Python reticulatusReticulated Python

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Geographic Range

Reticulated pythons can be found throughout Southeast Asia. Their range includes the Nicobar Islands, Burma through Indochina, and Borneo, Sulawesi, Ceram and Timor in the Malay archipelago. (Murphy and Henderson, 1997)

Habitat

Reticulated pythons inhabit steamy tropical rainforests (Mattison 1999). These snakes are heavily dependent on water and can often be found near small rivers or ponds. They require tropical environments with temperatures in the range of 80 - 92 degrees F.

Physical Description

Mass: up to 350 lbs.

The reticulated python has a complex, geometric pattern, which incorporates a number of different colors. A series of irregular diamond shapes are positioned dorsally along the

back, usually flanked with smaller markings which have light centers. This gives the snake a netlike pattern, which is where it gets its common and Latin name. The head of this species is unmarked with only a conspicuous line running from each eye to the angle of the jaws. The size of this animal along with the unmarked head is usually enough to identify this species, even though there is some variation in pattern (Mattison 1999). Some of the variations in the pattern of this snake are listed as; Normal, Yellow Head, Calico, Albino, Tiger, Super Tiger, Jaguar and island forms (McCurley 1999). This is an extremely large snake, considered by many as the largest snake in the world (definitely the longest). Lengths of more than 16 feet are common and sizes of 25 feet or more occur regularly. The largest Reticulated python maintained in captivity was at the Pittsburgh Zoo; a 28.5 ft 320 lbs female named Colossus. They are sexually dimorphic in size, as females attain larger sizes than males. The largest reticulated python ever measured which was 32 ft 9.5 inches and holds the record for the largest snake in the world according to the Guiness Book of World Records, 1991 (Murphy and Henderson 1997). This is also a long lived snake; accounts of specimens 25 years old are commonplace in captivity.

  • Range mass
    0 to 158 kg
    0.00 to 348.02 lb
  • Average mass
    0 kg
    0.00 lb
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    2.7349 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Sexual maturity is reached in the first 2 - 4 years. Males breed at 7 - 9 ft, while females are typically 11ft. before they become receptive. Breeding usually takes place between the months of September - March. Reduction in the photo-period and overall temperature declines are the primary driving factors that stimulate breeding behavior in these snakes. Both male and females may fast during this time, so appropriate weight is necessary. Fasting may last up until the eggs are laid in the case of females and most probably until the eggs have hatched (McCurley 1999). Females usually lay 25 - 80 plus eggs, which are then maternally incubated at 88-90 degrees F, for 80 - 90 days. Eggs are also large in size, greater than 250 g (Shine 1999). Female Reticulated pythons show maternal care for their offspring only in that they brood the eggs. While the eggs are developing females will coil around them and "shiver" producing muscle contractions which serve to increase the overall temperature of the eggs. Females will also defend their eggs against predators, however once the eggs hatch, they are on their own.

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Reticulated pythons have a reputation of being aggressive. Because of their large size alone this animal should be given great respect. They are relatively non-social animals, as are most snakes, and prefer to be solitary. However, reticulated pythons have an aggressive feeding response, not aggressive behavior and are not generally confrontational. Wild caught snakes have a hard time adjusting to captivity and often bite to avoid interaction, leading to the misinterpretation that this is an aggressive animal. Also, mistreated captive animals or those that are not handled regularly are often referred to as being aggressive. However those reticulated pythons which are captive born and raised properly show no signs of aggression (McCurley 1999).

Food Habits

Reticulated pythons are strictly carnivorous. They are most productive as ambush predators, often waiting in trees for unsuspecting prey (Murphy and Henderson 1997). They are also known to be active foragers, however this method of hunting is seldom used because of the amount of energy it requires. P. reticulatus typically feeds on birds and mammals. This diet extends however to dogs, large deer, pigs and on rare occasions humans (Mattison 1999, Murphy and Henderson 1997). R. Shine (1999) found that prey sizes increased rapidly with growth. Small snakes feed mostly on rats, but shift to larger mammals (e.g. pangolins, porcupines, monkeys, wild pigs, and mouse deer) at only 3-4 meters body length. Reticulated pythons, like all reptiles, have a low metabolic rate allowing them to go without food for long periods of time. In 1926, a captive specimen at Regent's Park refused food for 23 months, after which it accepted a meal and continued to feed normally (Murphy and Henderson 1997).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This snake does provide economically for the humans in its range that exploit them. They are heavily sold for their skin and meat. Also tourists visiting these areas often buy materials made from these snakes.

Conservation Status

This snake is widespread throughout its range but diminishing. Hundreds of thousands of reticulated pythons are taken from the wild to be killed for their skins each year, raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of this species (Shine 1999). These animals also fall victim to the Asian ritual of blood drinking and gall bladder removal (McCurley 1999). When encountered in its natural state by humans this snake is almost always killed. Rapid growth rate, early maturation and high fecundity are the only things keeping this snake around (Shine 1999).

Other Comments

Stories of reticulated pythons reaching sizes of 50 to 150 feet are common among folklore, however they have not been documented. Since the turn of the last century rewards have been offered for any snake 30 ft. or larger. To date the New York Zoological Society is offering $50,000 for a snake of this size (Murphy and Henderson 1997). An interesting fact about this snake is its ability to consume large artiodactyls, even those with antlers. If the antlers are small enough they are simply ingested and digested, however if they are too large the snake can actually break them back to lie along the body allowing them to be engulfed when the animal is consumed. It has been noted that these animals are sometimes swallowed hind quarters first (rarely) and that when the snakes works its way to the antlers, it stops, and allows its digestive acids to breakdown the animal's flesh until the antlers actually become weak and drop off.

Contributors

Todd Mexico (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

World Map

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.

sedentary

remains in the same area

solitary

lives alone

References

Mattison, C. 1999. Snake. New York, NY: DK publishing, Inc..

McCurley, K. 1999. "New England Reptile" (On-line). Accessed Dec 7, 1999 at http://www.newenglandreptile.com.

Murphy, J., R. Henderson. 1997. Tales of Giant Snakes. Malabar, Fl: Krieger pubishing company.

Shine, R. 1999. Reticulated pythons in Sumatra, harvesting and sustainability. Biological Conservation, 87: 349-357.

Shine, R., P. Harlow, J. Keogh, Boeadi. 1998. The influence of sex and body size on food habits of giant tropical snake, Python reticulatus. Functional Ecology, 12: 248-258.