The Boelen’s Python

By Snaketracks / June 8, 2020

Boelen Python Care Sheet (Simalia boeleni, Black python)

Boelen’s python, or the black python, is a snake endemic to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and is incredibly secretive and difficult to find in the wild. Also, it is quite uncommon in private collections, as breeding conditions are still unclear.

In Papua New Guinea, Boelen’s pythons are considered to have immense spiritual and cultural significance by some Papuan ethnic groups.

Quick Reference Section

  • Difficulty level: Advanced
  • Family: Pythonidae
  • Scientific name: Simalia boeleni
  • Other  scientific SynonymesLiasis boeleni (Brongersma, 1953), Liasis Taronga (Worrell, 1958), Python boeleni  (McDowell,  1975), Morelia boeleni  (Underwood  & Stimson, 1990)
  • Other common names: Black python, Blu moran, and Papa graun (meaning the grandfather python). The common Indonesian names of this snake are sanca hitamsanca Bulanpiton hitam, and ular buleni.
  • Subspecies: no sub-species  are currently recognized
  • Maximum adult size: It is a relatively large snake that can reach lengths of 8 to 9 feet, while those found in eastern New Guinea can reach 13 to 14 feet. A distinction for size comparison among male and female animals has not been reported.
  • Lifespan: over 20 years in captivity. At present, there is no data about the longevity of this species in the wild.
  • Venom: nonvenomous
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Clutch size:  Ranges between 9 and 14 eggs. After 70 days or so, the eggs should start to pip.

Interesting Facts About the Boelen Python

Boelen Python in Forest
Boelen Python in Forest
  • Because of their appearance, they often are referred to as the “Cadillac of Morelia.
  • Boelen pythons are well-known to Papua’s local people, particularly to the Dani and Lani tribes of the Baliem Valley and western highlands.
  • The Huli people call this same snake Dalapadi, and they regard it as a god. Therefore, it is taboo to hunt or kill it. However, before Huli warriors entered into battle, they would eat the snake. It was believed that by doing so, special powers would be bestowed upon them.
  • Boelen’s python is mostly considered a terrestrial snake, but they have been known to go into trees that can sustain their weight, making them semi-arboreal.
  • This snake is gentle but will bite if it feels threatened. However, they do prefer hiding over confrontation and try to avoid bright areas.

How Does the Boelen Python Look Like?

Orange and yellow Black python on black background coming down from above
Black Python

Their upperside color pattern is dark bluish-black or purplish-black (commonly iridescent with an oil-slick-like sheen).

The anterior part of the underside of this snake ranges from white to pale yellow. The white extends up the flanks as a series of streaks.

Its upper and lower lips are patterned with pale or whitish labial scales.

Overall, this snake has a stocky body and a large head as well.

Babies are pristine, burnt-red to orange, with their bodies covered with yellow to cream bands. Gradual black pigmentation presents itself as the neonate grows and sheds, though some form of the band remains.

Distribution and Habitat of the Boelen Python

The Boelen python is found in Indonesia (Western New Guinea in the Paniai Lakes region) and Papua New Guinea (the provinces of the Eastern Highlands, Central and Morobe, and Goodenough Island).

The species inhabits forested montane regions of over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) elevation.

Boelen’s are generally encountered on the forest floor but are also reckoned to be an able climber.

Breeding of the Boelen Python

For more than 30 years, numerous zoological institutions and highly experienced python keepers have kept this species in captivity.

However, due to their notorious difficulty to maintain and breed in captivity (the conditions necessary are still unclear), there are just ten reports of successful breeding in captivity.

Because Boelen Pythons are potentially highly genetically uniform and susceptible to inbreeding depression, breeding programs require detailed and accurate pedigree management to maintain genetic diversity.

Successful Breeders Agree on the Following Requirements:

Enclosure: Adult snakes require as much room as possible: nothing smaller than a 6 x 2 x 3-foot enclosure. The animal must be able to completely stretch out and move freely.

Accessories:

  • a hide box that can completely shelter the snake is a must
  • a large log or branches for the snake to interact with and to help it when it is shedding should also be included

Substrate: can be as simple as newspaper or butcher paper. Cypress mulch is another inexpensive substrate, but in this case, care must be taken to remove the larger pieces.

Food: Boelen’s pythons love to feed. Care must be taken not to overfeed. For babies, it is advisable to offer small pre-killed pinky mice or hoppers after every bowl movement or once per week. Adults should be offered an appropriate sized pre-killed rodents (or alternating with quail) every 8-10 days.

Water: a large bowl of fresh water should be made available daily

Temperature concerns: it is advisable to use an under-heating pad to set up basking areas to reach into the upper 80’s° F (26° C) and let the night time temperatures drop into the high 60’s° to low 70’s° F (15.5° to 21°C). Neonates or juveniles shouldn´t be exposed to very low temperatures.  

Light concerns: full-spectrum UV source – not in use for heating – be utilized for a cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.

Humidity: in the peak of the day should be in the 70-80% range

Boelen Python Temperament

Boelen Python (Black Python)
Boelen Python (Black Python)

When encountered in the wild, Boelen’s pythons are by nature quite timid. They are generally hesitant to bite unless provoked and instead prefer to hide.

In captivity, Boelens pythons demonstrate an inquisitive intelligence. Therefore, prolonged handling sessions are not advisable. However, Boelen’s should be removed from their enclosures every week to get them accustomed to a routine.

Common Health Concerns

As Boelen’s pythons love to eat, overfeeding is always a risk.

The most common illness is a respiratory tract infection caused by a bacterial infection in the lungs. This often occurs when the snake has been exposed to improper temperatures and humidity for prolonged periods or experiences undue stress due to inadequate captive care.

Mites are a common nuisance with Boelen’s pythons, but they can often be avoided with proper husbandry.

Conservation/Threats

When it comes to their conservation status, Boelen’s pythons are currently listed on the CITES Appendix II (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and have been since 1975.

For more information, check out the Red List.

The only threatening process for this species is human predation.

In Papua New Guinea, Boelen’s pythons receive the highest legal protection possible: a zero quota has been imposed on collecting Boelen’s pythons from the wild.

Wild-caught adult animals are not permitted to be exported. However, Boelen’s produced through captive breeding at licensed farms can be exported, but only after the farm has filed a report with the Management Authority of Indonesia and waited for the appropriate CITES permits.

These steps, if granted, are mandatory before any Boelen’s python offspring may leave a breeding facility.

In Indonesia, Boelen’s pythons are not protected. As a result, Indonesia has exported between 50 –400 individuals per year since 1989. Before 2001 Indonesia allowed an annual harvest of 120 wild individuals, but no quota for wild specimens has been allocated since that time.

Seemingly in response to this, all subsequent exports from Indonesia have been declared as farmed or captive-bred. There is no management plan for wild Boelen’s pythons in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea.

Since allocating the zero quotas for harvesting wild-caught specimens, all exports have been labeled ‘captive-bred or ‘farmed.’ In most jurisdictions, it is legal to own a Boelen’s python as a pet.

The School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2006, reports:

“The first recommendation is for the Indonesian authorities to allow legal harvest of wild individuals for trade. Exports of wild-caught individuals are already suspected to be occurring.

When harvesting and trade are illegal, individual animals are transported covertly, resulting in higher mortality rates than if they were to be harvested and transported legally.

Harvesting is unlikely to have any impact on wild populations. It is recommended that only gravid females or clutches from brooding females are removed from the wild, and females are returned to where they were collected from (thus juveniles would be exported as “Ranched”). (…)

Accurate data should be collected on the location of where each snake was found, and this should be available to the distributor and customers. (…) If the snakes are of high market value and sold for a premium price, levies should be obtained and reinvested into a monitoring program for the species. (…)

The second possible recommended course of action is maintaining a zero harvest quota for wild specimens and increasing monitoring and enforcement.

This should include: a) Increased monitoring of breeding farms, exporters, and wildlife traders. b) Developing and implementing techniques to differentiate between wild and captive-bred specimens (e.g., parasite loads, stable isotopes). c) Cooperation and capacity training by proven M. boeleni breeders on how to maintain and breed captive stock.”

Pricing and Availability of the Boelen Python

Within the last few years, Boelen pythons have become more available to private collectors and zoological facilities. Still, it can be expensive and can cost up to $3,500 for a snake because of its rarity.

Conclusion

Boelen pythons are meant for experienced keepers or more advanced snake handlers. They are susceptible to inbreeding depression because of their genetic uniformity, which must be considered in breeding programs. There are very scarce reports of successful breeding of Boelen pythons in captivity.

Boelen’s pythons eventually become accustomed to the routine of captivity and can become quite tolerant of handling and interaction. However, their docile appearance must not lead to careless handling, as they are robust snakes capable of producing harm during handling, even if they are nonvenomous.

FAQ

Can multiple Boelen pythons stay in one housing?

You can keep Boelen pythons in one housing, but you want to consider the size of the housing and the size of the snake as it grows.

In neonate enclosures, keep snakes between 20 and 24 inches in their own plastic tubs, measuring at least 12 by 12 inches.

As the snake grows, you must increase its enclosure size. It is also important to remember that these snakes require as much space as possible.

How often does this snake shed its skin?

A juvenile black python will shed its skin every six weeks or so. However, this will also depend on the growth rate of the snake and how often it is fed. Adults and sub-adults shed much less frequently because their rate of growth is reduced.

Also, since black pythons prefer a lower humidity level, there may be issues when it comes to shedding.

What is the difference between Boelen’s python and D’Albertis’ python?

While these two pythons seem to have a similar appearance, they are actually different in many aspects. For example, a Boelen’s python costs considerably more at thousands of dollars while the D’Albertis’ python cost is around the $250 mark.

They also have slightly different head shapes, patterns, and personalities and have different care requirements. Additionally, the Boelen’s python is much rarer and much more difficult to breed.

What is the difference between a black python and a ball python?

The only real difference between a black python and a ball python is the morph color. Ball pythons have more brown and black coloring, and the other has more of a yellow and brown color pattern.

The ball python isn’t going to be all black. Instead, it will have light brown blotches on the back and sides and a white or cream belly scattered with black markings.

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