ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LITTERATURA SERPENTIUM, 8 (3) 1988 PP. 134-139
PROBLEMS OF PYTHON CLASSIFICATION AND HYBRID PYTHONS.
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What follows is a text only version of the same article (no italics) and without the photos and other material that may have appeared in the original magazine.
Contents: Introduction - Summary of the problems in classifying Australia's pythons - Hybrids between species - Acknowledgements - References.
Australasia's pythons attract disproportionate interest from herpetologists within Australia and elsewhere. There is also considerable debate in relation to the relationships between species, with various arrangements being proposed. Authors including Cogger (1986), Schmida (1985), and Stafford (1986), have tended to follow 'consensus opinion' when assigning generic names to Australasian pythons. References in relation to general and more specific aspects of Australian pythons can be found in Hoser (1981a , 1981b, 1981c and 1982), and elsewhere. This short paper gives a summary of the problems facing Australian python taxonomists and gives details of an unusual captive breeding that resulted in hybrids between species being produced.
SUMMARY OF THE PROBLEMS IN CLASSIFYING AUSTRALIA'S PYTHONS
With the exception of the Black-headed python and Woma (Genus Aspidites), all other Australian pythons have at various times been assigned to a number of different genera. Numerous schemes of classification for the remaining Australian species of python have been proposed. These include Hoser (1982), Mcdowell (1975), and Stull (1935). The schemes range from the placing of all species in the genus Python shared with other non Australian species, to placing the species in question in up to seven genera. Namely Bothrochilus, Chondropython, Liasis, Lisalia., Liasis, Morelia, and Python. The assignment of given species within a particular genus is also a matter of conflict. For example within the last ten years the Scrub python Morelia amethistina has been placed in the following genera, Liasis, then Python and now Morelia.
In reality all Australian python species excluding Aspidites are fairly closely related, and should perhaps be placed in a single genus with further placement in sub-genera. The conflict here is one between "Lumpers" who would agree with the above statement, and "Splitters" who would fear that by placing the pythons in question into a single genus, the relationships between species may be obscured.
HYBRIDS BETWEEN SPECIES
In the late 1970's, the Royal Melbourne Zoo had a male Carpet python Morelia spilota successfully breed with a female Scrub python Morelia amethistina, and Water python Liasis fuscus. The offspring produced were intermediate in characteristics between the parent snakes, and themselves appear to be fertile, although at the time of writing had not successfully bred. The snakes had however, produced eggs which failed to hatch. The snakes in question were held for some years by the Royal Melbourne Zoo before being transferred to Renmark Reptile Park (South Australia). The proprietor of this park, Joe Bredl Senior, allowed this author to photograph specimens resulting from both hybridisations. The photos clearly show the intermediate appearances of the snakes and are reproduced here.
That the Scrub python and Water python can cross breed in captivity with a Carpet python indicates that all three species must be closely related, and should in all probability be placed in a single genus. The above indicates potential problems for the 'Darwinian' classification of 'species'.
Hybridisation and creation of 'new' species are two practices which conservationists generally condemn, for a number of reasons. However, the case cited above was probably of great benefit to Australian herpetology, and in the long term will probably assist in the conservation of Australian pythons.
Joe Bredl Senior and family for spending two days with the author when photographing reptiles at his park. The reptile keepers at Royal Melbourne Zoo for supplying information in relation to the hybridisation cited above. Len and Katrina Hoser for various assistances.
Cogger, H.G., 1986. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. A.H. and A.W. Reed, Sydney.
Hoser, R.T., 1981a. Australian Pythons (part 1), Genera Chondropython and Aspidites. Herptile, Vol. 6 (2): 10-16.
Hoser, R.T., 1981b. Australian Pythons (part 2), The smaller Liasis. Herptile, Vol . 6 (3): 13-19.
Hoser, R.T., 1981c. Australian Pythons (part 3), The larger Liasis. Herptile, Vol . 6 (4): 3-12.
Hoser, R.T., 1982. Australian Pythons (part 4), Genus Morelia and Python carinatus, followed by discussions on the taxonomy and evolution of Australasian Pythons. Herptile, Vol . 7 (2): 2-17.
McDowell, S. B., 1975. A catalogue of snakes of New Guinea and the Solomons, with special reference to those in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Part 2. Anilioidae and Pythonidae. Journal of Herpetology, Vol. 9 (l): 1-79.
Schmida, G., 1985. The Cold-Blooded Australians. Doubleday, Sydney.
Stafford, P. J., 1986. Pythons and Boas. TFH, USA.
Stull, O.G., 1935. A Checklist of the family Boidae. Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, pp. 387-408.
Photos 1 + 2. Hybrid between Carpet python Morelia spilota and Scrub Python Morelia amethistina. Snake is poised to strike and is typical behaviour of these Carpet/Scrub python hybrids. Colouration is similar to Morelia spilota, scalation is typical of Morelia amethistina. Missing scale above mouth is a congenital defect.
Photos 3 + 4. Hybrid between Carpet python Morelia spilota and Water python Liasis fuscus. Colouration is intermediate between the two species, whilst scalation is more like Liasis fuscus.
Four photos of these snakes have also been published in the book Australian Reptiles and Frogs. Click here for further details about that book.
Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 120 papers in journals worldwide. He has written seven books including the definitive works "Australian Reptiles and Frogs", "Endangered Animals of Australia" and the controversial best sellers "Smuggled - The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife", "Smuggled-2", "Victoria Police Corruption" and "Victoria Police Corruption - 2"
Papers about reptiles and frogs - over 50 papers that can be downloaded via the internet.
Australian Reptiles and Frogs - The Definitive book on the subject.
Australian Smuggling and Wildlife Crime Site
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