PYTHONS (PART 2)
THE SMALLER LIASIS
Originally published in THE HERPTILE
(UK) 6 (3), September 1981, pp. 13-19.
BY RAYMOND T. HOSER
1981 Address: 60 Arterial Road, St. Ives, N.S.W.
1999 Address: 41 Village Avenue, Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia.
In this and a following article I intend to discuss the genus Liasis
and its Australian representatives. The nomenclature used by myself
will be the same as that used by Cogger (1979) except that I shall call
Python oenpelliensis, Liasis oenpelliensis in recognition
of the affinity this snake shows in relation to others in the same named
genus and for reasons of consistency. McDowall's (1975) argument for the
reclassification of three Australian python species has both firm grounding
and serious flaws simultaneously. I shall review his classification system
after my discussion of the genus Morelia. Most Australian herpetologists
including Cogger (1978) do not believe that the White Lipped Python (Liasis
albertisi) occurs on the Australian mainland, being only found in Australian
territory on a few islands immediately off the New Guinea coast. For this
reason I shall omit Liasis albertisi from my discussion of Australian
Liasis is a genus confined to Australia, New Guinea and parts
of Indonesia. These pythons have teeth on the premaxilla, head covered
by large symmetrical shields and the presence of pits in some of the labial
scales. Their bodies are roughly cylindrical. This oviparous genus occupies
all available terrestrial habitats except very cold places.
Children's Python (Liasis childreni)
The Children's Python is a moderate to heavily built snake of variable
colour. Typically it is light brown dorsally, being lighter on the lower
sides with an irregular pattern of dark brown blotches along the back and
sides, often roughly arranged in transverse series to give the impression
of irregular crossbands, the head, light brown often with small darker
flecks or blotches. A dark streak may pass through each eye. The ventral
surface is white.
The scalation is smooth with 37-49 mid body rows, 255-300 ventrals,
single anal and 30-45 mainly divided subcaudals, with usually a few anterior
This snake averages .85 metre in adult total length but specimens up
to nearly 2 metres are known.
The morphology, particularly that of the head, of this species is highly
variable geographically, and these characteristics have led some people
to subdivide Liasis childreni into several sub-species although because
some morphological differences tend to be clinal it is unlikely that any
of these divisions will stand. (See notes after this paper).
Excluding the genus Morelia the Children's Python is Australia's most
widely distributed species of python and throughout most of its range is
also the most common python. Children's Pythons are found in many habitats
including the most arid deserts, tropical rain forests, and montane forests
in South East Queensland and N.S.W., some of which may get snow in winter
months (e.g. Bingara, N.S.W.). Usually Children's Pythons are most common
in rocky areas although massive population densities of this python are
known in areas without rocks, such as along water courses in some arid
areas and in ant-hill country. Children s Pythons are often called the
Children's Pythons are predominantly nocturnal in habit due to the high
day-time temperatures throughout most of their range, although in some
cooler areas such as parts of South Eastern Queensland, this species may
be diurnal. Unlike many pythons the Children's Python almost never rests
in the open, always sheltering in or under some form of cover such as a
rock crevice, log, etc.
The diet of this species varies according to locality, in reflection
of food types available. The Children's Python is an opportunistic feeder,
feeding on both warm and cold-blooded food. Cannibalism is unknown in this
species and evidence collected in the field shows that this species never
normally feeds on other snakes in the wild. Children's Pythons from frog-infested
areas tend to carry far more internal parasites than those from other areas.
Adult Children's Pythons produce an average of 10-12 eggs annually around
November (in the wild) which usually take under three months to hatch.
Young when born measure 30 cm in length and weigh roughly 7 grams (Barnett
1980). Sexual maturity comes at roughly 50 cm in length and two to three
years of age in the wild.
Along with pythons of the genus Morelia, Children's Pythons are widely
kept in Australia and other parts of the world. Excluding Morelia the Children's
Python is the most frequently captive-bred Australian python.
Because Children's Pythons are generally hardy and easy to feed and
because nine out of ten are docile in temperament they are an excellent
snake to keep in captivity. On account of their size Children's Pythons
may be kept in cages of moderate size, and the most important requisite
for success in keeping them is maintaining sufficient temperature (above
22 degrees Celcius) for most of the year. The setting of the cage is usually
relatively unimportant as Children's Pythons will thrive in almost any
cage so long as it is not too moist too much of the time. Successful breeders
often keep this species in cages with no more than newspaper on the floor,
a single hide box or horizontal log and water, indicating the ease of keeping
this species. Children's Pythons are susceptible to ailments such as mites
and canker, the latter of which they are statistically more prone to than
are most other Australian pythons. Children's Pythons are known to live
for well over ten years although no detailed life-span studies on any Australian
python has been done.
The Children's Python is an excellent breeder's snake, not only because
it breeds regularly and easily but also because it often reaches sexual
maturity in captivity in eighteen months. Children's Pythons also have
a good 1:1 male:female sex ratio making it relatively easy to obtain both
sexes without inspecting or obtaining too many specimens. Most breeders
initiate breeding by cooling both sexes (15-18 degrees Celcius average),
although some breedings of this species appear to occur without any temperature
alterations to the snakes. Surprisingly most breeding cases of the Children's
Python coming to my notice do not involve separation of the sexes prior
to mating, although I would suspect that like most other snakes, separation
of sexes prior to an intended mating would enhance the chances of breeding
this species. When eggs are laid they should be artificially incubated
using standard incubation techniques maintaining a stable temperature of
29 degrees Celcius and a high humidity. Mould should obviously be kept
off the eggs.
On one occasion an artificially incubated egg split open because of
excessive humidity in the incubator (Barnett 1980) and an elaborate humidicrib-like
set-up for the egg was devised. The egg's embryo which had been disturbed
31 days into incubation was set up so that full visual observations on
the development of the embryo could be made. After 53 days the developing
snake left the 'humidicrib' (hatched) and measured 31 cm in length, and
7.1 grams. Because of the relative abundance of Children's Pythons in their
native haunts and the ease of breeding the species it is a relatively cheap
Australian Python in the U.S.A. and Europe.
Interestingly, in 1973 the N.S.W. National Parks and Wildlife Service
declared the Children's Python a rare and endangered species. An outcry
by many herpetologists and conservationists and the risk of public scandal
about the unwarranted attention this 'common' species was receiving, led
to the move by the N.S.W. National Parks and Wildlife Service being revoked.
In some countries, particularly the U.S.A. Children's Pythons and other
Australian reptiles are becoming much more common due to recent smuggling
Unfortunately nowadays smuggled reptiles are X-rayed significantly to
prevent breeding to conserve markets, hence once a reptile is stolen to
be smuggled it often becomes effectively worthless as a long-term conservation
The Ant-Hill Python (Liasis perthensis)
The Ant-Hill Python (also known as Western Children's Python, Western
Python, Western Dwarf Python and Pygmy Python), is plain brick red through
browns to olive green dorsally with an indistinct blotched pattern. Ventrally
the colour is whitish. The head is pointed and wedge-shaped. The Ant-Hill
Python is of moderate to heavy build. The basic scalation is smooth with
31-35 mid body rows, 205-255 ventrals, single anal and 30-45 mainly divided
subcaudals, but usually a few anterior ones are single. This snake averages
55 cm in adult total length, but specimens up to 70 cm do occur.
Among the many differences between the Ant-Hill Python and the Children's
Python are the lower mid-body row and ventral scale counts (Cogger 1979).
Some people have postulated that Liasis perthensis be split into two geographical
species: the reddish-coloured Western Australian specimens remaining as
Liasis perthensis whilst the brownish to olive Northern Territory specimens
be named a new species, Liasis inornata. My own research indicates that
such a new specific division is not valid.
The Ant-Hill Python (Liasis perthensis) is a common species found widely
throughout North and Western Australia (Hoser 1981), being found throughout
most of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and far north-western
Queensland. This wholly nocturnal species is usually found in dry to monsoonal
country and probably has a stronger affinity for the termite mound habitat
than any other Australian python, although ant-hills are by no means the
exclusive domain of this species, with the Children's Python inhabiting
termite mounds throughout their range (Hoser 1981).
Ant-Hill Pythons and Children's Pythons are even found in the same termite
mounds and it is assumed that throughout much of their range both species
compete against one another for food (shelter being no problem). In many
respects the biology of Ant-Hill Pythons and Children's Pythons appears
identical. Cross-breeding between the two species has never been known
Ant-Hill Pythons are usually caught outside of ant-hills either moving
about at night or residing by day in alternative cover such as spinifex
bushes. Ant-Hill Pythons are common in some areas and inexplicably absent
in identical areas nearby.
In the wild diet consists of any suitable vertebrates excluding other
snakes, in particular Gehyra spp, Eramiascinus spp (lizards) and Antechinus
spp (Marsupial mice). Predators include birds, and mammals such as foxes.
Both the Ant-Hill Python and the Children's Python appear to be preyed
upon by larger Elapids such as Pseudechis australis (Hoser 1981). When
disturbed the Ant-hill Python generally has a docile temperament and will
rarely attempt to escape at speed.
Effectively nothing is known about the breeding biology of the Ant-Hill
Python although it is assumed to be somewhat similar to that of the Children's
Python, although some isolating mechanism between the two species must
presumably exist. Although egg-laying, the number of eggs laid is unknown,
as is the time of year that they are laid. (Refer
to later papers by Hoser re Breeding this species or click here).
To my knowledge only about a dozen specimens of Ant-Hill Pythons have
been kept in captivity, all of which have been kept in Australia. Only
five of these specimens were or have been kept for any reasonable amount
of time (12 months).
I know of no Liasis perthensis ever dying in captivity so must assume
that they are susceptible to the usual snake ailments (but to an unknown
All specimens held in captivity have been kept in heated cages with
rocks, logs and other natural furnishings. A common complaint about this
species by those who have attempted to maintain it in captivity is that
it often refuses to feed. My personal experience with Ant-Hill Pythons
points to the opposite with all specimens eating all food offered (including
dead food) voraciously. This species has not to my knowledge been bred
in captivity although because of the closeness of this species to Liasis
childreni I would suggest similar techniques for breeding both species.
For those not used to the appearance of Ant-Hill Pythons, the risk of misidentification
of one for a Children's Python is great. A classic example was seen recently
when one Ant-Hill Python passed through the care of three well-known herpetologists
being thought of as a Children's Python until I positively identified it
otherwise. In physical appearance Ant-Hill Pythons and Children's Pythons
are in reality very different although I wouldn't be surprised if some
herpetologists in Australia are keeping Ant-Hill Pythons under the impression
that the snakes concerned are Children's Pythons.
Stull's original description of Liasis perthensis even made mistakes.
The type locality was given as Perth in error, as this species is now known
not to occur in the Perth district. The colour description given also fits
a typical Liasis childreni from the western part of Australia, but because
of the other features of Liasis perthensis mentioned (i.e. scalation and
size) it is almost certain that the colour description was also an unintended
error or of a relatively well-marked specimen.
BANKS, C. (1974) Australian Pythons. The Herptile. England. 4 pp.
BARNETT, B. (1980) Captive Breeding and a Novel Egg Incubation Technique
of the Children's Python (Liasis childreni) Herpetofauna. Vol.11 No.2.
pp. 15-18. Australia.
COGGER, H. G. (1979) Australian Reptiles and Amphibians. A.H.&
A.W. Reed. Australia.
HOSER, R. T. (in press) On Liasis perthensis
(Stull) (in press).
HOSER, R. T. (1981) Snakes and Lizards of the Pilbara region (Western
Australia) Journal of the Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists.
Vol.7 No.l. pp. 12-32.
McDOWALL, S. B. (1975). A catalogue of the snakes of New Guinea and
the Solomons with special reference to those in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
Part Two. Anilioidae and Pythonidae. Journal of Herpetology 9 (l):1-79.
ROSS, R. (1978) The Python Breeding Manual. Institute of Herpetological
Research. Stanford, California, U.S.A.
STULL, O. G. (1932) Five new subspecies of the family Boidae. Occasional
papers of the Boston Society of Natural History.
PHOTOGRAPHS PUBLISHED WITH THE PAPER
BY THE AUTHOR
1) Children's Python Liasis childreni, Male. Charters Towers,
Queensland. (The snake depicted has since been reclassified as "The
Spotted Python" Liasis maculosus).
2) Ant-Hill Python, Female. Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory. (The
location information for this snake is not 100 per cent certain as is the
snake's true specific identity).
1997 UPDATE RE THE ABOVE
In 1985, Laurie Smith published a paper on Australian pythons of the
Liasis childreni group, splitting them into three species. Another
paper by Wells and Wellington, published in 1985 also split the childreni
group into three and there is some dispute as to which paper was first
published and which names take precedence. It has been alleged that the
WA Museum publication was published after the Wells and Wellington publication,
although it bears a date preceding it. At the present time, the names used
by Laurie Smith seem to have been adopted by most Australian herpetologists.
Those names are childreni, maculosus and stimsoni. Perthensis remains a
separate and fourth species. The generic name for these snakes proposed
by Wells and Wellington, namely Antaresia, in 1997 seems to be the
most widely used, including in a recently published book by Dave and Tracy
Barker of the USA which dealt specifically with Australian pythons.
Ant-hill Pythons have since been bred in captivity.
First by the author in 1993 and since by a keeper in Germany. Both
produced 2 eggs from a single female. A later breeding in Western Australia
produced more eggs (a higher number than two) but these failed to hatch.
Several papers have since been published on this species, most by Raymond
Hoser. Photos of this species can be found in most books about Australian
pythons and many about Australian reptiles generally, including Australian
Reptiles and Frogs, by Raymond Hoser, published in 1989.
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 Australian
Pythons part 1 - The Genera Aspidites and Chondropython (=Morelia
- (Green Python only)).
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
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Click here for details about a new book
that all aviculturists and herpetologists should get hold of ASAP - Smuggled-2.
Click here for a recent review of the
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Papers about reptiles and frogs
- list of over fourty papers that can be downloaded via the internet.
Australian Reptiles and
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on writing on next page.
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