The genus Python contains the largest members of the Pythoninae, which are exceeded in size only by the Green Anaconda (E. mureus) of South America. Two species, however, are much smaller, and one, the Royal Python P. regius, is a popular pet. The genus is widely distributed across Africa and SE Asia and neighbouring archipelagos.
|P. anchietae, Angolan Python
|P. curtus, Blood Python
|P. molurus, Burmese Python
|P. natalensis, African Dwarf Rock Python
|P. regius, Royal/Ball Python
|P. reticulatus, Reticulated Python
|P. sebae, African Rock Python
|P. timorensis, Timor Python
|The Angolan Python is an easy snake to care for in captivity but extremely rarely seen, as it is legally protected in Namibia while civil war and extensive minelaying have made collection difficult in Angola. Their habitats tend to be rocky escarpments with very little rain, hot days and much colder (occasionally freezing) nights. Branch notes that they are found in rocky areas and riverine bush, often being associated with a spring where they ambush prey. Favoured prey items are birds and gerbils [Branch]. Behaviourally there appears to be some similarity with the Royal Python P. regius in that both snakes will curl up into a defensive ball: Royal Pythons also often seem to prefer gerbils in captivity. In view of the rarity in captivity and in the wild of these pythons, they are probably best left to herpetoculturists who can set up breeding programs for them. Knowledge of this species is still incomplete. Scalation details (from Branch): head shields small and tubercular, 5 heat-sensitive pits in each upper lip. Body scales small, smooth, 57-61 rows. Coloration: overall pale red-brown. Patterning is made up of black-edged white spots and bands. Reproduction: 5 eggs laid, often in burrows or termite mounds. Hatching time 60-70 days.
|Blood Pythons and their subspecies (collectively known as Short-Tailed Pythons) are among those unfortunate creatures whose primary export is for skins, as they are attractively coloured: the Blood Pythons in red, the Short-Tailed Pythons in mottled shades of tan, gray and black. They are wide-bodied snakes that in nature habitate marshy areas, a condition that definitely needs to be replicated in their captive state to avoid respiratory problems. Bartlett & Wagner suggest that at least some captives would benefit from a damp substrate to burrow in. They also need to be able to stretch out in their cages, again to avoid respiratory problems. Feeding is not so much of a problem, as Short-Tailed Pythons take rodents, small mammals and birds in the wild.
|P. c. brongersmai
|S Thailand, W Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (Banka & E Sumatra)
|Occurs along river banks in forested areas up to 900m, preying mainly on rodents and aquatic birds. Coloration: overall dark brown to brick red; irregular lighter, dark-centred blotches on sides. Other: head proportionately small. Reproduction: 10-15 eggs laid. [SOURCE: Cox et al]
|P. c. breitensteini
|Borneo Short-Tailed Python
|P. c. curtus
|Sumatran Short-Tailed Python
|S. & W. Sumatra
|See text below for details of the three subspecies of this popular python.
|P. m. bivittatus
|Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia
|One of the most popular and at the same time feared pythons, the Burmese Python has perhaps been unjustly maligned, given its normally good nature (described by Bartlett & Wagner as "gentle and docile"). Nevertheless the fact remains that this is potentially an enormous serpent. While adults normally reach a limit of 10-14', individuals of 20-25' are by no means unknown and as far as I know it is not possible to predict from a hatchling how big it will grow. This, and the fact that they are extremely powerful snakes, should given any potential Burmese owner pause for thought. They also defecate on a scale that has been compared with horses and at full adult size requires feeding with prey items up to chicken and rabbit size. If you can deal with these requirements, and are aware of the risk factor should a Burmese escape or mistake you or your kin for a food item, then these are actually quite nice creatures and are attractive into the bargain. In the wild they habitate open, cultivated or wooded areas, and also swim well - some in captivity like to soak in a water bowl. Breeding of these snakes has been so successful that if anything it may be necessary to discourage it for a while as too many have found their way into animal sanctuaries over the past few years. Coloration: overall yellowish to lightish-brown; series of large, dark-edged brown blotches on the entire body; pale arrow-shaped mark on top of head; ventrally white or cream. In captivity several morphs have been produced. Reproduction: clutches of 30-50 eggs. [SOURCE: Bartlett & Wagner, Cox et al].
|P. m. pimbura
|Somewhat smaller subspecies of P. molurus that resembles the Indian Python but is a little more intensely coloured (Bartlett & Wagner). Import or purchase of these pythons does not require the paperwork needed for the Indian Python. In view of the advantages of this snake (relatively limited size and lack of complication in obtaining), this might be a better candidate for breeding. Husbandry is otherwise the same as for other P. molurus subspecies.
|P. m. molurus
|Indian (Rock) Python
|India, W. Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka
|This is the nominate form of P. molurus, and is also protected under CITES I, making it difficult to obtain unless the individual python has been intergraded with the Ceylon or Burmese Python in the past (Bartlett & Wagner). It inhabits similar areas to the Burmese Python and requires similar husbandry. It is also a good climber. Unlike the Burmese, some individuals at least of the Indian Python do turn up with a bad temperament, although this can be alleviated (carefully) with handling.
|Southern African Rock Python
|Formerly considered a subspecies of P. sebae. Although somewhat smaller than its congeneric, it is still a formidable and powerful snake. It is found throughout southern Africa, being absent only from true desert and dense rainforest: open savannah and especially rocky areas or riverine scrub are preferred [Branch]. Adults take mainly mammalian prey, although other vertebrates such as fish, monitors and crocodiles are also taken. Hunting usually takes place at dusk or dawn: a favoured tactic is hiding submerged in a deep pool. Branch notes that these pythons perform a useful service in controlling the number of dassies (a species of rat). He also comments that their suitability as pet snakes may be offset by the aggressive temperament of some adults which prove hard to tame down. Scalation details (from Branch and SKDA): head shields small and fragmented, heat-sensitive pits in 2 upper labials and 4-6 lower labials. Body scales small, smooth, 78-95/99 rows, 260-291 narrow ventrals, 63-84 subcaudals. Coloration: overall grey-green or grey-brown. Patterning is made up of dark brown blotches and bars, with dark and light bars from the lip to the eye and a "spearhead" mark on the top of the head. Reproduction: 30-50 eggs laid (large females up to 100!), often in burrows or termite mounds. Hatching time 65-80 days: juveniles are more brightly marked than adults. Sexual maturity reached in 3-5 years.
|Royal Python/ Ball Python
|W & C Africa, east as far as Uganda
|Distinctive, attractive and docile python which makes a good pet except for one thing: its penchant for refusing food. If you are thinking of purchasing one of these pythons you should be aware that you may have to go to considerable lengths to tempt it to feed, including the purchase of non-standard frozen rodents such as gerbils or deer mice, and occasionally the adoption of gruesome practices on the food to entice your snake. In the wild gerbils of the genera Tatera and Taterillus are preferred, but other rodents and some birds may be taken [SKDA]. SKDA also express concern over the unrestricted gathering of the Royal Python in West Africa, so try if possible to obtain one that has been born in captivity or "captive-farmed" (admittedly not always a reliable bet). In behaviour P. regius is nocturnal: it is found in grasslands, dry and moist savannah, but shuns close forest or very dry areas: in the dry season in some areas it will aestivate. Interestingly in some parts of West Africa it is venerated and kept in houses. Scalation details (from SKDA): head shields small to medium, fragmented, 3-4 heat-sensitive pits in upper labials. Body scales smooth, 53-63 rows. Coloration: overall dark brown. Patterning is made up of lighter brown blotches with lighter edges. A dark stripe runs from the nostril to the eye. Ventral scales are white in the middle with black speckling and blotches. The iris is yellow. Reproduction: 4-10 eggs laid February-April in a deep moist hole. Hatching time 2-3 months: juveniles are more brightly marked than adults. Sexual maturity reached in 3-5 years.
|India (Nicobar Islands, E Assam), Bangladesh SE Asia, Philippines, Indo-Pacific islands
|The biggest, one of the most beautiful but certainly one of the most dangerous pythons, the Reticulated Python is perhaps the prime example of a snake (or indeed any reptile) that is only suitable for keeping by a few people. In some ways it may be compared with the South American Giant Anaconda, although it is less aquatic: both like water, swim well, climb well, and are extremely aggressive. Most individuals as adults reach 10-14', while some from a few populations only grow to 8', but as with the Burmese, it is hard to tell if you have a potential giant on your hand. Given their nature, even the non- record-breakers should be handled by two people (not just one). Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Retics, as they are known, is their ability to apparently distinguish between different human individuals: strangers can cause a display of anger. Apart from the obvious danger of constriction, bites from these snakes are also quite fearsome. If you must keep a Reticulated Python you will need a very large, very secure cage, a large bowl or tub of water, and a supply of food items such as rabbits. Scalation details: Daniel states that pits are found on 3rd & 4th supralabials (Indian specimens), whereas Alcala states that the rostral and first four supralabials are pitted (Philippines individuals). Ventral scalation: 297 rows? Other: blunt snout; head not distinct from body; teeth on premaxilla in front of upper jaw; well-developed external claws on sides of anal cleft. Coloration: overall tan or yellowish-tan; network of dorsal lines which widen along the sides to enclose white blotches; black line from snout across crown to neck, and on sides of head from eye to base of jaw. The animal is iridescent in sunlight. Captive morphs have been produced. Reproduction: may be prolific egg layer, with 124 eggs recorded from one female; incubation approximately 3 months. Growth is rapid: Daniel cites an 86cm hatchling that reached 4m in three years, while Alcala suggests 80-90" long at 20 months and 10' at 3-4 years old. [SOURCE: Cox et al, Daniel].
|Central African Rock Python
|This species formerly included the Southern African Rock Python P. natalensis, and the two are similar in size and temperament. Maximum lengths greater than those given here have been claimed. Their habitat varies with age: juveniles are found in drier areas, but as they mature they make their way towards water. Habitat and behaviour are similar to that of P. natalensis, but P. sebae seems to prey on large mammals (goat, sheep, antelope) if given the opportunity. Fasts of up to 2½ years have been recorded. Husbandry is very similar to that for Burmese- and Reticulated Pythons, and the same warnings apply. Captives have lived for up to 27 years. There are two recorded cases of wild individuals killing a human victim. Bartlett & Wagner also note that imported hatchlings rarely seem to improve their temperament with age. Although they are attractive, the market for giant snakes ideally should be restricted, so breeding need not be a prerequisite with Rock Pythons, at least until imports from the wild begin to drop. Scalation details (from SKDA): head shields unfragmented, medium to large. Body scales 76-99 rows, 265-283 narrow ventrals, 67-76 subcaudals. Coloration: overall grey with brown, yellow -edged blotches and black markings. A yellow stripe runs from the lip to the eye and there is a "spearhead" mark on the top of the head. Reproduction: 16-100 eggs laid, in a single pile in any suitable retreat: the female curls around the eggs to incubate them, leaving only to drink and abandoning them just before hatching. Hatching time 60-90 days or so: hatchlings may grow quite rapidly, as with other large constrictors.
|Timor and Flores (Indonesia)
|The Timor python is rarely seen in captivity and is thus fairly expensive. Its handleable size is offset by rather a grouchy temperament, and it will bite and excrete readily if handled. It is nevertheless an attractive snake with a brownish pattern on a usually yellow background (or some shade thereof). Habitat is open grassland or open tropical forest (Bartlett and Wagner). Although not hard to maintain in captivity, they are apparently hard to breed, and for the foreseeable future this snake is likely to be found mainly in the hands of specialist breeders (as it probably should be).
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.
Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Bill Branch, Struik, Capetown 1998.
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa, Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, Robert Drewes and James Ashe, Academic Press, 2002. Both this and Branch's field guide were invaluable for details of the African pythons listed here.
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malysia, Singapore and Thailand, Merel J Cox, Peter Paul van Dijk, Jarujin Nabhitabhata, Kumthorn Thirakhupt, New Holland, 2006.
Breeding and Keeping Snakes, Dr Dieter Schmidt (translated by William Charlton), TFH, 1995 (originally published in German under the title Schlangen [Snakes] by Urania-Verlag, Leipzig). Although a more general book inasmuch as it covers other snake families besides the pythons, most books by German herpetoculturists are always worth a look. Schmidt does not cover many of the python species other than the most common or desirable ones, and even here the reader should be aware that some of the species listed are placed under older classifications than Bartlett and Wagner's book (eg the Diamond Python which is now Morelia spilota spilota is here listed as Python spilotus, while the White-Lipped Python Leiopython albertisi is listed as Liasis albertisi, and so on). Nevertheless the book does have some useful sections, including a table "Compilation of Breeding Dates in Pythons", plus Genetics and Hybridisation.
Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford, 1986/1992, London. A good book with the only reservation being that applied to Dieter Schmidt's, ie some of the taxonomy/classification is now out of date. See also Mattison's Keeping and Breeding Snakes (Blandford) which is probably more immediately useful to snake keepers.
Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, John Breen, TFH, 1974, Neptune City, New Jersey. Now rather outdated in many details but still a good introduction and with the odd useful bit of information.
Ball Pythons, John Coborn, TFH. Although I've sometimes been critical of John Coborn's books for TFH, finding them a bit too general and vague on the details, especially where iguanas are concerned, this one is quite good. It may not be as detailed as de Vosjoli's Ball Python Manual, but there is enough detail in here for a first-time python keeper. Not only are the usual topics (housing, handling, etc) covered, but the health section is reasonably detailed and there is a fairly good breeding section. "Miscellaneous" topics such as transporting the python and quarantine are also covered. Though only a slim manual, 46 pages, it's not bad. I would have to read de Vosjoli's book first and compare prices before I could recommend either of them as the better.
See also Periodical Index - Boas and Pythons for magazine articles relating to the various species listed here.
Mormel Ltd - amusing but nevertheless informative site dedicated to the keeping of Burmese Pythons, including reasons why you should think twice before buying one.
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