptiles.

Python Heating

woma python body

A proper, well-maintained heating system is vital for keeping your python healthy and happy. Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that they need to rely on external sources of body heat. All body functions are heat-dependent, including heart rate, digestion, and respiration. Pythons that don't get enough heat will suffer from suboptimal organ function and become unwell. This is particularly important with Woma and Black-Headed pythons as they are arid species.

Although setting up a thermostatically-controlled heating system can be more expensive and tricky in the short run, a proper system should only require basic maintenance in the long run, and will be invaluable for ensuring your snake stays healthy.

Reptiles require a basking spot in the enclosure set to their preferred body temperature (PBT), which in our Woma and Black-Headed pythons is 30-33 degrees Celsius. At the opposite end of the enclosure, they should have their "cool end", which is an area that sits around 25-27 degrees Celsius. Reptiles are great at sensing environmental temperatures, and having a "hot end" and "cool end" will allow them to regulate their body temperature by moving between the hot and cool end as needed. The basking area can mimic a natural spot in the wild, which would be a fallen branch or a sloped rock for your python to adjust their distance from the heat source.

The great thing about a thermostat is that it will automatically monitor temperatures in the hot and cool end, and adjust the heating to account for that. This means that very little input is required to maintain an ideal temperature gradient for your python.

As Woma and Black-Headed pythons are an arid species requiring lower humidity, a hygrometer is also recommended to ensure that humidity levels remain within 40-60%. Black-Headed pythons generally prefer higher humidity than Woma pythons.

Type of heat source

Heat lamps are much better than heat mats as they mimic heat from the sun, and often can be placed with less risk of thermal burns, but also more effective heating. Heat lamps can be augmented with heat mats in the basking area as long as the reptile cannot come into direct contact with the heat mat.

It is best to get separate heat and UV lamps, as combined lamps often do not do either job optimally. However, as pythons tend to have lower UV requirements than lizards, a good quality combination lamp may be acceptable. All heat sources should be inaccessible to your pet, and heat globes should either be out of the enclosure, or contained within a mesh cover. Without this, there is a risk of your snake coiling around the heat source and suffering from thermal burns, which can be very tricky to treat.

Python Lighting

curious black headed python

The importance of UV lighting in Australian pythons can be a topic of debate, as some keepers feel it is less important due to some species' nocturnal habits. However, there is no downside to providing UV light, and so we recommend ensuring that your python has a consistent source of UV as well as visible light.

UV lighting

Choosing a good quality UV globe is important and will save you money in the long run, as they won't have to be replaced as often and are less prone to failure. However, no matter how good your UV globe is, it cannot be filtered through glass or plastic, as this will filter a lot of the UV waves out. It is fine for it to go through mesh, but also be aware that UV light will decrease the further the animal is from the globe, and most globes require no more than a 30 cm distance between the globe and animal. The best globes in the world also won't match up to natural Australian sun, and it is also recommended that your python receive at least an hour of natural sunlight a week.

Regular lighting

Visible light should also be provided to ensure that your snake has a normal day-night cycle. An automatic timer can produce a day-night cycle of 14-16 hours of daylight, and 8-10 hours of darkness. If you want to have visibility in the enclosure during darkness, you can install a red light, which is visible to humans but not snakes. This is great for nocturnal snakes like Woma and Black-Headed pythons as it allows the keeper to observe natural behaviours.

Woma and Black-Headed Python Furniture

black headed python

These pythons are ground-living, or terrestrial, species, and so they prefer ground-based furniture such as fallen branches, rocks, and caves. Pythons particularly love a hide that makes them feel safe by being small enough that their sides contact the walls of the hide when they're coiled up inside, but do ensure that it is still large enough that they won't get stuck. This may need monitoring as your python grows.

You can even plant small pots of small, native Australian plants in their enclosure, such as outback snake emu plants, desert pea, and callistemons.

All furniture should be non-abrasive and easy to clean or dispose of. For example, natural wood is a great option for reptile enclosures, but will need to be thrown out when overly soiled as it can be difficult to clean properly. Imitation wood or rock has been designed to be easier to clean, but still mimic natural surfaces and be enticing for your pet.

Have a few spare pieces of furniture so that it is easy to swap out soiled items from the enclosure.

Woma and Black-Headed Python Substrate

The substrate of your enclosure is the flooring or bedding material that you use. Substrate should never be used from the wild or from your garden, as this may harbour pathogens that can make your snake sick. Commercially produced substrates are a much safer option. Substrates should be absorbent, non-abrasive, and suit your reptile's mode of transportation - this means that snakes generally prefer finer substrates, and lizards coarser substrates. They should also be easy to clean and throw out.

Substrate can be a good reservoir for humidity if damp, but a balance needs to be struck as damp substrate can also grow mold. As these pythons prefer more arid environments, your substrate should be a material that does not hold water. Sand or gravel are both good options for Woma and Black-Headed pythons. Wood chips can also be a good option, but are more likely to hold moisture.

Your enclosure should be spot-cleaned of any soiled or wet bits every day, and a full clean should be done at least once a month, or after each bowel movement.

Shop All Reptile Substrates and Bedding Now

Woma and Black-Headed Python Diet

black headed python eating rat

All pythons are carnivorous, and eat only whole prey. It is important to note that live prey feeding is illegal in Australia under animal welfare grounds, and live prey can severely injure or even kill reptiles. Frozen mice and rats are available in several sizes, and these are a great option for feeding, as they are free from parasites or diseases. Never feed any wild-caught items to your reptile. Your feeder mouse or rat should be about the same width as your python's head, and the size will gradually increase as your snake grows. Adult Woma and Black-Headed pythons will take a large to extra large adult mouse.

Ensure that your feeder mice are always kept frozen, and only defrost one mouse at a time, right before you intend to feed your snake. Feeder mice should be defrosted to normal body temperature, about 35-40 degrees Celsius, and this can be achieved with a warm water bath.

Feeding tongs should be used when feeding your snake to reduce your risk of injury. While your snake may not intend to strike you, a mis-timed strike may accidentally get a hand or finger. While pythons are not venomous, their teeth can still cause injury and infection.

As pythons hunt by smell, ensure that your hands are washed prior to any interaction or feeding. If you smell of mouse, your python may mistake you for a prey item! If you smell of something else, it may put your python off feeding.

Hatchling snakes can be fed weekly, and adults fortnightly to monthly. Your vet can help you condition score your snake and figure out the best feeding schedule.

Your snake should have a shallow dish of water available at all times, and water should be changed out weekly at least. You can spray the enclosure lightly every month or so to simulate rainfall that they would normally get in the wild.

Python Hygiene

Have hand sanitizer close to your enclosure so that you can clean your hands before and after handling your snake. This is important to ensure that you and your reptile stay healthy. For enclosure cleaning, ensure that you use a reptile-safe disinfectant, and always wipe down after spraying and leaving the disinfectant for the recommended time.

Proper hand washing should also be practiced, especially after a longer handling session, and before eating or drinking.

Caring for Your Woma or Black-Headed Python

woma python

Now that you’ve set up your enclosure, most of the hard work is done! The next thing to do is allow your snake to settle in and relax. In this time, make a booking with an exotics or reptile vet, as an initial checkup is important to ensure that everything is set up appropriately, and that your snake doesn’t have any issues to look out for. The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination of your snake, and if you don’t know the gender, they will be able to perform probe sexing to tell you if your snake is male or female. 

Preparing for your vet visit

There are a few other things to prepare apart from ensuring that you have a suitable transport enclosure or bag for your snake. Take a few good photos of your enclosure to show your vet, including brands and models of your equipment. Ensure that you bring any records including weight, feeding schedule, and temperature. While this may sound a bit gross, save your snake’s most recent stool to bring to the vet, and you can do this in a double sealed plastic or ziplock bag, then refrigerate until your appointment. Your vet will be able to examine the sample for parasites or infection. 

Your vet will ask some basic questions about husbandry and source including:

  1. Where did you get your snake from?
  2. What reptiles have you kept before?
  3. What is the temperature at the hot and cool ends of the enclosure?
  4. When and what did you last feed your snake, and did they strike and swallow normally?
  5. What substrate are you using, and what is your cleaning schedule?
  6. What disinfectant do you normally use for cleaning?
  7. When did you last change your UV bulb?
  8. How often does your snake get direct natural sunlight?
  9. Do you know if your snake is a male or female?
  10. Do you have any other pets at home?

Your reptile should have a vet visit at least yearly, even if they appear completely healthy. Signs that your reptile needs to go to the vet include inappetance, failure to produce faeces after feeding, lethargy, change in colour, injury, swelling, or bleeding. 

Reptiles do not require regular parasite prevention, and book a vet visit if you are concerned about parasites, as they will be able to prescribe an accurate and safe treatment. 

Handling Woma and Black-Headed Pythons

Regular, gentle handling is the key to helping your snake feel comfortable being handled, reducing the likelihood of your snake striking or biting. This is particularly important when pythons are juveniles, as positive handling experiences will increase the likelihood that they are good to handle as they grow. Snakes can be handled up to twice a day, but ensure that each session does not last longer than your snake's comfort. In the beginning, handling sessions should last no more than 10 minutes. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after each handling session, and separate handling sessions from feeding sessions.

Signs of comfort include slow, deliberate movements, and regular tongue flicks. Tongue flicks are your snake’s way of assessing their surroundings by smell, and slow, regular flicks indicate that your snake is curiously figuring out what’s going on. Signs of discomfort include rapid movements or your snake trying to escape into a dark place, such as a sleeve. Rapid, irregular tongue flicks may indicate that your snake is unsure or concerned about what is happening. 

Woma pythons are generally very amenable to handling, and can become quite friendly, curious snakes. Black-Headed pythons are less likely to become friendly, and more caution is needed when handling this species. However, they are still even-tempered and likely to give lots of warning prior to striking.

Never allow children or people inexperienced with reptiles to handle your snake unsupervised, as injury or escape may occur. They can be surprisingly fast when they’re worried! 

Natural Sunlight for Pythons

black headed python on rock

Regular exposure to natural sunlight is good for all reptiles, and this can be a positive handling experience for you and your snake! On sunny days where it is not too cold, it can be enjoyable to sit outside with your snake and a good book. Ensure that your snake can’t get out of the area easily, and can’t get away and hide or become lost. 

At least an hour a week is a good minimum for natural sunlight, and there’s no such thing as too much natural sunlight for Australian reptiles.

Snake Shedding

All snakes will shed regularly, and young snakes may shed as often as every 3 weeks when they are growing rapidly. Signs that your snake is going into shed include duller colouration, behavioural change, and cloudy eyes. The cloudy eyes are the “spectacles,” or clear scales over the eyes, starting to separate from the new scales underneath in preparation for shed.

If it looks like your snake is preparing to shed, the best thing to do is ensure that the water source has been freshly cleaned and refilled, ensure that the temperature is optimal, then leave your snake alone until they have finished shedding. This includes stopping feeding and handling. If your snake is due for a feed, they can be fed after the shed is complete.

Handling or feeding your snake when they are coming into shed is stressful, and it can also lead to dysecdysis, or a pathological/abnormal shed where the shed doesn’t come off in one piece. If you are concerned your snake hasn’t shed properly, book a vet visit, and do not attempt to peel off any shed. This may make the problem worse. 

Finally, enjoy your python! These beautiful, unique Australian pythons are highly sought after overseas, and don't be surprised when other reptile keepers express their jealousy. Reptiles are unique, interesting pets that have a lot of joy to give, and individuals will develop their own special personalities as time goes on. They can also be a very meditative, relaxing pet as you learn and observe their natural behaviours and marvel at their sleek beauty.

Further Reading

Want to know more? Take a look at our other reptile articles:

Beginners Guide to Reptile Care

5 Reptile Facts for People Who Aren't Herpetologists

Reptile Supplements

Carpet and Diamond Python Care

Stimson's and Children's Python Care

Green Tree Python Care