If a reptile hobbyist starts praising her "Mac," she's not necessarily talking about a computer.
Instead, the speaker might be referring to one of the coolest little snakes you'll ever meet. Emphasis on the word "little." The spotted python is an Australian serpent known for its modest dimensions. Whereas some of its cousins — like the gargantuan reticulated python — can easily surpass 20 feet (6 meters) in total length, this fella's decidedly smaller.
How small, you ask? Well for adults, 36 to 42 inches (91 to 106 centimeters) is considered an average length. That makes this species one of the world's tiniest pythons.
The animal's nickname comes from its scientific name, Antaresia maculosa. "Mac" is a fond abbreviation of "maculosa," the species name.
Spotted pythons aren't the most popular snakes in the American pet trade; first-time owners are more likely to purchase a corn snake, king snake or ball python instead. Yet Macs have garnered a loyal fanbase all the same. They're low-maintenance, often quite docile and — perhaps best of all — they don't need supersized enclosures.
"To the Bat-Caves!"
Australia is a hot spot for reptiles; roughly 172 different snake species inhabit the Land Down Under. To find spotted pythons in their natural habitat, head east young traveler. Antaresia maculosa is native to eastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales.
Macs can thrive in a variety of environments, from forests to farmlands. They tend to prefer areas where rocky outcrops are found — and they've got a marked affinity for caves. Not unrelatedly, these pythons like to hunt bats.
Suspending themselves from the roof or walls, Macs wait for the aerial mammals to enter a cave in large numbers, usually at dusk. With a well-aimed strike, one of these snakes can pluck a victim from mid-air. Then the bat is constricted and swallowed.
But not every meal has to come on the fly. Wild Macs will also eat small birds, lizards, amphibians and rodents.
Most pythons have sensory holes called "pits" clustered near their mouths — and Macs are no exception. The openings connect to organs which allow the reptiles to detect infrared radiation given off by warm-bodied animals, which is a useful skill to have, since spotted pythons are nocturnal. Another asset is their vertical slit-like pupils. Researchers think eyes of this sort help their owners assess depth in low-light conditions.
The Largest of the Small
Diminutive as it may look, the spotted python is actually the biggest snake in its genus. Herpetologists recognize three other Antaresia species, all of whom are limited to Australia. Up in the north, you may encounter the Children's python (Antaresiachildreni), a wee reptile named after its discoverer, naturalist John George Children. Next up, there's Antaresiastimsoni, commonly called the Stimson's python.
But the real show-stealer might just be the itsy-bitsy anthill python (Antaresia perthensis). Indigenous to Western Australia and parts of Queensland, it's the smallest living python known to science, maxing out at 24 inches (61 centimeters) long. At that size, one could easily rest on your forearm.
And while we're on the subject of handling, let's get back to the Macs.
Care and Feeding
No two snakes are exactly alike; members of the same species might possess vastly different temperaments. Stranger things have happened. Still, if treated with respect, spotted pythons can make calm, affable pets who are tolerant of extended handling sessions, to boot.
You'll want to make sure your snake doesn't associate human hands with food. If the python only ever sees those lovely fingers at mealtime, it might start to get overexcited and bite the palm, wrist or arm that feeds it. Holding your Mac in between feeding sessions can help combat this problem, especially if the snake's still young and impressionable. Just don't pick the animal up right after it's eaten something; give it at least 24 hours to digest its meal first. When they're young, spotted pythons tend to be a bit snappy and will latch on to a finger, but they are non-venomous and a puff of air will cause them to let go and retreat.
Bats are great fodder for wild Macs, but captives will happily take thawed-out mice. Keepers should feed babies one mouse every five days. Juveniles and adults get one every seven to 10 days. Bigger snakes need bigger prey; a good rule of thumb is to serve up rodents that are about as thick as the pythons themselves. Note that Macs may choose to skip some meals when they're getting ready to shed their skin, or during the wintertime. Not to worry, it happens.
Without the right environment, your pet simply won't thrive. A standard 20-gallon (75.7-liter) glass terrarium is 30 inches (76 centimeters) long, 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) wide and 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) tall. That's ample space for even the biggest of spotted pythons.
Place a reptile-friendly heating lamp over one end of the tank and maintain a constant temperature of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius) on that side. Meanwhile, keep the other end at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 27 degrees Celsius). It's always a good idea to give your pet reptile a thermal gradient— that way, if he wants to cool off, he can retreat to the slightly colder end for a while, and vice versa. You don't want the temps in his terrarium to be homogeneous.
As bedding goes, spotted pythons can make do with mulch or aspen shavings. Whatever you do, avoid using cedar; this substrate material is linked to all sorts of health problems in vertebrate pets.
Get your Mac a sturdy water dish that's big enough for the snake to curl up in. Another must-have is a hollow box or log it can use as a hiding spot. Finally, we'd recommend adding a sturdy tree branch or two; these guys really like to climb!
Captive spotted pythons can live into their 20s. And they make great ambassadors to the rich, rewarding world of snake husbandry. So here's hoping your new friend brings you many years of happiness.
The author of this story has owned a spotted python since February 2017. He and his wife named the little guy "Max" after the Australian movie character most recently played by Tom Hardy in the "Mad Max" franchise. Only later did the poor fools realize other hobbyists like to call these animals "Macs." So yeah, that might get confusing if they ever bring him to a reptile convention someday. Oh well.