Burmese rock python

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Pythonidae
Genus and Species: Python molurus bivittatus
  • Huge snake coiled with head at center. Body is patterned with blotches of brown and separated by bands of white
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Burmese rock python

The largest subspecies of the Indian python, and one of the largest snakes in the world, Burmese pythons range throughout Southeast Asia.

Physical Description

The body of a Burmese rock 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 can 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 the prey and don't allow escape.

Size

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

Native 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 depend upon a permanent source of water.

Food/Eating Habits

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. They swallow prey whole. The jaws separate and allow the Burmese rock python to take in an animal four to five times as wide as its head.

At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, the Burmese python is fed large rodents and rabbits every two to three weeks.

Reproduction and Development

Burmese pythons reach sexual maturity in four to five years. Males breed at 7 to 9 feet (2.1 to 2.7 meters) and females when they are at least 9 feet (2.7 m). The Burmese python breeds in early spring. They may lay as many as 100 eggs, in March or April. The average clutch is about 35 eggs. Unlike 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.

Lifespan

Burmese pythons live about 30 years in the wild.

Burmese pythons are widespread throughout their range but their numbers are diminishing. When encountered in the bush, it is often killed for its skin, meat, or the simple fact that it is a snake. 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.