Pythons, big and small
How many of you have been frightened merely looking at the pictures
of the pythons we’ve been featuring over the past couple of weeks in
Nature Trail? Well, we certainly hope your aversion (dislike) to snakes
didn’t deter you from learning about these huge members of the reptile
Today too we feature a few more of these slithering reptiles
including the world’s smallest python.
Black headed python
Belonging to the genus (class or group) Aspidites meaning ‘shield
bearer’ because its head scales are enlarged symmetrical scales. The
black headed python is found mostly in the northern third of the
mainland but not in every arid region in Australia.
It has many habitats such as rocky outcrops, hollow logs beside
waterways, burrows and clumps of grass. Though it’s a good swimmer it is
not seen much in water.
This non-venomous python has no subspecies. It is considered to be a
‘burrowing snake’ which is dramatically coloured. On a background or
base colour of green to cream, it has black and dark grey, brown and
gold stripes or a brindled(brown or tawmy with streaks of another colour)
The belly is light coloured with darker spots. Its head however is
covered with shiny black scales giving rise to its name. It is believed
that as this snake is a ‘burrowing’ snake which often hides its body
inside the burrow, and keeps only its head out, the black colouration
may be helpful as camouflage. It may also serve as a ‘heat absorber’.
The black headed python grows to a maximum length of three metres (9
ft). Its body is muscular with a flattened profile. The tail tapers to a
thin point while the head is not so well defined because it’s almost the
size of the neck.
Its small black eyes too are hardly visible due to the black
colouration of the head. The dorsal scales are smooth and glossy; it has
506 rows at mid body, 315-355 ventral(abdomen) scales and about 60-75
mainly single subcaudal(clear part of body) scales on the tail.
It is believed that since this python’s primary diet is reptiles such
as lizards and frogs its heat sensing pits are not present or prominent
on the upper lip like in other pythons. However, its diet is not
strictly reptiles; it also feeds on small mammals and birds.
This snake is also reported to resort to cannibalism(eat its own
kind) in the wild. In captivity it has shown a very docile nature and is
highly desired as an exotic pet due to its nature and also its dramatic
In fact, even though it’ll hiss and open its mouth as if to bite, it
does so very rarely. The female lays 5-10 eggs and protects them in
typical python fashion. The black headed python has no natural predators
other than dingos and humans.
This species of python which is also known as the ant hill python, is
considered to be the world’s smallest python because it does not grow
more than two feet! Native to Australia’s Pilbara region mostly, it is
found under rocks and inside termite mounds.
The dorsal (back) colour of this python is brick red with or without
a design on it. Even though a pattern on the skin is pronounced when the
python is young, it sometimes fades away as the python grows older and
sheds its skin.
The pattern is usually a series of spots in a darker colour than the
base colour, arranged in four or more, less regular series. It gives the
impression of a series of irregular crossbars.
The head is more triangular in shape than that of most snakes. This
small python is usually docile(manageable or submissive) and is a rarity
in captivity. The female lays between 2-5 eggs in a clutch.
The neonate (new born) weighs just four grams and is no more than
eight inches long. When it’s one year (an yearling) it weighs about 25
grms. Adults cover 3 years weigh about 210 grams. It has a lifespan of
20-25 years. No subspecies are currently recognised.
African rock python
This non-venomous python is considered to be the third largest snake
in the world, reaching lengths of about 30 feet and weighing over 250
Found mostly in sub Saharan Africa, this species of python is
typically associated with grasslands and the Savannah and is highly
dependent on water. It is brown in colour with olive green and tan,
irregular blotches fading to a white underside.
At a glance, it is often mistaken for the Burmese python even though
it is not closely related to each other. The African rock python is
bulky and has a dark arrowhead shape on its head.
An opportunistic feeder, the African rock python consumes almost any
animal it could overpower. An adult python is capable of attacking large
prey such as crocodiles, goats and gazelles.
The female python lays a clutch of about 100 eggs and incubates them
for about 2-3 months. Like all pythons, the female protects the eggs
throughout this period and keeps them warm, until they hatch. The
hatchlings are 45-60 cm (18-24 in) in length.
The African rock python appears to be slimy, but is dry and smooth to
The scientific name of this python is Python sebae sebae (Genus
species and subspecies)
One of the largest species of pythons found in Australia (northern
territories, west Australia and West Queensland). Two sub species have
been recognised so far. The two species differ however by the number of
scales. They also live in two different regions. They are Australia’s
second largest snake species.
The non-venomous olive python is found mostly in arid environments
hiding in rock crevices, termite mounds and also hollow logs. It is
olive green or chocolate brown in colour with a creamish underside. The
lips are also creamy white and have brown or light grey freckles.
The small scales and a high, mid-body scale count give it a softer
appearance than most other pythons. The scales can reflect sunlight at
different angles causing a rainbow sheen. This phenomenon (unusual
occurance) is known as iridescence. This is most evident in the Pilbara
Olive python which grows to about six metres in length.
On average, the olive python ranges between 8-12 ft (2 1/2 - 4 mts)
in length and has a well defined head. It is often mistaken for the
venomous king brown snake and killed as a result.
Even though it is mostly nocturnal and hunts during night it could be
observed basking during the daytime too. This ‘ambush hunter’ survives
on small mammals such as fruit bats and rock wallabies, birds and other
reptiles like monitors.
It is a semi-aquatic snake adept (skilled) at swimming. The female
lays 12-40 eggs in the late spring and protects the eggs until they are
hatched like all pythons do for a period of about 50 days.
We’ll introduce you to more members of the Bovidae family in our
* Pythons use sight and smell to locate prey. They are carnivorous
* They move by travelling forward in a straight line. This is known
as ‘rectilinear progression’. The pythons shift the ribs to provide,
support and lift a set of ventral (on the belly) scales which enable
them to move forward. The lose ends grip the surface.
* Pythons can’t move fast on open ground; they can move one mile per
* Contrary (opposed) to popular belief, some researchers say that
pythons do not crush their victims to death. Instead they tighten the
coils around the victim until they cannot breathe and die due to lack of
* All python species are non-venomous.