Python | WWF


The longest species of snake in the world

Python is a common name for a group of nonvenomous snakes that kill by coiling their bodies around prey. Scientists have recognized at least 8 genera and 32 species of pythons. They live in a wide variety of tropical and subtropical habitats, ranging from rain forests and woodlands to savannas and deserts.

Pythons range in size from 1-6 m in length. Some species of pythons are among the longest snakes in the world; the reticulated python holds the record for the longest snake, at 10.32 m.

The name 'python' comes from a mythical giant serpent in Greek mythology.

Pythons still show signs of lizard ancestry. They have traces of a pelvis and 2 tiny spurlike hind limbs, usually better developed in the male. They also have 2 functioning lungs, 1 large and 1 small - more advanced snakes have only a single lung.

Some species are basically aquatic while others spend most of their time in trees. Giant species typically live on the ground but can swim or climb trees when needed.

Pythons mainly eat reptiles and mammals. The biggest species of pythons are capable of killing and swallowing animals as large as crocodiles, pigs, antelopes, or small deer.

They are chiefly arboreal, and prefer localities in the vicinity of water which are likely to be visited by mammals and birds, their usual prey. They move, climb and swim with equal agility. The female collects her eggs, sometimes as many as 100, into a heap, around which she coils herself, covering them so that her head rests in the centre on the top. The snake stays in this position, keeping guard and surviving without food, throughout the whole period of incubation - about 2 months.

Most pythons are rather ill-tempered, differing in this respect from the boas. Pythons are ambush predators: they typically stay in a camouflaged position and then suddenly strike at passing prey. They do not actually squeeze their prey to death, rather they suffocate them by tightening their grip each time the victim exhales.

The giant pythons could no doubt overpower and kill by constriction almost any large mammal, since such snakes weigh many hundred kgs and possess terrific strength, but the width of their mouth - although amazingly distensible - has, of course, a limit. The snake begins with the head, and a great quantity of saliva is discharged over the body of the victim as it is hooked into the throat by the alternately right and left forward motions of the distended well-toothed jaws. If for any reason a snake should disgorge its prey, this will be found smothered with slime.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Pythons range through much of sub-Saharan Africa and through parts of southern Asia, including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka; southeastern Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Vietnam; and in regions of southern China. They are also found in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia.

Reports of python attacks on humans are extremely rare. Despite this, pythons have been aggressively hunted, driving some species (like the Indian Python) to the brink of extinction.
	© WWF / Martin HARVEY
Green tree python (Morelia viridis) - Arboreal rainforest species, Australia.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

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