Python molurusIndian Python

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Geographic Range

Python molurus ranges across the lower half of the Asian continent. The species' western limit is thought to be the Indus Valley. It may range as far north as Quingchuan County of Sichuan Province, China, and as far south as Borneo. Indian pythons seem to be absent from the Malayan Peninsula. It has yet to be determined whether the populations scattered throughout several of the smaller islands are native or feral (escaped pets) populations. There are two recognized subspecies of P. molurus which are separated by geographic range and certain physical characteristics. P. molurus molurus is native to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. The larger of the two, P. molurus bivitatus (the Burmese python), is typically thought to range from Myanmar eastward across southern Asia through China and Indonesia. It is not present on the island of Sumatra. Introduced individuals have been sighted in the Florida Everglades. (Murphy and Henderson, 1997)

Habitat

Indian pythons are found in a variety of habitats including rainforests, river valleys, woodlands, scrublands, grassy marshes, and semi rocky foothills. They are usually found in habitats with areas that can provide sufficient cover. This species is never found very far from water sources, and seems to prefer very damp terrain. (Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

Physical Description

Indian pythons are divided into two recognized subspecies, which can be distinguished by physical characteristics. Burmese pythons, P. molurus bivitatus, can grow to lengths of about 7.6 m (25 ft), and can weigh as much as 137 kg (300 lbs.). Indian pythons, P. molurus molurus, stays smaller, reaching a maximum of about 6.4 m (21 ft) in length, and weighing as much as 91 kg (200 lbs.). The hides of both subspecies are marked with a rectangular mosaic type pattern that runs the full length of the animal. P. molurus bivitatus is more darkly colored, with shades of brown and dark cream rectangles that lay over a black background. This subspecies is also characterized by an arrow-shaped marking present on the top of the head, which begins the pattern. P. molurus molurus has similar markings with light brown and tan rectangles placed over a typically cream background. P. molurus molurus only has a partial arrow-shaped marking on the top of the head. Each scale of P. molurus molurus is a single color.

Indian pythons are dimorphic with females of both subspecies being longer and heavier than males. Males have larger cloacal spurs, or vestigial limbs, than do females. The cloacal spurs are two projections, one on either side of the anal vent, that are thought to be extensions of posterior limbs. (Coborn, 1991; Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    137 (high) kg
    301.76 (high) lb
  • Range length
    7.6 (high) m
    24.93 (high) ft
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.2661 W
    AnAge

Development

Young Python molurus are precocial when they hatch. They become independent soon after hatching. They become sexually mature between 2-3 years of age provided the proper body weight is met. (American Museum of Natural History, 1998; Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

Reproduction

Python molurus reaches sexual maturity between 2-3 years of age provided the proper body weight is met. At this time courting behavior may begin. During courtship, the male wraps his body around the female and repeatedly flicks his tongue across her head and body. Once they align their cloacas, the male uses his vestigial legs to massage the female and stimulate her. Copulation ensues, with the female raising her tail to allow the male to insert one hemipenis (he has two) into the female's cloaca. This process lasts between 5-30 minutes. Approximately 3-4 months later, the female will lay up to 100 eggs, each weighing as much as 207 g (7.3 oz). At this time the female generally coils around the eggs in preparation for an incubation period. Incubation lasts between 2-3 months. (American Museum of Natural History, 1998; Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

  • Range number of offspring
    100 (high)
  • Average number of offspring
    40
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    2 to 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

During incubation female Python molurus use muscular contractions or "shivers" to raise their body temperatures slightly higher than the surrounding air temperature. It is very uncommon for a mother to leave the eggs during incubation. Once the eggs hatch, the young quickly become independent. (American Museum of Natural History, 1998; Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Python molurus is a solitary species. Mating is the only time that these snakes are commonly found in pairs. Indian pythons will generally move only when food is scarce or when threatened. They may stalk prey, first locating it by scent or by sensing the body heat of the prey with their heat pits, and then following the trail. These snakes are primarily found on the ground, but will sometimes climb trees. Indian pythons are also very often found in or near water. They are expert swimmers, and can stay submerged without breathing for up to thirty minutes at a time. During colder months, starting in October and ending in February, Indian pythons stay hidden and will usually enter a brief period of hibernation until the temperature rises again. (Murphy and Henderson, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Like all snakes, chemoreception is important for finding prey, and generally perceiving the environment. Python molurus also has heat sensing pits on its head that allow it to detect endothermic prey that are warmer than the surrounding environment. It has poor eyesight. (Murphy and Henderson, 1997)

Food Habits

Python molurus is carnivorous. Its diet consists mostly of live prey. Its staples are rodents and other mammals. A small portion of its diet consists of birds, amphibians, and reptiles. When looking for food P. molurus will either stalk prey, ambush, or scavenge for carrion. These snakes have very poor eyesight. To compensate for this, the species has a highly developed sense of smell, and heat pits within each scale along the upper lip, which sense the warmth of nearby prey. Indian pythons kill prey by biting and constricting until the prey suffocates. Prey items are then swallowed whole. To accomplish the feat of swallowing the prey, P. molurus molurus dislocates its jaw and stretches its highly elastic skin around the prey. This allows these snakes to swallow food items many times larger than thier own heads. In cases of scavenging there is no constriction of the prey (Murphy and Henderson 1997, Woodland Park Zoo 2000). (Murphy and Henderson, 1997; Woodland Park Zoo, 2000)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • carrion

Ecosystem Roles

Python molurus eats many rodents as well as a variety of vertebrates. It may be important in limiting populations of its prey.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is a high amount of exportation for the pet trade. The skin of Indian pythons is highly valued in the fashion industry due to its exotic look. In its native range it is also hunted as a source of food. (American Museum of Natural History, 1998; Jurgen Obst, et al., 1988)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No negative impact is known.

Conservation Status

Python molurus is listed by IUCN as lower risk, near threatened. Since June 14, 1976, P. molurus has been listed by the U.S. ESA as endangered throughout its range. The subspecies P. molurus molurus is listed as endangered in Appendix I of CITES. Other P. molurus subspecies are listed in Appendix II, as are all other species of Pythonidae.

Contributors

Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Jesse Padgett (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

infrared/heat

(as keyword in perception channel section) This animal has a special ability to detect heat from other organisms in its environment.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

American Museum of Natural History, 1998. "Indian Python" (On-line). Accessed Feb. 19, 2001 at http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/Endangered/python/python.html.

Coborn, J. 1991. The Atlas of Snakes of the World. NJ: T.F.H. Publications.

Jurgen Obst, F., K. Richter, U. Jacob. 1988. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians. NJ: T.F.H. Publications.

Murphy, J., R. Henderson. 1997. Tales of Giant Snakes:A Natural Historical History of Anacondas and Pythons. FL: Krieger Publishing Co.

Woodland Park Zoo, 2000. "Indian Python" (On-line). Accessed Feb. 19. 2001 at http://www.zoo.org/educate/fact_sheets/python/python.htm.

de Vosjoli, P. 1991. The Care and Maintinence of Burmese Pythons. CA: Vivarium Systems.