Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Australia is home to 13 species of python in the family Pythonidae, belonging to four genera.  All members of this family lay eggs, and unlike other egg-laying snakes, some species of python wrap themselves around their clutch to assist the incubation process.


The genus Antaresia contains four small species of python, including the world’s smallest python, the Pygmy Python, measuring just 60cm in length.  These species live predominantly amongst escarpments and rocky outcrops, feeding on small lizards, birds and mammals.   The three larger species are known to suspend themselves from the rooves of cave entrances, catching bats midflight.


This genus contains two large, handsome pythons, the Woma and the Black Headed Python.  These are the only species of python in the world which do not possess heat-sensitive pits.  Most pythons possess these along their lips, to guide them towards potential prey.  The fact that these species lack them has led scientists to wonder whether they are more primitive than other pythons, but this is uncertain.  These species prey predominantly on ectothermic prey, ie. lizards and other snakes, hence, perhaps, the lack of need for heat-receptors.


The Olive Python and Water Python are two very large species found in northern Australia.  Both olive in colour, the Water Python possesses a unique, iridescent rainbow sheen, leading to speculation that this substantial species (4.5 in length) gave rise to the Aboriginal legend of the rainbow serpent.
The Olive Python inhabits relatively rocky areas whilst the Water Python is semi-aquatic, living in and around swamps and creeks.


The genus Morelia contains five medium to large species, distinguished by their large heads, which are clearly defined from the neck.  The carpet python group contains seven subspecies, many of which are capable of interbreeding … but one, the Centralian Carpet or Bredl’s Python, is sometimes elevated to full species status, and this remains under debate.  The remaining species are distinctive: the Oenpelli Python, a large and rare species found only amongst escarpments in Arnhem Land; the Rough-Scaled Python, with its uniquely keeled scales; the exquisite Green Tree Python …  and of course, the Scrub Python, Australia’s largest snake, reaching over 6m in length.

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