DCSIMG

Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo
Search

Search

Shop


Burmese Python

Taxonomy
Order: Squamata
Family: Pythonidae
Genus/species: Python molurus bivittatus

Description
The Burmese python is the largest subspecies of the Indian python and one of the six largest snakes in the world. Lengths of more than 15 feet (4.6 m) are common, and they may exceed 22 feet (6.7 m) in captivity, however the average is about 16 feet (4.9 m) in length. Females are the larger of the two sexes and often have different coloration and a smaller head relative to the body.

The body of a Burmese python is longer and thinner than the anaconda’s. Because the body is long, the organs are also long. Snakes usually have only one lung, but the python has two, one of which is considerably smaller than the other. Basic body color may be pale tan, yellowish-brown, or gray. They have large, reddish blotches outlined in cream or gold.

Pythons are constrictors, so they don’t have fangs. They do have back curving teeth that grab prey and don’t let it escape.

Distribution and Habitat
Burmese pythons are found in southern China, Burma, Indochina, Thailand, and the Malay Archipelago.

Burmese pythons live in rainforests near streams although they survive in a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, swamps, marshes, and rocky foothills. Populations are dependent upon a permanent source of water.

Diet in the Wild
Burmese pythons prey upon mammals, birds, and reptiles of appropriate size. The presence of domestic fowl and pigs attracts them to agricultural developments.

In the wild, snakes do not eat every day. Burmese pythons spend their mornings soaking up the sun’s warmth, enabling them to move around to look for food. If they are successful in their hunt for prey and lucky enough to eat, they spend the next several days or weeks keeping warm enough to digest their meal. The prey is swallowed whole. The jaws separate and allow the snake to take in an animal four to five times as wide as its head.

Zoo Diet
They are fed large rodents and rabbits.

Reproduction

Burmese pythons reach sexual maturity in four to five years. Males breed at seven to nine feet (2.1 to 2.7 m) and females when they are at least nine feet (2.7 m). The Burmese python breeds in early spring. A female may lay as many as 100 eggs, in March or April. The average clutch is about 35 eggs. Unlike in most snakes, the female coils around the clutch and stays with the eggs until they hatch. She does not feed during this period, which may last two or more months. Burmese pythons actually incubate their eggs by raising the temperature within the coils by as much as seven degrees above the air temperature. This is accomplished by frequent "hiccupping" or muscle spasms. Once the babies hatch, they are on their own and must fend for themselves. They hatch at about 12 to 18 inches (31 to 46 cm) in length.

Life Span
They may live about 30 years in the wild.

Status
Native populations are considered to be threatened and are listed on CITES Appendix II. They are widespread throughout their range but they are diminishing in numbers. When encountered in the bush they are immediately killed for their skin, meat, or simply because many people do not like snakes. Hundreds of thousands are killed for their skins, which are made into shoes, belts, and other goods. Snakes are essential as rodent controllers and without them, many crops are destroyed by mice infestations.