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My royal python is currently being a very picky eater. Last night I was able to coax him in to striking an appropriately sized rat, he missed three times. I then left him overnight in a dark cupboard with the rat (brained at this point) to find he hadn't touched it by morning.

Why would my python strike but then lose interest when the prey is literally laid out in front of it?

I thought their hunting mechanisms mostly involved heat and smell rather than movement.

  • Maybe your snake isn't hungry. Have you looked to see how often to feed it? – Badblabey Dec 13 '15 at 15:56
  • The last time it ate was nearly two months ago iirc, barely two years old so should be feeding at least once a fortnight to my knowledge. Would you say otherwise? – R Day Dec 13 '15 at 16:00
  • No, he should be hungry. – Badblabey Dec 13 '15 at 16:10
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    Movement is definitely a factor. They don't want to eat something they think is dead, even if it's still warm... At least that's what I was always told, when I had mine I always used live prey. – Gary Dec 15 '15 at 1:39
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    @Gary: Snakes are not clever animals, all you have to do to make it look "alive" is make sure it's warm and wiggle it about with some tongs. Live feeding has too many risks. – Pyritie Dec 15 '15 at 9:46
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Losing interest in food is just something that royal pythons do; it's perfectly normal. Sometimes this fasting lasts for a few weeks, sometimes it lasts for several months. Earlier this year my own royal python stopped eating for about four months then went back to eating every 1.5 weeks like nothing happened. It seems to be more common in males than in females but there's a reason royal pythons have a reputation of being picky eaters!

Unfortunately, since feeding is one of the few ways to tell if your snake has any health issues, this can be frustrating.

Keep a record of your snake's weight every week or so. If his weight stays roughly the same (give or take a few grams) every time, and he continues to shed fine, then you have nothing to worry about. If the weight suddenly drops, however, take your snake to the vet, along with your records of feeding and weighing him.

Keep offering him food every fortnight. Leaving it with him overnight is fine. Does he have anywhere to hide in your dark cupboard? If he decides he isn't hungry, he will want somewhere to feel safe, and the lack of a hide could also be stressing him out a bit.

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    Thanks! I'll keep a record of weight and just keep feeding. – R Day Dec 14 '15 at 15:55
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Update

Over a year later the python has now been feeding consistently for 6 months or more. I can't be sure why they weren't eating to begin with but we made a few changes to the feeding routine;

  • We place the python in a deep, lidded box half an hour before feeding time, allowing the snake to settle.

  • Once the rat is defrosted we use feeding tongs to slip the rat in to the box, being careful to avoid being seen by the snake.

  • Wiggle it around a little and once the python has struck, hold on to the rat for a second to ensure the strike was successful.

  • We then leave the area and after about 20 minutes return the python to it's viv, careful not to be seen as threatening again.

We believe that there may have been a few factors involved;

  • The python has always been easily threatened and paid a lot of attention to whoever was offering the rat rather than the rat itself so we tried to get out of view.
  • We also believe that smells inside the viv were playing a part as the python usually ate shortly after cleaning out the viv but hesitated after more than a few days, hence the different container.
  • We've also noted that it almost never eats a completely dark rat but will eat light coloured or patchy rats.
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Good to hear that your snake is eating reliably, now. They can be very picky eaters, and they are notably skittish, and it is fairly normal for them to fast for months at a time. However, when a snake strikes at food in a predatory fashion (as opposed to a defensive fashion), but then will not eat the food item, it most likely is due to being too cold.

Ball Pythons (Python regius) are hot temperature snakes. They thrive at temperatures above 90°F (32°C). When I used to rehab them for a rescue program, it was almost always because their owners had given up on them due to not eating. Sometimes they would have other problems, such as respiratory infections but, luckily, both problems are solved the same way... crank the heat!

Severe infections may require medication, but mild ones are easily cured by keeping the snake at around 95°F (35°C) and giving it bowl of water large enough to soak in (dry air makes them susceptible to infections). I never had a python refuse food once it had been kept at 95°F (35°C) for a week. NOTE: this applies to pythons, ONLY! Corn snakes, king snakes, etc. should not be kept at this temperature except under orders from a veterinarian.

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