PYTHONS (PART 1)
Originally published in THE HERPTILE
6 (2), June, 1981, pp. 10-16.
BY RAYMOND T. HOSER
1981 Address: 60 Eastern Arterial Road,
St.Ives, N.S.W. 2075 Australia
1998 Address: 41 Village Avenue, Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia.
Whilst in England (in 1980), I saw a great deal of interest among amateur
herpetologists in all aspects of the Boidae. This included Australian species,
although most people in the U.K. were not familiar with them. In this series
of four articles I intend to give an insight into the Australian Pythons
including comments about their care and breeding in captivity.
Australia has four (currently recognised) genera of python, namely,
Aspidites, Chondropython, Liasis
and Morelia, of which Aspidites
is the only genus confined to mainland Australia. In this article I shall
discuss the genera Chondropython and Aspidites leaving the other two genera
for later articles.
Chondropython is a monotypic genus confined to New Guinea and the North
East tip of Australia. It is characterised by the absence of teeth on the
premaxilla; irregular small scales on the top of the head and the presence
of pits in some of the labial scales. Like all pythons Chondropython is
an oviparous (egg-laying) genus.
GREEN PYTHON (CHONDROPYTHON VIRIDIS)
The Green Python is in adults usually bright emerald green dorsally
with a series of white or yellow scales along the vertebral line and a
few scattered white scales on the sides. A series of short, light blue
bars extends out from the vertebral line. The belly is cream to light yellow.
Live adults which are blue in colour dorsally are known to occur. Juveniles
vary from golden red to bright yellow in colour often with a dark purplish
brown, white centred streak through the eye and a vertebral stripe of the
same colour, with short bars of brown extending out from the vertebral
line. The change from juvenile to adult colour varies between several months
to a few weeks and is not dependent on sloughing activity by the snake.
It occurs at roughly two years of age.
The scalation is smooth with 50-75 mid-body rows, 225-260 ventrals,
a single anal and 90-110 (single) subcaudals.
This snake averages 1.2 metres in length but specimens up to 2 metres
Green Pythons in Australia are restricted to dense rainforests, although
in New Guinea they occupy a wide range of habitats available including
swamplands and savannah woodlands. This species is rare in Australia but
common where it occurs in New Guinea.
Green Pythons are nocturnal and arboreal in habit, sheltering by day
either in cover or sometimes coiled up in shady places on the ground or
on logs. Green Pythons rely on their cryptic colouration to avoid detection
during the day in their native habitat. When disturbed, however, Green
Pythons are usually aggressive, often biting seemingly without provocation.
Due to their large sharp teeth their bites can be painful and usually draw
blood, although risk of infection from any python bite is far lower than
Like most pythons, Green Pythons will feed on almost any animal of suitable
size although it does display a distinct preference for warm-blooded food.
Adult Green Pythons produce between 13 and 20 eggs annually in the wild.
Surprising as it may seem to many there are far more Green Pythons in
England and the U.S.A. than there are in Australia and New Guinea (their
countries of origin). This is due to many reasons including the fact that
there are strict laws licensing keeping the species in Australia and New
Green Pythons are regarded as a "prestige" snake commanding
three-figure sums (Pounds Sterling) when sold commercially.
Green Pythons are hardy in captivity being less susceptible to common
diseases such as mouthrot and scale ailments than many other pythons. The
"ideal" set up for Green Pythons is a cage well furnished with
hollow logs or wooden boxes (for access to the snakes), some green vegetation
and a high temperature maintained. High humidity is also essential. Obviously
clean water should always be provided. Like many pythons, Green Pythons
are successfully kept in small cages with no more than newspaper on the
bottom, one or two horizontal logs, a wooden box and a water dish. This
is particularly the common case among people with large collections who
place a premium on easy maintenance of their snakes.
Green Pythons have rarely bred successfully in captivity. Like other
pythons, in order to breed Green Pythons it is advisable to "cool"
and separate the sexes for a period of time. This means lowering the temperature
of their cages from the usual, say 25-32 degrees C, to 17-22 degrees C,
for a period between a week and two months. Initially the cooling inhibits,
but later promotes spermatogenesis in males. The same applies to females
for oogenesis and later ovulation.
When laid the eggs should be incubated at 29 degrees C (a lower temperature
then for most python eggs), and if moisture conditions are correct (i.e.
very high humidity) and if the eggs are fertile, one should expect a very
high hatch rate.
Aspidites is restricted to mainland Australia. This terrestrial genus
of pythons is characterised by the absence of teeth on the premaxilla,
enlarged symmetrical shields on top of the head and the absence of pits
on the rostral or labial scales. The two species in this genus are the
Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) and the Woma (Aspidites
ramsayi). Like all pythons Aspidites lays eggs.
BLACK-HEADED PYTHON (ASPIDITES MELANOCEPHALUS)
This relatively thick-set python has a small head indistinct from the
neck. It is light to dark brown dorsally, often lighter on the sides with
numerous darker brown, reddish brown, or blackish crossbands which are
usually narrower than the lighter interspaces. The head, neck and throat
are a shiny jet black. Ventrally the colour is cream to yellow, occasionally
with darker blotches.
The scalation is smooth with 50-65 mid body rows, 315-355 ventrals,
single anal and 60-75 mainly single subeaudals. The posterior subcaudals
tend to be divided, often irregularly. This snake averages 1.5 metres in
length although specimens of up to nearly double this length have been
This species is found throughout the northern third of mainland Australia,
but is not usually found in arid regions where
the Woma (Aspidites ramsayi) occurs instead. Black-headed
pythons are fairly common throughout their range.
This snake inhabits all habitats where it occurs, living in rock outcrops,
along water courses, in hollow logs, down burrows of various forms or simply
in Triodia (spinifex) clumps (grass tussocks).
In warm weather, this species is nocturnal, although during the cooler
months (June-August) this species is dominantly diurnal.
The Black-headed Python probably has few natural enemies other than
Man and Dingoes (wild dogs), and it seems that the most common direct causes
of death in the wild would include starvation in times of famine and the
ravages of internal parasites.
Black-headed Pythons food consists of small mammals, birds and an unusually
high proportion of reptiles and frogs. This includes highly venomous species
such as the Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) which occurs throughout
much of the Black-headed Python's range. This species is highly prone to
cannibalism both in the wild and in captivity.
When detected in the wild, Black-headed Pythons will either move away
or, if cornered, hiss loudly, although rarely biting. Black-headed Pythons
are an inoffensive species.
This species lays eggs in clutches of about eight.
Few people anywhere keep this species or its close relative the Woma
(Aspidites ramsayi). This is largely due to the remoteness of their habitat
and not because either species is rare.
Black-headed Pythons which are kept by people in the areas they originate
from are often fed exclusively on snakes due to their apparent preference
for them over warm-blooded food. Probably the most commonly used food item
is the Desert Death Adder which occurs
in large numbers throughout many of these areas. People who live in Australian
cities and in other places where Black-headed Pythons don't naturally occur
maintain specimens successfully on a diet of mice.
Black-headed Pythons although very docile in captivity and usually good
feeders are highly susceptible to a range of infections such as mouth-rot
(Canker or Ulcerative stomatosis), eye infections and scale ailments. Also
they are very susceptible to the ravages of the internal parasites they
commonly carry. Despite this some people have kept individual Black-headed
Pythons for a number of years.
Little is known of the breeding biology of this species largely due
to the fact that so few of them have been kept in captivity. There appears
to be a strong surplus of males in snakes of the genus .Aspidites, like
in other Australian pythons, which exacerbates the situation of a shortage
of "breedable" snakes.
Copulation can be readily obtained by separation of the sexes for a
period of at least two weeks, without "cooling" being necessary.
Unfortunately only two successful breedings of this species in captivity
are recorded, thus meaning that most matings in this species are infertile.
It is presumed that Black-headed Pythons have similar breeding biology
to other Pythons.
Most people who keep Black-headed Pythons successfully keep them in
cages heated between 24-32 degrees Celcius, and with no loose soil or sand
as it commonly gets in their mouths. Often they are kept successfully in
cages with newspaper as ground covering. Alternatively they have been kept
successfully in cages with a clay or rock (hard) bottom, either covered
with leaves, rocks, logs, wooden boxes etc. or completely bare.
WOMA (ASPIDITES RAMSAYI)
This is a very similar snake (in appearance) to the Black-headed Python.
it is thick-bodied and has a head which is indistinct from the neck. Dorsally
it is grey, olive brown, or rich reddish brown above, often lighter on
the sides, and with numerous darker olive, brown to black crossbands which
are normally narrower than the lighter interspaces. Old specimens often
lack these bands. The head is the same colour as the body although some
juveniles may have black patches on their heads. The throat and belly is
yellow to cream with numerous pink or brown blotches.
The scalation is smooth, with 50-65 mid body rows, 280-315 ventrals,
single anal and 40-45 mostly single subcaudals. Some posterior subcaudals
are irregularly divided. This snake grows to the same size as the Black-headed
Pythons, averaging 1.5 metres in length.
This snake is virtually a southern and more inland representative of
the genus Aspidites. This species is not usually found in the same localities
as the Black-headed Python.
Because this species is an inland form and is commonly found in sandy
localities it is often referred to as "Sand Python". Womas have
very similar biology to Black-headed Pythons (i.e. feeds on reptiles and
mammals, is terrestrial, etc.). Womas are inoffensive and also produce
about six to eight eggs to a clutch. Again womas appear to have few natural
Like Black-headed Pythons, few are kept in captivity. It's requirements
are identical to those of the Black-headed Python, and those people who
have kept them successfully have utilized methods similar to those I outlined
for Black-headed Pythons. To my knowledge this species has never been bred
COGGER, H.G. (1979) Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. A.H. and
A.W. Reed, Sydney.
GOW, G.F. (1976) Snakes of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
ROSS, R. (1978) The Python Breeding Manual. Institute of Herpetological
Research, California, U.S.A.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR PUBLISHED
WITH THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE.
1/ Green Tree Python Chondropython viridis. Unsexed adult. New
2/ Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus. Specimen from
Goldsworthy, W.A. (Lat 20 degrees 21 minutes Long 119 degrees 30 minutes)
Adult 1.5 meter male. Note: West Australian specimens are sometimes distinctly
lighter than their Eastern Australian counterparts.
3/ Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus (Details as for
1997 UPDATE TO THE ABOVE
Both Green Pythons and Australian Aspidites have been bred in
captivity in Australia and elsewhere many times in the period up to 1997
and breeding rates in captivity are expected to go up. In the 1996-1997
breeding season, Victorian keeper Brian Barnett bred both species of Aspidites.
He hatched ten Black-headed Python eggs from ten laid and four Woma eggs
from five laid. The fifth egg was demonstrably infertile at time of laying.
It seems fairly routine that Womas on average lay fewer and smaller eggs
than Black-headed pythons. Barnett's Black-headed Python eggs averaged
about 150 grams each, while the Woma eggs were about 1/2 this size. The
exact measurements and other details will probably be later published in
a paper on the breeding. Within Australia, NSW keeper Bob Withey has successfully
bred both species of Aspidites in a single season (1993-4).
Peter Krauss of North Queensland has also bred Womas in Australia and
Neil Sonneman of Wangaratta, Victoria has also bred Black-headed Pythons.
The incubation method used by Barnett is described in the paper by Raymond
Hoser called 'Reptile keeping in the Australian
State of Victoria', published in The Reptilian Magazine, in 1994,
click here to get to that paper. This information has also been
published elsewhere in papers by Barnett.
In the USA, both species of Aspidites have also been bred in captivity.
Don Hamper has bred both species.
Green Pythons have been bred on many occasions both in and outside of
Australia. In the USA, the two most well-known breeders are Trooper Walsh
and Alan Zulich. Both have published their results in various papers and
articles. Within Australia, Bob Buckley of Herberton Queensland has had
the greatest success in breeding Green Pythons. In 1997 he hatched out
about 15 young. On an earlier occasion 27 live young and six adults were
stolen by Qld NPWS officials. By the time the court got around to telling
the Qld NPWS to return to Buckley the stolen snakes, the NPWS claimed (perhaps
falsely) that all had died in the care of 'expert' keepers at Sydney's
Taronga Zoo. Refer to the book Smuggled-2
for details of this and related cases involving Green Pythons in Australia.
That book also has photos of the species.
Click here for Australian
Pythons part 2 - The Smaller Liasis (=Antaresia).
Click here for Australian
Pythons part 3 - The Larger Liasis (=Antaresia).
Click here for Australian
Pythons part 4 - Carpet Pythons and relatives as well as Australian Python
Click here for a taxonomic review of Australasian
Pythons. (published in 2000)
Raymond Hoser has
been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 100
papers in journals worldwide. He has written nine books including the definitive
works " Australian Reptiles and Frogs
", "Endangered Animals of Australia"
and the controversial best seller "Smuggled
- The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife".
Click on the text below for details about his latest book that is of major
interest to herpetologists everywhere.
Papers about reptiles and frogs
- list of over sixty papers that can be downloaded via the internet.
Australians Against Corruption
Victoria Police Corruption
- Home page. Click here and then click on writing on next page.
Non-urgent email inquiries via the Snakebusters bookings page at:http://www.snakebusters.com.au/sbsboo1.htmUrgent inquiries phone:Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:(03) 9812 3322 or 0412 777 211