This species is interesting inasmuch as its captive care and husbandry is less difficult than the effort apparently involved in its taxonomic classification. Until recently authorities found it hard to agree whether the Calabar Burrowing Python was in fact a python or a boa, and even now controversy remains, with the JCVI/TIGR database listing it under the genus Calabaria (its traditional classification) in the boa subfamily of the Erycinae (which includes the sandboas, also burrowers to a shallow degree) but many other authorities assigning the snake instead to the boa genus Charina, whose other members are found on the other side of the world in western North America, from southern Canada to California. We have remained with the traditional classification partly out of respect for the JCVI/TIGR database's authority in these matters, and partly because even in fairly recent literature this species is referred to as Calabaria.
This species is sometimes seen in the pet trade, including in the UK. The name "python" or "boa" should be taken with care unless you know much about this species: in other words, be aware that it is not like the traditional pythons and boas that like to bask on rocks or hang from branches, but is rather very much a burrowing snake and hence will spend a lot of time out of sight if kept properly. For that reason keepers wanting a more traditional boa or python may want to look elsewhere. On the other hand this may be an interesting species for those who like or who have kept Eryx (sand boas). Walls, writing in 1994, said that there was still much to learn about its life and that captive reproduction had not been very successful to that point, so there is a place here for some pioneering work.
See the Bibliography and Links for sources on captive care: in brief, the basic requirements for the species seem to be a deep substrate that it can completely burrow into, access to water, reasonable humidity (but not dampness or wetness) and relative privacy. Bartlett and Wagner also note that captive-bred young are less shy and seem content on just a substrate of newspaper: they are also less fussy about the rodent prey they accept. Both wild-caught and captive-bred specimens are fairly hardy, but wild-caught specimens (which covers most if not virtually all individuals seen in the trade) may need some acclimatisation to the normal thawed rodent diet, perhaps another reason why these interesting animals are better suited to specialists and boid enthusiasts rather than newcomers or generalists.
|West African Burrowing Python
|West Africa (Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Liberia, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin, Nigeria, Gabon, Central African Republic, Dem Rep Congo, Congo-Brazzaville)
|An inhabitant of forested areas. Lang (in Schmidt & Noble) cited the tendency of the snake to hold the head downwards as if trying to burrow while holding the tail away from the ground and moving it slightly to and fro. Its defensive behaviour is to roll into a ball with the head held in the centre, Lang describing this as difficult to straighten out. At the same time, he noted that native beliefs notwithstanding, the species never tried to bite. Scalation details: normally 3 pairs of shields between frontal and enlarged rostral (the latter assisting in burrowing); azygous prefrontal and/or azygous shields occasionally present; 1 preocular, 2 supraoculars; normally 2 (sometimes 3) postoculars; 3-4 temporals in 1st row, 4-5 in 2nd; 8 supralabials, of which 3rd and 4th (often just 4th) contact eye, 3rd and 4th sometimes fused; 9-11 infralabials. Dorsal scalation: 32-35 (normally 33) scale rows at midbody. Ventral scalation: 221-234. Subcaudals: 19-27. Coloration: overall dark brown; irregular lighter markings, laterally yellowish pink; ventrally brown marked with pink; tips of head and tail nearly black, sometimes milky white band around body a short distance from tip of tail. Reproduction: oviparous; 1-5 (often 3) eggs laid. [SOURCE: Bartlett & Bartlett, Schmidt & Noble, Walls]
Snakes: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, R D & P Bartlett, Barrons, 1997, New York/Hong Kong. Covers snakes in general but has a good section on the more popular and available boas.
Contributions to the Herpetology of the Belgian Congo, Karl P Schmidt and G K Noble, 1922 (SSAR 1998 reprint).
Boas Rosy and Ground, Jerry G Walls, TFH, 1994. Contains a bonus chapter with sections on the Burrowing Python Calabria reinhardtii, the Neotropical Python Loxocemus bicolor and the Sunbeam Snakes, Xenopeltis sp.
Pythons: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, Patricia Bartlett and Ernie Wagner, Barrons, 1997, New York/Hong Kong. As mentioned above, a very useful and comprehensive guide to the principles of keeping and breeding pythons and with useful species accounts.
The Boidae (Boas and Pythons) section of the TIGR reptile database provided (as always) much useful information, especially regarding subspecies, distributions and the history of recent taxonomic changes.
www.kingsnake.com has a very useful article on Calabaria, including captive maintenance and breeding.
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