Family Pythonidae: Stranger in a Strange Land | Houston’s Zoo No. 08

“Snakes… why did it have to be snakes?”

-Indiana Jones

Ophidophobes beware. Today I delve into the world of snakes. Specifically, large snakes. Actually, VERY large snakes. This has been your warning. If you can’t cope with a giant nope rope, turn back now.

Okay. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at some pythons! There are many species within family Pythonidae, but I’ve chosen to focus on the two largest: The reticulated (Python reticulatus) and Burmese (Python bivittatus) pythons. While not the heaviest snakes in the world–South America’s green anaconda from the family boidae holds that title–these two pythons are definitely the longest. Snake records can be as iffy as your weird uncle’s fish stories, but I’ve tried to find the most reliable numbers for this. The largest reticulated python on a trustworthy record was 33 feet long and weighed 330 pounds. The burmese record belongs to a 27 foot, 400 pound serpent that was raised in captivity.

Pythons are mostly nocturnal, forest dwellers. As little babies, they spend a good deal of time safe in the trees. However, they soon get too heavy to climb very much, and begin to stay on the ground full-time. Here, they hunt their prey and kill it by literally squeezing the life out of it.

Like all snakes, pythons don’t need to eat very often, but when they do, they will eat anything that they can get their jaws around. Basically, if it fits, it ships. Once they have a large meal, though, (somewhere in the size range of a deer) they don’t need to eat again for up to a year.

Remember, snakes don’t have the same kind of teeth that we do. Their teeth are small and sharp, and they all point backwards toward the throat. This makes them great at grabbing prey animals and holding on, but means that they can not chew. They have to swallow everything whole. It takes a long time, but eventually, every part of the prey is broken down in the stomach. Even the bones.

Also remember that snakes are cold-blooded, and that large snakes like this aren’t particularly active. So since they don’t generate their own body heat, and don’t use much energy for other things, they can survive on very little food for a very long time.

Pythons are natives of the old world, specifically Asia, Africa, and Australia. The two largest both hail from the rainforests of Southeast Asia. However, recently, there has been a population of Burmese pythons that are doing quite well a little closer to home.

Way back in my article on Puma concolor, I alluded to the fact that the state of Florida is unique in terms of its Wildlife. This is largely due to the local ecosystem, particularly in the Everglades. The everglades is a 1.5 million acre wetland that allows certain species to thrive.

Even when they aren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

Let me start by saying pythons are popular in the pet trade. Unfortunately, like many exotic carnivores, like lions and tigers and alligators, (Ha. You were all ready to say “oh my,” weren’t you?) Burmese pythons start off small and manageable, but soon get a little larger than many pet owners are prepared for. Even more unfortunately, a lot of these pet owners have decided to release their supersized serpents into the wild, regardless of whether or not they are found in the wild that hemisphere.

Sometimes, the snakes don’t do well. They do require a specific type of environment, after all. However, Florida just happens to provide the perfect environment for all a python needs. So, from just a few released pets, there soon arose a thriving, breeding population of Burmese pythons, all throughout the Florida Everglades.

The worst part is, the pythons are getting a little too comfortable. Being a large carnivore, they take a apex-predatory role in their environment. But although the local prey animals, like deer, may be good at outrunning or outwitting the local predators, they have never had to deal with pythons before. This means that they are an easy mark for pythons, and that could pose a threat to many edible species. It also poses a threat to the existing predators like crocodilians, because, all of a sudden, here are these invasions of supersnakes that are actually better at their job than they are. The pythons take all the good prey, and leave little behind. Plus, pythons can eat crocodilians, too.

The python problem is being dealt with by the implementation of organized hunts. Hunters who bring back large pythons are compensated heavily, but I don’t know… I still wouldn’t want to mess with them.

That’s all from me. If you have any questions, or would like to request an animal to be featured, comment down below and It’ll be my pleasure to help you out.

See you next weekend, and until then I am…

As I ever am.

Categories: Feature

2 replies »

  1. When I lived in Tampa I visited a restaurant that served fried snake… What kind of snake is edible? I think a restaurant in Austin also serves snake… good in stew!


    • Tim, your question on edibility seems like a good opportunity to bring up “poisonous” versus “venomous.” Poison is something that makes you ill if you ingest (eat) it, while venom is injected directly into your bloodstream via a fang or stinger. Several kinds of snakes are venomous, but as far as I know, there are no snakes that are poisonous. I guess that would mean any kind of snake is, in theory, edible. Whether you would really WANT to eat them… well that’s up to you.


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