Burmese python Scientific name:
Python molarus bivittatus
Range: Old World, especially in India
Habitat: Grassland to "open jungle"
Diet in the wild: Rabbits, mice, rats, amphibians, lizards, other snakes, birds, and other mammals
Diet in the zoo: Rats, mice, rabbits, domestic pigs, and goats
Location in the zoo: HerpetariumPhysical description: Burmese pythons are one of the six biggest kinds of snakes in the world. They can weigh up to two hundred pounds and can grow up to 240 inches (20 feet long). Burmese python hatchlings are anywhere from 18 to 29 inches. These hatchlings weigh around 4 ounces. The largest pythons are always female. They can grow from 13 to 20 feet while the typically smaller males grow from 8 to 17 feet. However, most Burmese pythons in general grow to a length of around 8 feet. The males and females can be "distinguished by external features. In males the anal spurs on each side of the cloaca are much more developed than in females. Females often have different coloration and a smaller head relative to the body." It is not known how long that a Burmese python will live in the wild for they have not been marked. However, one of these pythons lived "in the San Diego Zoo ... 22 years 9 months. Pythons are constrictors, therefore they don't have fangs and they are non-venomous. They have back-curving teeth which seize the animal and don't allow them to escape. Because the snake's body is long and thin, the organs are long and thin also. Snakes usually only have one thin lung. However, "pythons have two lungs" - one of which is considerably smaller than the other. They lack eyelids but they do have a thin epidermal membrane covering the eyes to protect them. They have "supraorbital bones on the sides of the skull. The pre-maxillary bone generally bears teeth. They have small heat pits, or holes, in their upper lip which allows them to "detect heat radiations" that are in the air from animals that are close by. They also have two rows of tail scales.
General information: A python's finest sense is in it's olfaction. Pythons are able to smell with the aid of the "Jacobson's organ in the roof of the mouth." They dart their tongues in and out of their mouths to obtain gases from the air. The tongue brings in small particles to this organ. Therefore, the python can catch their prey in light or dark conditions. This allow them to hunt in dense jungles or even at night. Pythons do not have to eat very often, though. One python "fasted 149 days and lost just ten percent of its weight". Pythons are individuals and they each behave differently. However, pythons usually eat about once a week. They bite into an animal with their back-curving teeth. When the animal tries to pull away, they only sink further onto the python's fangs. Next, the python coils around the animal to squeeze the breath out or, in some cases, to constrict its muscles and cause the main blood vessels to explode. Then they swallow the prey whole with the aid of their hinged jaws. When Burmese pythons are out looking for food, they usually first bask in the morning sun so that they will get warm enough to be able to move around and search for food. Because they are cold-blooded, they must get heat from outside the body. The best way for them to get warm is to lie in the sun and that's why pythons naturally occur in tropical climates where the temperature is warm. After they eat, they will spend the mornings after out in the sun keeping warm in order to digest their food.
Burmese pythons breed early in the spring months. The females lay 12-100 eggs in March or April. After they lay the eggs, they gather them all together and coil around them to incubate them. They will lay coiled around the eggs until they hatch. "The female python is the only snake that can raise its own body temperature". While they are keeping the eggs warm, the muscles will tremble and these movements help the female to increase the temperature around the eggs. They will never leave the eggs to eat. Once the baby pythons are hatched, they must learn to exist alone and fend for themselves.
Burmese pythons have been extensively studied under captive conditions. It has been found that they are able to grow to sexual maturity very quickly in captivity. Herpetoculturists feed them in the best conditions, and at the end of one year they are anywhere from 6 to 9 1/2 feet. At the end of a year and a half, they measure from 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 feet. Soon after this, they are bred and consequently, the rate of growth slows gradually down with each passing year. Sometimes, these pythons will all of a sudden start growing very quickly after a long span of slow growth. This has been attributed to the genetic background of the python as well as to how it has been bred along with its feeding habits.
Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations: Pythons are able to swallow their prey whole because of their hinged jaws. These jaws separate and this allow them to intake an "object four to five times as wide as its head".
Pythons have no legs as all other snakes no not. However, Burmese pythons have anal claws where their hind legs once were. As they lost their legs they developed more vertebrae. Today, the Burmese pythons as one of the giant snake species of the world have almost "four hundred sets of ribs". Because their spine is so flexible, they can twist along the ground allowing them to move without legs.
Comments about the Burmese pythons at the Fort Worth Zoo: In a phone interview with one of the zoo personnel, I was told that "the python prefers to just keep quiet and cool in between meals. Therefore, there are periods of not much movement." In reading the zoo placard, it tells us that the Burmese pythons are "One of the true giants among snakes, attaining lengths over twenty feet, Burmese pythons are commonly kept as pets when young. Since most people do not have the proper facilities to maintain an adult snake, their problems increase as the snake grows. Many cities now have laws prohibiting the keeping of exotic animals, including large pythons as pets." The placard goes on to say that the "United States is the single largest importer of reptiles and reptile products." In 1989, for example, there were 3.4 million imports of whole skins, 65,000 partial skins, and 25 million manufactured products. This imported 475 million dollars.
Personal observations: In observing the Burmese python, it appears to be a passive animal that is unaffected by what is occurring around it. Even in its passive state, it still looks potentially dangerous.
Current research: LINKS: http://oakzoo.cea.edu/atoz/azpythn.html AND http://www.sonic.net/~melissk/burm.html
Page author: Stacey D. Mooney and E-mail address:
Sources of information:
Fort Worth Zoo personnel and zoo placard.
Internet web page article entitled "Burmese Python" by Melissa Kaplan
Internet web page untitled article file by student researcher, Thomas King Laughlin
A Snake's Body by Joanna Cole. Published by William Morrow and Company in New York, 1981
Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Copyright 1975, volume 6, pp.363-372. Library of Congress
#79-183178. Editor-in-chief Dr. Dr. h.c. Bernhard Grzimek and other editors include
Heini Hediger, Konrad Klemmer, Oscar Kuhn, and Heinz Wermuth.