Pythons are some of the biggest snakes in the world, but they’re usually not a threat to humans. Non-venomous, these snakes are constrictors, which means they squeeze their prey to death. Some pythons are so big, they can eat antelopes, monkeys and even leopards. Yes, leopards.
These fascinating snakes come in a range of sizes and colors, and they’re a part of small group of primitive snakes that still roam the earth.
Table of Contents
- Physical Characteristics
- Hunting and Feeding Habits
- Reproduction and Lifespan
- Species of Pythons
- Endangerment Status
- Other 5 Interesting Python Facts
The Pythonidae family, better known as just “pythons,” have some of the largest snakes in the world. They may not be as big as anacondas, but some pythons, like the reticulated python, can grow to be 30 feet long. Other species are smaller, like the anthill python, which only gets to be about 24 inches long.
Pythons not only come in a wide range of sizes, but they come in a variety of colors, too. If you thought it was hard to identify other snakes in the wild, pythons are even harder to identify.
Is that a python? A coral snake? A water moccasin?
Colorations and sizes of different python species vary greatly and are usually dependent on the snake’s habitat or need for camouflage. Some species are solid in color, like brown or green, while others have really elaborate patterns. Different python species may come in different sizes and colors, but they do have some common physical characteristics.
1. Heat Sensing Pits
Most species of pythons have heat sensing pits that help them find and track down their warm-blooded prey.
But not all pythons have these pits. Species that eat cold-blooded animals don’t have a need for heat-sensing pits.
2. Bulky with Triangle Heads – And Sharp Teeth
Pythons are pretty bulky snakes, and they have triangle-shaped heads. They also have sharp teeth that curve backwards. Pythons use their teeth to grab their prey.
Arboreal pythons have longer teeth than their land-dwelling cousins. They have grasping tails, too.
3. Hind Limbs and Two Lungs
A snake with limbs? Yes – but they’re not as prominent as you think.
Pythons are considered primitive snakes because they still have some remnants of a pelvis and hind limbs. Their hind limbs are really tiny, and they’re called spurs. These spurs are located on either side of the snake’s cloaca. Males have bigger spurs than females.
Pythons also have two lungs, which is another primitive characteristic of this snake. Most evolved snakes have just one lung.
Pythons are found mostly in the Old World, in places like Asia (including Southeast Asia), Australia, Africa and Oceania. They like warm, wet climates – especially jungles.
There’s one species that made it over to the Western World: The Burmese python. This invasive species is now living and breeding in the Florida Everglades, which has a similar climate to swamp areas in Southeast Asia.
You’ll find many species of pythons living in rainforests, but they can also be found in woodlands, grassy marshes, dunes, swamps, shrubs and rocky outcrops.
When they need shelter, these snakes hang out in tree branches and abandoned animal burrows. Because of human development, pythons have grown accustomed to living in urban areas, too and even on farms.
Because of their huge bodies, pythons move around by scooting forward, mostly in a straight line.
Each time they scoot, these snakes stiffen up their ribs, lift their bellies and then propel themselves forward. As you probably guessed, these snakes are pretty slow moving. They can’t go any faster than one mile per hour.
Some pythons like to swim, and they’re fantastic swimmers. Others like to hang from trees. These pythons are called arboreal, and they have grasping tails that help them hang in the trees.
Hunting and Feeding Habits
Pythons vary greatly in size, which means their diets vary greatly, too. Smaller species, like the anthill python, eat smaller prey, like rodents, lizards and birds. Larger pythons eat bigger prey – sometimes huge prey.
Some pythons are so big that they eat monkeys, pigs, wallabies and antelopes (a scary thought). One rock python was seen eating a leopard.
Even though these snakes aren’t venomous, some species are so big that they could easily eat humans. There have been reports of some reticulated pythons attacking humans. Pythons aren’t active hunters. They’re ambush hunters, which means they lie in wait for their prey and launch a surprise attack. Water-dwelling pythons may stay partially submerged in shallow water just waiting for its prey.
Arboreal pythons stay still on branches and wiggle their tails to attract prey – then strike while still hanging in the tree.
The python’s teeth curve allows it to grab its prey, and then kill it using constriction. The constriction action overwhelms the prey’s circulatory system, cutting off oxygen to the brain and killing it in seconds. Pythons open their jaws wide and swallow their prey whole – head first. Once they’ve eaten a meal, these snakes will rest in a warm place while they digest their food.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Different species of pythons have different mating seasons. But no matter the species, the courting dance is usually the same: males use their spurs to stroke the female. Pythons lay eggs, which means they’re oviparous. They also provide some care for their eggs, unlike other species of snakes.
Moms build a nest for their eggs using soil and vegetation. Once they lay their eggs, females coil around them to keep them warm and protect them from predators. If the nest starts to get cold, mom will contract her muscles to generate heat and keep her eggs warm.
Females usually stay with the nest and don’t eat much during this time. They may emerge to bask for a while, but will soon return to their babies.
Egg sitting is about the extent of mom’s care. Once the babies hatch, female pythons leave the nest and babies are left to care for themselves.
As far as lifespan goes, the python can live for 25 years or more. But experts say the maximum lifespan for a python is 35 years.
The python is a part of the Squamata order, Serpentes suborder and Alethinophidia infraorder.
There are several recognized species of this snake, including:
- Antaresia (3 species)
- Apodora (1 species)
- Aspidites (2 species)
- Bothrochilus (1 species)
- Leiopython (6 species)
- Liasis (3 species)
- Morelia (7 species)
- Python (7 species)
Species of Pythons
1. Burmese Python
There’s still some debate over how to classify the Burmese python. Some experts say these snakes are a subspecies, while others argue that the Burmese python is its own species.
- Appearance and Behavior
The Burmese python is one of the five largest species of snakes in the world (it’s a giant python). They love to hang out near water, and they’ve been known to go for a swim from time to time.
These snakes are nocturnal creatures that prefer to live in rainforests. Young Burmese pythons can be found both on the ground and up in the trees. But as they grow and get bigger, they skip the tree-climbing and spend most of their time on the ground. These pythons are fantastic swimmers, and they can stay submerged in water for up to 30 minutes.
- Diet and Reproduction
This species of python eats mostly mammals and birds. They’ll eat rodents, too, like rats and mice.
Burmese pythons mate in the spring, and females lay 12-36 eggs at a time. Like other species of pythons, they stay with their eggs until they hatch.
- Invasive Species
The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia, but has made its way to Florida’s shores. This species can have a yellow, tan or gray body with large red splotches that have yellow or white outlines. Unfortunately, the Burmese python is often killed for its skin and used to make snakeskin pants or cowboy boots.
The Burmese python is an invasive creature that’s causing issues in Florida. Because these snakes are so big (up to 20 feet long), they’re eating important native wildlife in the Everglades. Even baby snakes are too big for native predators to eat.
Rather than being classified as a threatened species, the Burmese python is actually threatening native wildlife in Florida. These giant snakes have been known to feed on alligators in Florida, and will also eat goats and pigs.
2. Ball Python
The ball python is also called the royal python, and it’s native to sub-Saharan Africa. These non-venomous snakes are the smallest of all African python species. Because of their smaller size and docile disposition, these snakes make popular pets.
This small python gets its name from its tendency to curl up into a ball when it feels stressed or frightened.
The ball python grows to be about six feet long. The females are a little bigger than the males (about 1-1.5 feet difference).
These snakes have stocky builds, and their heads are small. They have smooth scales and anal spurs on either side of the vent. These pythons are usually dark brown or black in color with gold or light brown blotches. Their bellies are white and sometimes have random black markings. There have also been reported cases of albino ball pythons.
Ball pythons look a lot like the Burmese python.
The ball python can be found mostly in West Africa in the following areas: Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Benin. They can also be found in Central Africa in places like Uganda and Sudan.
These snakes prefer to live in savannas, grasslands and sparsely wooded regions.
- Behavior and Diet
When the ball python feels threatened, it will coil up into a tight ball, tucking its neck and head in the middle. You can literally roll the snake around when it goes into this state.
When out in the wild, the ball python will eat mostly small mammals, like shrews, rats and striped mice. Young ball pythons may eat birds.
- Reproduction and Lifespan
Female ball pythons lay three to eleven large eggs, which hatch after about 60 days. Males reach sexual maturity between 11 and 18 months, while females reach this stage between 20 and 36 months.
In captivity, the ball python can live more than 40 years. The oldest living ball python on record was 47 years and 6 months old.
3. Reticulated Python
Native to Southeast Asia, the reticulated python is the longest snake and reptile in the world. They’re also one of the three heaviest snakes. While non-venomous, there have been cases of these snakes killing (and even eating) humans.
The reticulated python loves to swim, and has been seen far out at sea. These snakes can venture out in to small islands, where they establish colonies.
- Size and Appearance
A study of more than a thousand reticulated pythons in Sumatra found that this species can range anywhere from 4.9 to 21.3 feet in length. And they can weigh anywhere between 2.2 and 165 pounds.
The good news? It’s rare to find a reticulated python that’s longer than 19 feet. This species of snake has a net-like pattern and dark coloring.
- Habitat and Diet
The reticulated python lives in woodlands, rainforests and grasslands. They also like to hang around areas where there’s water nearby.
Their diet consists mostly of mammals, though they may also eat birds. Smaller reticulated pythons may only eat rodents, like rats. But large snakes will eat large prey, even pigs and primates. If they’re found near human habitats, they may eat dogs, chickens and even cats.
Two of the largest prey documented by scientists include a sun bear that weighed 23 kilograms and a pig that weighed more than 60 kg. The bear was eaten by a snake that was 22.8 feet long, and it took ten weeks to digest.
There is at least one documented case of a reticulated python deliberately attacking and eating a human. In March 27, a 25-year-old farmer’s whole body was found in the stomach of a reticulated python in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Before you freak out, you should know that this is the only fully documented case of this species of python consuming a human.
4. African Rock Python
The African rock python is the largest snake in Africa and one of the six largest snake species on the planet. These snakes can grow to be 20 feet in length or longer.
- Appearance and Diet
Most adults are between 9 feet and 11 feet long. Rarely do these snakes exceed 15 feet in length, and their weight ranges between 97 and 120 pounds. Exceptionally large snakes may weigh 200 pounds or more. K.H. Kroft once caught an African rock python that had a 4 ft 11 in crocodile in its belly. These snakes can eat small alligator-like animals.
The African rock python is a thick snake with colored blotches that form a large, irregular stripe. Their markings may be chestnut, olive, brown or yellow in color. Their underside is usually white. This species of python feeds on very large rodents, fruit bats, warthogs, monkeys, monitor lizards and even crocodiles. In areas heavily populated by humans, they may be found eating dogs, cats, goats, rats and chickens.
Although rare, African rock pythons may eat the babies of wild cats and hyenas. In March 2017, one was filmed eating a 150-pound spotted hyena.
The African rock python can live in a wide range of habitats, including savanna, forest, rocky areas, grassland and semi-desert. They prefer to stay in areas where there’s a permanent water source.
5. The Black Headed Python
The black headed python is native to Australia, and as you might have guessed, has a black head.
Adults of this species can grow to be between 4.9 and 6.6 feet long, but specimens as long as 11 feet have also been found. These snakes have muscular bodies with a flat profile and a tapering tail.
The top of the snake’s head has symmetrical scales, and its dorsal scale body is smooth and shiny. Their bodies are usually dark in color, with shades of dark grey, black, gold, brown and cream. The shiny black color on their heads extends down to its throat and neck.
- Habitat and Diet
The black headed python can live in either humid tropical or semi-arid areas. They’re terrestrial creatures, which means they rarely climb trees or swim in water. These desert-dwelling snakes heat up quickly and they stay warmer for longer. These snakes eat mostly reptiles (including snakes), but they’ll resort to eating mammals if they’re around.
Because the black headed python stays warmer for longer, it can eat more often and digest its food pretty quickly.
6. Blood Python
The blood python’s deep red color is what gives this snake its name.
- Appearance and Diet
With shades of dark red, dusty orange and cream, these snakes have beautifully patterned skin. Adults can grow to be between 4.9 feet and 5.9 feet long. Their tails are very short compared to their overall length.
The blood python feeds mostly on small mammals and birds.
- Habitat and Range
These pythons prefer to live in rainforests, swamps, marshes and along streams and riverbanks.
They’re found mostly in Southeast Asia in: Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
7. Olive Python
The olive python is sometimes mistaken for the green tree python, but these are two very different species.
- Appearance and Habitat
The olive python is found mostly in Australia, and adults can grow to be more than 4m long. This species of snake is the second-largest in Australia.
These snakes have a large number of dorsal scales, which makes their bodies look smooth. They usually have uniform color patterns of olive green or chocolate brown. Their bellies are usually cream-colored. The olive python prefers to live in rocky areas, gorges and near water. They sometimes seek shelter in caves and in crevices between rocks, but they’ve also been found in burrows and hollow logs.
The olive python feeds on mammals, birds and other reptiles, including pigeons, fruit bats, wallabies and ducks.
They’re strong swimmers, too, and have been known to strike their prey while waiting in the water.
8. Children’s Python
The children’s python is named after John George Children, and is a nocturnal species of python native to northern Australia.
- Appearance and Diet
These pythons are usually reddish-brown in color with darker blotches. They grow to be about three feet long on average, but they can be as long as five feet.
The scales on their heads are enlarged, but the ones on their upper bodies are smooth, small and have a rainbow sheen.
The children’s python feeds mostly on birds, reptiles and small mammals. They love microbats, which they catch while dangling in caves.
9. Carpet Python
The carpet python is sometimes referred to as the diamond python due to its unique patterning.
- Appearance and Habitat
The carpet python is native to Australia, Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea and the northern Solomon Islands. This fascinating reptile can grow to be between 6.6 feet and 13.1 feet in length, making them potentially huge constrictors. There are several subspecies of this snake, but the largest is the M. s. mcdowelli, which averages about 9 feet in length.
The carpet python’s coloring can vary widely, from olive to white, black, cream and even gold. Their upper bodies have rough diamond-shaped patterns with intricate markings. These snakes can live in a wide range of habitats, including rainforests, treeless islands and woodlands.
The carpet python is often found near human habitats, where they’re considered friends of farmers because they feed on rats and vermin.
These snakes eat mostly birds, small mammals and lizards. They’ve also reportedly eaten small dogs in human habitats.
10. Woma Python
The woma python is native to Australia and is a pitless python.
- Appearance and Diet
The woma averages about 4.5 feet in length, with a narrow head and small eyes. Their bodies are flat and broad, and their tails taper off to a point.
They have smooth and small dorsal scales, and their coloring ranges from light brown to nearly black. These colorful snakes have bands of lighter shades of pink, orange or red. Their bellies are cream or light yellow in color, with pink and brown splotches. The woma python feeds mostly on small mammals, lizards and birds. While they’ll take mammals if offered, these snakes feed mostly on reptiles.
The woma python can be found in both Western and Central Australia.
11. Spotted Python
The spotted python is found in northern Australia, and is a popular pet because of it small size and docile nature.
- Appearance and Habitat
The spotted python can grow to between 39 and 55 inches long. They have irregular and blotched color patterns with ragged edges.
These snakes prefer to live in outcrops, hillsides and caves.
The spotted python’s favorite food is bats, which they catch at the entrance of their caves. Captive spotted pythons will also eat small rodents, like mice.
12. Green Tree Python
The green tree python is native to Indonesia, New Guinea and the Cape York Peninsula in Australia.
- Appearance and Habitat
The green tree python has a slim body with a long tail. Its snout is angular, and its head is clearly defined from its body. These snakes can grow to be between 4.9 feet and 5.9 feet long.
The green tree python prefers to live in or near rainforests, and they’re mostly arboreal snakes – meaning they live on high forest branches, bushes and shrubs. You’ll sometimes see these snakes on the ground, but that’s rare.
The green tree python feeds mostly on small mammals, such as rodents, and reptiles.
13. White-Lipped Python
The white lipped python is native to New Guinea and its surrounding islands. These highly active snakes are arboreal, meaning they spend their time in the trees. These snakes can be found in a wide range of habitats, including humid and dry climates.
The white-lipped python is known for its hot temper.
There are 3 species of the python that are listed on the Red List of Threatened Species, including:
- Ramsay’s python
- Burmese python
- Myanmar short-tailed python
Other pythons are listed as least concern due to their wide-ranging habitats and largely distributed populations.
Other 5 Interesting Python Facts
- The longest known python is a reticulated python and is 7.67 meters long.
- The Greek word python refers to a mythical serpent that’s believed to have guarded the oracle Delphi and was killed by Apollo.
- It’s not uncommon to find undigested material in the stomachs of dead pythons that have just eaten a meal.
- Burmese pythons have a rapid growth rate when they’re young, but their growth slows once they reach adulthood.
- The Burmese python has stretchy ligaments in its lower jaws that allows it to swallow its prey whole.