The Indian python is large and heavy–bodied. One of the world’s largest snakes, it averages 10 feet (3 meters) long, but has been known to grow to lengths over 20 feet (6 meters).
This snake is straw–yellow to brown in color, sometimes with a rich reddish tinge. The dark patterns that form a mosaic on the snake’s skin differ depending on the snake’s geographic location.
Indian pythons prey on birds and other reptiles, but prefer small mammals such as rats. It is not unusual for a python, which is a good climber, to climb a fruit tree and then wait in ambush for animals attracted to the fallen fruit underneath. Pythons have also been observed waiting in hollow trees to capture roosting birds.
In India, mating between male and female Indian pythons takes place from December to February. After mating, a female may lay between 6 and 100 eggs at one time.
An average clutch size is 35 eggs. The eggs are laid in a rock crevice, termite nest, tree hole, or other convenient shelter. The female remains with the eggs throughout the 100–day incubation (development) period (she leaves them only to drink water). She warms the eggs by wrapping her body around them.
Biologists (people who study living organisms) believe the female controls her body temperature by constricting, or twitching, her muscles, which would regulate the amount of blood flowing to the surface of her body. Upon hatching, the young pythons average around 21 inches (53 centimeters) in length.
Habitat and current distribution
The Indian python is widespread in Asia. It ranges from Pakistan in the west to China in the east. It is found as far south as parts of Indonesia. Biologists usually divide the species into two subspecies: a western form in the South Asian subcontinent (Python molurus molurus) and an eastern form in China and Southeast Asia (Python molurus bivittatus).
Of the two subspecies, the western subspecies is the more endangered. Biologists have no estimate of the total number of Indian pythons in existence.
Indian pythons are found in a variety of habitats, but prefer wooded areas, ranging from evergreen rain forest to open dry scrubland.
History and conservation measures
In India alone, the population has more than tripled in the twentieth century. Advances in modern farming technology have allowed humans to convert “waste lands” such as scrubland into farmland.
Indian pythons have also been hunted for their skin to make belts, boots, wallets, and other fashion accessories. International treaties now regulate the trade of python skins. Nonetheless, people in some Asian cultures still hunt the snake for food and for use as a medicine.
Like other snakes, the Indian python is regarded simply as dangerous and is often killed on sight. Many people, however, do not realize the ecological role the python plays. As the Indian python population has decreased in many areas, the rodent population has correspondingly increased.