Burmese Python (Python bivittatus)
In its native range in Southeast Asia (including the countries of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Thailand and Indonesia), the Burmese python is capable of reaching over 20 feet in length and weighing up to several hundred pounds, making it among the largest snakes in the world. Only the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), reticulated python (Python reticulatus), amethystine python (Morelia amethistina) and African rock python (Python sebae), are also capable of reaching such sizes.
The Burmese python is found primarily in jungles grasslands, swamps, marshes, and rocky foothills. With its prehensile tail, the Burmese python is a good climber and young Burmese pythons are equally at home in the trees as they are on the ground. As the Burmese python grows and becomes heavier, it tends to spends more of its time on the ground or in the water. The Burmese python is also an excellent swimmer and generally found near a permanent source of water. This python is able to remain submerged underwater for nearly half an hour before surfacing for air.
The Burmese python is unusually cold-tolerant compared to other python species, and in some subtropical areas of China this species hibernates to survive the winter.
The Burmese python is an opportunistic predator, feeding on almost any smaller animal that it encounters. They are voracious eaters, which often leads to overfeeding, and obesity-related problems when kept in captivity. Their diet in captivity initially consists of domesticated rats, but progresses to larger animals such as rabbits, cats, small dogs, ducks or chickens, as the snake grows in size. Very large Burmese pythons require even larger food items such as pigs or goats, and in the wild, large Burmese pythons have been known to preyed upon large American alligators (Florida) and various types of deer.
The Burmese python has relatively poor eyesight so does not relay only on vision for locating its prey. Instead, this python also uses chemical receptors in the tongue and heat-sensors found along its jaw to determine its preys location. Like other pythons, it kills its prey by constriction. First the Burmese python seizes its victim in its mouth with its sharp backward-curving teeth, and then coils its muscular body tightly around the prey until the prey animal has suffocated. The prey is swallowed whole. The python’s jaws are capable of separating which allows the Burmese python to eat animals four to five times as wide as its head. Once having consumed its prey the Burmese python may spend the next several days or weeks keeping warm enough to digest its meal.
The Burmese python has been sold in the pet trade for decades and has been a popular choice because of its attractive color and hardy constitution. The Burmese python is relatively docility and easier to handle when young then some other species of large snakes (e.g. green anaconda, reticulated python, etc.). However, the Burmese python grows very rapidly (capable of reaching 10 feet in length within 12-18 months) making it unsuitable as a pet in most households. In addition, a large Burmese python is a very powerful and potentially dangerous animal capable of inflicting severe bites and even killing a human being by constriction.
Burmese pythons not very social animals. These snakes live a solitary existence except during breeding season. Like other pythons this species is oviparous, with females lay clutches as large as 100 eggs. Eggs are generally laid in spring, usually three to four months after the breeding season. The female python will remain with her clutch of eggs until they hatch, wrapping her body around them and using muscle spasms in her body to raise the ambient temperature around the eggs by nearly ten degrees (thermogenesis). During this incubation period, the female python does not eat, but may leave the eggs to bask in the sun in order to raise her body temperature, as keeping the eggs warm is important for healthy embryo development. The female Burmese python will also aggressive protect her eggs from intruders.
The python eggs hatch within two to three months, after which there is no further maternal care. The newly hatched Burmese pythons may remain inside their egg shell until they are have completed their first shedding of skin. At this time, the baby pythons, which are about a foot to a foot and a half in length, will then leave the nest and immediately began hunting for their first meal.
As the young pythons grow, females are usually larger than males of the same age and often have a slightly different coloration and a smaller head relative to the body.
Captive Burmese pythons can reach sexual maturity within two to three years of age, with males maturing earlier than females. It is believed that the maturation period is longer in the wild, but there is no specific evidence.
Like most snakes, the Burmese python reproduces sexually; however, this species has exhibited parthenogenesis several times in captivity. In one case, a female Burmese python kept in captivity, isolated from males, for five consecutive years was able to produce a clutch of viable eggs. Subsequent genetic analysis confirmed that the baby pythons were genetically identical to the mother confirming parthenogenesis had occurred. This is not common in other species of Pythons.
Burmese python eggs are vulnerable when the mother is not present. However, due to their small size, and the lack of parental protection, hatchlings are the most vulnerable to predation by any number of other animals, including predatory reptiles, birds and mammals. The Burmese python’s rapid growth rate may be an evolutionary strategy for limiting the amount of time that the Burmese python is in this very vulnerable state. An adult Burmese python is relatively invulnerable to predators, except when it is in the process of digesting a large prey animal. During this time, the python’s movement may be restricted and other large predatory animals may be able to kill the snake. Otherwise, an adult Burmese python has little concern with predators, other than humans. An adult Burmese pythons may live to be nearly 30 years old.
Most native populations of Burmese pythons are considered to be threatened and as these native populations are decreasing in numbers. In the wild, the Burmese python is killed by man for its skin, meat, or simply because people fear the presence of this large snake. Habitat depletion is also contributing to the decline in native Burmese python populations.