Thai National Parks

Reptiles of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Burmese python

Thai: งูหลาม, ngu laam

Binomial name: Python bivittatus, Heinrich Kuhl, 1820

The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the five largest species of snakes in the world (about the third-largest as measured either by length or weight). It is native to a large area of tropical South and Southeast Asia. Until 2009, it was considered a subspecies of Python molurus, but now is recognized as belonging to a distinct species.

They are often found near water and are sometimes semi-aquatic, but can also be found in trees. Wild individuals average 3.7 m long, but have been known to reach 5.74 m.

Description

Burmese pythons are dark-colored snakes with many brown blotches bordered in black down the back. The perceived attractiveness of their skin pattern contributes to their popularity with both reptile keepers and the leather industry. The pattern is similar in colour, but different in actual pattern from the African rock python (Python sebae), sometimes resulting in confusion of the two species outside of their natural habitats. The African rock python can generally be distinguished by its tighter pattern of markings, compared to the Burmese python, which has bolder patterns, similar to those seen on a giraffe.

In the wild, Burmese pythons grow to 3.7 m ftin on average, while specimens of more than 4 m ftin are uncommon. This species is sexually dimorphic in size; females average only slightly longer, but are considerably heavier and bulkier than the males. For examples, length-weight comparisons in captive Burmese pythons for individual females have shown: at 3.47 m ftin length, a specimen weighed 29 kg, a specimen of just over 4 m ftin weighed 36 kg, a specimen of 4.5 m ftin weighed 40 kg, and a specimen of 5 m ftin weighed 75 kg. In comparison, length-weight comparisons for males found: a specimen of 2.8 m ftin weighed 12 kg, 2.97 m ftin weighed 14.5 kg, a specimen of 3 m ftin weighed 7 kg, and a specimen of 3.05 m ftin weighed 18.5 kg. In general, individuals over 5 m ftin are rare. The record maximum length for Burmese pythons is held by a female named “Baby”, that lived at Serpent Safari, Gurnee, Illinois, for 27 years. Shortly after death, her actual length was determined to be 5.74 m ftin. Widely published data of specimens that were reported to have been even several feet longer are not verified. Dwarf forms occur on Java, Bali, and Sulawesi. On Bali, they reach an average length of 2 m ftin, and on Sulawesi, they achieve a maximum of 2.5 m.

Distribution and habitat

Burmese pythons are found throughout Southern and Southeast Asia, including eastern India, Nepal, western Bhutan, southeastern Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, northern continental Malaysia, far southern China (Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, and Yunnan), Hong Kong, and in Indonesia on Java, southern Sulawesi, Bali, and Sumbawa. Burmese pythons are also reported from Kinmen, very close to the Chinese mainland, but in Taiwanese territory; the Burmese python belongs to the fauna of Taiwan when Taiwan refers to the Republic of China, but not to the island of Taiwan.

These pythons are excellent swimmers and need a permanent source of water. They can be found in grasslands, marshes, swamps, rocky foothills, woodlands, river valleys, and jungles with open clearings. They are good climbers and have prehensile tails.

Invasive species (United States)

Python invasion has been particularly extensive, notably across South Florida, where a large number of pythons can now be found in the Florida Everglades. It has been suggested that the current number of Burmese pythons in the Florida everglades has reached a minimum viable population and become an invasive species. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was deemed responsible for the destruction of a python breeding facility and zoo, and these escaped snakes spread and populated areas into the Everglades. More than 1, 330 have been captured in the Everglades. Also, between the years 1996 and 2006, the Burmese python has gained popularity in the pet trade, with more than 90, 000 snakes imported into the US.

By 2007, the Burmese python was found in northern Florida and in the coastal areas of the Florida Panhandle. The importation of Burmese pythons was banned in the United States in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. A 2012 report stated, "in areas where the snakes are well established, foxes and rabbits have disappeared. Sightings of raccoons are down by 99.3%, opossums by 98.9%, and white-tailed deer by 94.1%." Bird and coyote populations may be threatened, as well as the already-rare Florida panther.

Burmese pythons also compete with the native American alligator, and numerous instances of alligators and pythons attacking - and in some cases, preying on - each other have been reported and recorded.

By the year 2011, researchers identified up to twenty-five species of birds form nine avian orders in the digestive tract remains of eighty-five Burmese Pythons found in the Everglades National Park. Native bird populations are suffering a negative impact from the introduction of the Burmese Python in Florida; among these bird species, the hunting of Wood Stork by the Burmese Python is of specific concern considering that it is listed as federally endangered.

There have been numerous efforts to eliminate the Burmese Python population in the last decade. It is important to understand the preferable habitat for the species in order to narrow down the python hunt. It has been found that Burmese Pythons tend to select broad-leafed and low-flooded habitats. Broad-leafed habitats comprise cypress, overstory, and coniferous forest. Even though aquatic marsh environments would be a great source for prey, the pythons seem to prioritize morphological and behavioral camouflage to be protected from predators. Also, the Burmese Pythons in Florida have been found to prefer elevated habitats since this provides the optimal conditions for nesting. As well as elevated habitats, edge habitats are also a common place where the Burmese python is found for thermoregulation, nesting, and hunting purposes.

One of the Burmese Python eradication movements with the biggest influence was the 2013 Python Challenge in Florida. This was a month-long contest where a total of 68 pythons were removed. The contest offered incentives such as prizes for longest and greatest number of captured pythons. The purpose of the challenge was to raise awareness about the invasive species; increase participation from the public and agency cooperation; and to remove as many pythons as possible from the Florida Everglades.

A recent study from 2017 introduced a new method for identifying the presence of Burmese Pythons in southern Florida; this method involves the screening of mosquito blood. Ever since the introduction of the Burmese Python in Florida, the pythons have become hosts for mosquito communities. ] The research involved the screening of native mosquitoes' blood for the presence of python DNA. By this means, it is possible to determine the presence or absence of the Burmese Python. ]

Behavior

Burmese pythons are mainly nocturnal rainforest dwellers. When young, they are equally at home on the ground and in trees, but as they gain girth, they tend to restrict most of their movements to the ground. They are also excellent swimmers, being able to stay submerged for up to half an hour. Burmese pythons spend the majority of their time hidden in the underbrush. In the northern parts of its range, the Indian python may brumate for some months during the cold season in a hollow tree, a hole in the riverbank, or under rocks. Brumation is biologically distinct from hibernation. While the behaviour has similar benefits, specifically to endure the winter without moving, it also involves preparation of both male and female reproductive organs for the upcoming breeding season. Controversy exists over whether the Burmese species is able to brumate.

Burmese pythons breed in the early spring, with females laying clutches of 12–36 eggs in March or April. They remain with the eggs until they hatch, wrapping around them and twitching their muscles in such a way as to raise the ambient temperature around the eggs by several degrees. Once the hatchlings use their egg tooth to cut their way out of their eggs, no further maternal care is given. The newly hatched often remain inside their eggs until they are ready to complete their first shedding of skin, after which they hunt for their first meal.

Diet

Like all snakes, the Burmese python is carnivorous. Its diet consists primarily of appropriately sized birds and mammals. The snake uses its sharp rearward-pointing teeth to seize its prey, then wraps its body around the prey, at the same time contracting its muscles, killing the prey by constriction. It is often found near human habitation due to the presence of rats, mice, and other vermin as a food source. However, its equal affinity for domesticated birds and mammals means it is often treated as a pest. In captivity, its diet consists primarily of commercially available, appropriately sized rats, graduating to larger prey such as rabbits and poultry as it grows. Exceptionally large pythons may even require larger food items such as pigs or goats, and are known to have attacked and eaten alligators and adult deer in Florida, where they are an invasive species.

Digestion

The digestive response of Burmese pythons to such large prey has made them a model species for digestive physiology. A fasting python has a reduced stomach volume and acidity, reduced intestinal mass, and a 'normal' heart volume. After ingesting prey, the entire digestive system undergoes a massive remodelling, with rapid hypertrophy of the intestines, production of stomach acid, and a 40% increase in mass of the ventricle of the heart to fuel the digestive process.

Conservation

Wild populations are considered to be "threatened" and are listed on Appendix II of CITES. All the giant pythons (including the Indian python, the African rock python, and the reticulated python) have historically been slaughtered to supply the world leather market, as well as for folk medicines, and captured for the pet trade. Some are also killed for food, particularly in China.

The IUCN has recently listed the Burmese python as "Vulnerable", reflecting its overall population decline. Important reasons for the decline are trade for skins and for food; habitat degradation may be a problem in some upland areas.

In Hong Kong, it is a protected species under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170.

Captivity

Burmese pythons are often sold as pets, and are made popular by their attractive colour and apparently easy-going nature. However, these animals have a rapid growth rate, and often exceed 2.1 m in length in a year if cared for and fed properly. By age four, they will have reached their adult size, though they continue growing very slowly throughout their lives, which may exceed 20 years.

Although this species has a reputation for docility, they are very powerful animals, capable of inflicting severe bites or even killing a keeper by constriction. They also consume large amounts of food, and due to their size, require large, often custom-built, secure enclosures. As a result, some are released into the wild, and become invasive species that devastate the environment. For this reason, some jurisdictions (including Florida due to the python invasion in the Everglades) have placed restrictions on the keeping of Burmese pythons as pets. Violators could be imprisoned for more than 7 years or fined $500, 000 if convicted.

Burmese pythons are opportunistic feeders; they eat almost any time food is offered, and often act hungry even when they have recently eaten. As a result, they are often overfed, causing obesity-related problems to be common in captive Burmese pythons.

Like the much smaller ball python, Burmese pythons are known to be easygoing or timid creatures, which means that if cared for properly, they can easily adjust to living near humans.

Handling

Although pythons are typically afraid of people due to their high stature, and generally avoid humans, special care is still required when handling them. Given their adult strength, multiple handlers (up to one person per meter of snake) are usually recommended. Some jurisdictions require owners to hold special licenses, and as with any wild animal being kept in captivity, treating them with the respect an animal of this size commands is important.

Variations

The Burmese python is frequently captive-bred for colour, pattern, and more recently, size. Its albino form is especially popular and is the most widely available morph. They are white with patterns in butterscotch yellow and burnt orange. Also, "labyrinth" specimens with maze-like patterns, khaki-coloured "green", and "granite" with many small angular spots are available. Breeders have recently begun working with an island lineage of Burmese pythons. Early reports indicate that these "dwarf" Burmese have slightly different colouring and pattern from their mainland relatives and do not grow much over 2.1 m in length. One of the most sought-after of these variations is the leucistic Burmese. This particular variety is very rare, being entirely bright white with no pattern and blue eyes, and has only recently (2008/2009) been reproduced in captivity as the homozygous form (referred to as "super" by reptile keepers) of the codominant hypomelanistic trait. The caramel Burmese python has caramel-coloured pattern with "milk-chocolate" eyes.

This article uses material from Wikipedia released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike Licence 3.0. Eventual photos shown in this page may or may not be from Wikipedia, please see the license details for photos in photo by-lines.

Scientific classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Subphylum
Vertebrata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Suborder
Serpentes
Family
Pythonidae
Genus
Python
Species
Python bivittatus

Common names

  • German: Dunkler Tigerpython
  • English: Burmese python
  • Thai: งูหลาม, ngu laam

Subspecies

  • Python bivittatus bivittatus, Heinrich Kuhl, 1820

    Range: South Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, South China, Indonesia (Java, Bali), USA (Introduced to Florida).

  • Python bivittatus progschai, Hans J. Jacobs, Mark Auliya, 2009

    Range: Sulawesi

Synonyms

  • Python bivittatus, Van Stanley Bartholomew Wallach et al. (2014)
  • Python bivittatus progschai, Koch (2011)
  • Python bivittatus, Hans J. Jacobs et al. (2009)
  • Python bivittatus progschai, Hans J. Jacobs, Mark Auliya & Wolfgang Böhme (2009)
  • Python molurus bivittatus, Tanya Chan-Ard et al. (1999)
  • Python molurus bivittatus, Merel J. Cox et al. (1998)
  • Python molurus bivittatus, Ulrich Manthey & Wolfgang Grossmann (1997)
  • Python molurus bivittatus, Robert Mertens (1921)
  • Python molurus bivittatus, Kuhl (1820)
  • Python bivittatus, Heinrich Kuhl (1820)

Conservation status

Vulnerable (IUCN3.1)

Vulnerable (IUCN3.1)

Python bivittatus

Python bivittatus

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Thai National Parks

Python bivittatus

Python bivittatus

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Thai National Parks

Python bivittatus (juvenile)

Python bivittatus (juvenile)

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Thai National Parks

Distribution map of Burmese python, Python bivittatus in Thailand
  • Bang Lamung District, Chonburi
  • Bang Len District, Nakhon Pathom
  • Bo Thong District, Chonburi
  • Bueng Sam Phan District, Phetchabun
  • Cha-Am District, Phetchaburi
  • Chok Chai District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Hua Hin District, Prachuap Khiri Khan
  • Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi
  • Kaeng Krachan National Park
  • Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Khao Yai National Park
  • Khlong Luang District, Pathum Thani
  • Kui Buri District, Prachuap Khiri Khan
  • Lao Khwan District, Kanchanaburi
  • Lom Kao District, Phetchabun
  • Mueang Chaiyaphum District, Chaiyaphum
  • Mueang Nakhon Pathom District, Nakhon Pathom
  • Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Mueang Nakhon Sawan District, Nakhon Sawan
  • Mueang Phetchaburi District, Phetchaburi
  • Mueang Rayong District, Rayong
  • Nam Nao National Park
  • Nam Phong District, Khon Kaen
  • Non Thai District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Nong Bua Daeng District, Chaiyaphum
  • Nong Phai District, Phetchabun
  • Nong Ya Plong District, Phetchaburi
  • Ongkharak District, Nakhon Nayok
  • Pak Tho District, Ratchaburi
  • Pak Thong Chai District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Pang Sila Thong District, Kamphaeng Phet
  • Phatthana Nikhom District, Lopburi
  • Phimai District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Phu Khiao Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Prachaksinlapakhom District, Udon Thani
  • Prachantakham District, Prachinburi
  • Prasat District, Surin
  • Prathai District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Sakaerat Environmental Research Station
  • Si Racha District, Chonburi
  • Sung Noen District, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Tak Fa District, Nakhon Sawan
  • Takhli District, Nakhon Sawan
  • Tha Luang District, Lopburi
  • Thanyaburi District, Pathum Thani
  • Wat Bot District, Phitsanulok
  • Watthana Nakhon District, Sa Kaeo
  • Wiang Sa District, Nan

Range map of Python bivittatus in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

Contribute or get help with ID

Please help us improving our species range maps. To add a new location to the range map we need a clear image of the specimen you have encountered. No problem if you do not know the species, we will do our best to identify it for you.

For the location, please provide the district name or the national park/ wildlife sanctuary name.

Please post your images to our Thai Species Identification Help group on Facebook.