2 April, 2023
Beautiful pythons - Love them and leave them alone
ABOUT half of the world’s 25 species of pythons live in Australia and most of them occur in Queensland. Here in northern Queensland, we have six species including the largest and maybe the most beautiful.
This family of snakes are non-venomous but with long recurved teeth for grasping, and muscular bodies for constricting prey.
The most familiar in northern Queensland is surely the Carpet Python, a species that does occur occasionally in houses and sheds across the region.
These well patterned animals are usually busy keeping rats and mice under control which is why they sometimes enter human habitation. They also will use roofs and ceilings as a place to shed their skins during regular moults.
The variety that occurs in rainforests has a dif-ferent brighter colour pattern and is usually known as the Jungle Python. These are largely arboreal and will seek their prey in the upper canopy of the forests but will also come to ground to hunt.
Large Carpet Pythons may be 3m or more in length and quite capable of eating medium sized mammals – bandicoots, bettongs, rats and mice, possums, gliders (and feral cats or small dogs) as well as roosting birds (including backyard chooks). In our region hen enclosures need to be well wired to exclude pythons as it seems roosting hens and eggs are very tasty to snakes also.
The largest Australian python is the beautiful Amethyst Python, usually found in rainforests, and with an iridescent sheen to the scale colours.
This species is able to eat larger mammals in-cluding wallabies, pademelons and tree-kangaroos and grows to 5m long, sometimes more although large specimens are rarely seen today.
Skilful climbers, they occasionally also enter buildings in search of prey, but are more common-ly encountered basking in a sunny spot in rainfor-ests or seeking prey – mostly at night. Sadly they are occasionally killed crossing roads.
Most pythons have infra-red heat-sensing pits along their lips and some are capable of sensing tiny differences in temperature. This is a particularly useful tool for hunting the usual python prey of mammals and birds.
Some species are ambush predators who wait patiently for an unsuspecting small mammal to pass within striking range.
Two of our Australian pythons do not have such sensory pits and it is surely no coincidence that these two species mainly feed on other reptiles rather than birds or mammals.
One is the well-known Black-headed Python, a distinctive and attractive resident throughout the region, apart from the rainforests.
With well-banded body colour and a pitch black head and neck, this is an easily recognised species. They are relatively slow-moving and entirely terrestrial snakes and some are killed along our roads each year.
Pythons lay eggs and unlike other snakes dis-play strong maternal behaviour, the female coiling her body around a clutch of eggs to guard them until they hatch. As to the most beautiful python, most people might identify the small Green Python, a resident of rainforests in the Iron Range and McIlwraith Range areas of Cape York Peninsula.
This arboreal species is a brilliant green colour as an adult but the juvenile is a bright yellow, perhaps even more beautiful to the human eye.
All our pythons are handsome, well adapted to their habitat and should be enjoyed when we encounter them and protected from harm.
Peter Valentine is an adjunct Professor at James Cook University and he has spent much of the past 40 years studying wildlife in northern Queensland.