The genus Morelia includes a complex of the most desirable and keepable of the Australian pythons, the Carpet and Diamond Pythons (M. spilota ssp). Physically this genus is characterised by the presence of teeth on the premaxilla and of pits in the labial scales. The head is covered with either small irregular or large symmetrical shields. The tail is prehensile.
I am aware that listing of the various subspecies of M. spilota is rather incomplete (description and care details in particular) and hope to complete this in the near future. The newly described Indonesian species also currently seem to have very little information available on them.
|M. amethystina, Scrub Python||M. boeleni, Boelen's Python||M. bredli, Centralian Python|
|M. carinata, Rough-Scaled Python||M. clastolepis||M. kinghorni, Australian Scrub Python|
|M. nauta||M. oenpellis, Oenpelli Rock Python||M. spilota, Carpet Python complex|
|M. tracyae||M. viridis, Green Tree Python|
|Common Name||Species||Origin||Adult size||Notes|
|M. amethystina||Scrub Python||NE Queensland, Australia: Papua New Guinea, Indonesia||7-14' *||Although lesser-known than the Reticulated Python P. reticulatus, the Scrub Python offers much the same sort of problems, ie unpredicably large size with a bad temperament. Unlike most python young, M. amethystina individuals grow more grouchy with age. They are heavy-bodied snakes, which is possibly why they are also a food item for the locals. Although 10-11' is the norm, a giant specimen of at least 25' has been recorded [Cogger]. There is not much demand for Scrub Pythons, but if you want to keep one then a large, tall dry cage is necessary. They will take rodents, birds and rabbits, and strike at their keeper if slightly inclined. *SIZE: this has been a matter of some debate among people who have E-mailed me. Cogger notes that the average size is 3.5m (about 10ft), but that at least one giant specimen of 8.5m (about 25-26ft) has been recorded. As with other large snakes and crocodiles, there seems to be a median size and then a much larger size reached by some individuals. Scalation details [Cogger]: Anterior supralabials deeply pitted. Parietal shields divided into four squarish shields. Two or more loreals on each side. Scales smooth, 35-50 rows at midbody. Ventrals 270-340. Anal single. Subcaudals 80-120, mostly divided. Coloration: ground colour olive-yellow to olive-brown. Numerous dark brown or black traverse bands form irregular pattern and usually connect along the lower flanks to form one or more ventrolateral longitudinal stripes. Ventral surfaces are white or cream.|
|M. boeleni||Boelen's Python||New Guinea||6-8'||Extremely rare (at least outside its homeland, where it is protected) and therefore very expensive python that occurs mainly in the forest highlands above 1,000 m (over 3,000 ft). This natural habitat is humid but cool, and the light is somewhat less than at lower altitudes. Young Boelen's pythons in captivity tend to be very skittish but as adults do calm down and feed on rodents and small rabbits (Bartlett & Wagner). Breeding has proved rather difficult, even for zoos. Again, even if you have the money you should avoid this python unless you can breed it.|
|M. bredli||Centralian Python||S. of Northern Territory, Australia||5-6½'||Considered by some to be a subspecies of the Carpet Pythons Morelia spilota, the Centralian Python is not well known outside of Australia. It does appear very similar to the Carpet- and Diamond Pythons but its colouring is richer, being usually somewhat red, and the scalation is smaller (Bartlett and Wagner). It is secretive in the wild but is found in a variety of habitats, including trees and shrubs in river drainage areas, rocky outcrops, crevices and caves. Should be considered arboreal for the purposes of caging. Bartlett and Wagner note that some specimens tend to refuse rats and need gerbils or hamsters instead. Scalation details [Cogger]: Anterior supralabials contain shallow pits. Parietal shields and most other head shields (except for prefrontal region) fragmented, small and irregular. Numerous small loreals on each side. Scales smooth, 52-54 rows at midbody. Ventrals 280-310. Anal single. Subcaudals 85-95, divided. Coloration: ground colour reddish-brown. Pattern very variable: paler, dark-edged spots, blotches, longitudinal bars and stripes and transverse crossbars. Head has darker brown flecks and variegations, lips are paler and barred with brown. Ventral surfaces are white, cream or yellow, variegated with dark brown or grey.|
|M. carinata||Rough-Scaled Python||Australia (NW Kimberley region of W Australia)||6'||Very little known python established from only four specimens found in one river drainage area (Mitchell River Falls on the north coast). In appearance it is similar to the Carpet- and Centralian Pythons, but most of its natural history is still conjecture and reasonable guesswork. No details of captive requirements are available as yet, but Bartlett and Wagner suggest conditions would be the same as for the other Morelia species. Their habitat in any case is the threatened relic monsoon forest, which together with the unknown but possibly low numbers of the snake in the wild make it unlikely that many will be seen in captivity in the foreseeable future. Scalation details [Cogger]: Anterior labials contain shallow pits. Parietal shields and most other head shields (except for prefrontal region) fragmented, small and irregular. Numerous small loreals on each side. Scales bluntly keeled or rugose, at least dorsally, 45 rows at midbody. Ventrals 298. Anal single. Subcaudals 83, mostly divided. Coloration: dorsally pale brown with a series of dorsal and lateral brown streaks, blotches and variegations that tend to be aligned transversely. Head has two obscure whitish streaks on the temporals but is otherwise without pattern. Lips paler. Ventral surfaces are whitish with fainter brown markings. Reproduction: no details available.|
|M. clastolepis||?? Python||Indonesia||?'||Species first described in 2000 and apparently related to M. amethystina: see EMBL database entry.|
|M. kinghorni||Australian Scrub Python||Australia (Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, & Torres Strait)||?'||Species first described in 2000: see EMBL database entry. It is not mentioned in Cogger and may be an elevation of a subspecies of M. amethystina. Click here for a picture.|
|M. nauta||?? Python||Indonesia||?'||Species first described in 2000 and apparently related to M. amethystina: see EMBL database entry.|
|M. oenpelliensis||Oenpelli (Rock) Python||Northern Territory, Australia (W Arnhem Land in extreme north)||9-15½'||Largest of the Morelia species and not officially classified until 1977, very few of this fairly calm species are in captivity. Part of the problem is that although the snakes breed readily, the failure rate of the eggs is quite high. In nature the Oenpelli Python is mainly saxicolous (rock-dwelling) but can also be found up trees searching for mammalian prey. Colouring is red-brown with darker blotches forming 4-6 longitudinal stripes. The only problem with oenpellis is that according to Bartlett & Wagner they feed much more readily on birds than rodents. Scalation details [Cogger]: Anterior labials contain deep pits. Parietal shields broken up and granulose. Numerous small loreals and granules on each side. Scales smooth, 70 rows at midbody. Ventrals 429-445. Anal single. Subcaudals 155-163, mostly divided. Coloration: dorsally fawn brown, becoming pale grey on the sides. Pattern consists of darker brown irregular blotches in four or five longitudinal rows. Head has a dark brown temporal streak on each side. Many scales edged with brown, giving a reticulated effect on the tail. Ventral surfaces are whitish. Reproduction: no details available.|
|M. spilota||Carpet Pythons||Australia and New Guinea||6-12'||This is actually a complex of subspecies found in a variety of areas and habitats: most are arboreal, but some live in animal burrows. Most are nocturnal and crepuscular: diet is usually terrestrial vertebrates [Cogger]. See text below for details of subspecies of this popular python. Cogger gives the following details for scalation: Anterior labials with shallow pits. Head shields (except prefrontal) mostly fragmented, small and irregular. Numerous small loreals. Scales smooth, 40-65 rows at mid-body. Ventrals 240-310. Anal usually single. Subcaudals 60-95, usually divided.|
|M. s. spilota||Diamond Python||E. New South Wales||6-7½'||A convenient sized and attractive python that is fairly docile, the only drawback to the Diamond Python is breeding, which is considered difficult. Nevertheless it is highly coveted and for that reason expensive. Its natural habitat is forest land (not too dense), river areas and rocky ledges, but especially during colder weather it is known to seek shelter in or around human habitations. Natural diet is rodents and marsupials. Colouring is overall black with cream-coloured diamond markings on the back and sides and a cream-yellow ventrum. Bartlett and Wagner suggest both an elevated and a ground hide box.|
|M. s. cheynei||Jungle Carpet Python||Atherton tableland, Australia||5½-8'||These pythons are found along the rivers and drainages and in the subtropical rainforest areas of their range. They are highly arboreal and a tall cage with different levels is an essential. Apart from this requirement they are apparently fairly easy: only a few reach 8' in length, 5½' being the normal adult size. Basic colouring is dark blotches on a cream-yellow background.|
|M. s. imbricata||Southwestern Carpet Python||S W Australia||?'||Cogger gives the coloration as follows: pale to dark brown, with blackish (sometimes paler-centred) blotches or variegations which may form obscure cross-bands or longitudinal markings.|
|M. s. macrospila||? Carpet Python||??||?'||Subspecies not recognised in Cogger's 6th edition.|
|M. s. metcalfei||Inland Carpet Python||Australia (not WA or Tasmania)||?'||Subspecies not recognised in Cogger's 6th edition.|
|M. s. mcdowelli||Coastal Carpet Python||New South Wales, Australia||6-14'||One of the most commonly found Carpet Python subspecies in captivity, at least in the US. Although 14' maximums have been recorded, the usual maximum is 8', at least in the wild. Colouring is dorsally dark fading to pale ventrally, with pale-edge dark blotches. M. s. mcdowelli is another snake that can be found around human habitations.|
|M. s. variegata||Northwestern Carpet Python||6-7½'||For coloration see the entry for M. s. imbricata.|
|M. tracyae||?? Python||Indonesia||?'||Species first described in 2000 and apparently related to M. amethystina: see EMBL database entry.|
|M. viridis||Green Tree Python||Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya and Cape York, Australia||4-7'||One of the most sought-after snakes in the world for its beauty, the Green Tree Python is expensive, sometimes temperamental and difficult to breed in captivity, mainly due to egg problems. Rundquist devotes a section in his book to the problem of egg failure, and Bartlett and Wagner also offer suggestions. Hatchlings are often beautifully coloured in yellow, blue or red, but this usually becomes the emerald green of maturity in adulthood. Morelia viridis was until recently classified as Chondropython viridis, and some herpetologists still refer to these snakes as "chondros". Its natural habitat is rainforest, where it shelters in tree hollows and similar cover during the day and hunts birds and small mammals by night. Scalation details [Cogger]: Scales smooth, 50-75 rows at midbody. Head scales are small and irregular, with granular scales bordering the mental groove. Pits present in some labials. Ventrals 225-260. Anal single. Subcaudals 90-100, mostly if not all divided. Coloration: adults are normally a shade of emerald green, with a series of white or white-edged scales forming a pattern and faint pale blue transverse bands. Ventral surfaces are cream to bright yellow. Juveniles vary in colour, being usually lemon yellow, gold or orange, often with a purplish-brown white-centred streak through the eye and a vertebral stripe of the same colour: short bars of brown extend out from the vertebral line. Cogger notes that the change from juvenile to adult colour may take place quite suddenly, within the space of a few weeks, and without the skin being shed. Reproduction: no details available.|
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.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, Harold Cogger, 6th edition, Reed New Holland, Australia, 2000. Indispensable guide for an overview and identification details of all Australian herptiles.
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.
Reptiles and Amphibians: Management in Captivity, Eric M Rundquist, TFH, 1994, Neptune City, New Jersey. Very good on general husbandry practices for herpetologists and with a section on the incubation (by the female, if possible) of the eggs of Morelia viridis (Green Tree Python). See also the article by Peter Schu in Reptilia no. 7: "Chondropython viridis, a jewel in the terrarium".
The late Daniel Sickmann (tragically killed in a motorcycle accident) wrote a lengthy article on the husbandry and reproduction of the Green Tree Python, "Anmerkungen zur Haltung und Zucht des Grünen Baumpythons (Morelia viridis)" [Notes on the husbandry and reproduction of the Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)], Ophidia 4:1, 2010. This is a German language article.
If you are interested in the taxonomy of the Australasian pythons, an interesting article is Raymond Hoser's "Revision of the Australasian Pythons", Ophidia Review, Issue 1 Autumn 2000.
See also Periodical Index - Boas and Pythons for magazine articles relating to the various species listed here.
Special thanks to Adam Cook and Jeff Favelle who made helpful contributions to this page on the size of M. amethystina and M. spilota.
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