The reticulated python can be found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Its range includes the Nicobar Islands; Burma across to Indochina; Borneo, Sulawesi, Ceram and Timor of the Philipines.
Reticulated pythons inhabit steamy tropical rainforests. These snakes are heavily dependent on water and can often be found near small rivers or ponds. They require tropical environments with temperatures in the range of 80 – 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
As with all snakes, reticulated pythons are strictly carnivorous. They are most productive as ambush predators, often waiting in trees for unsuspecting prey to wander within striking distance. They are also known to be active foragers, however this method of hunting is seldom used because of the amount of energy it requires. Reticulated pythons typically feeds on birds and mammals. This diet even extends to dogs, large deer, and pigs. Small snakes feed mostly on rats, but shift to larger mammals (e.g. pangolins, porcupines, monkeys, wild pigs, and mouse deer) at only 9 – 12 feet in body length. Reticulated pythons, like all reptiles, have a low metabolic rate allowing them to go without food for long periods of time. In 1926, a captive reticulated python at Regent’s Park Zoo refused food for 23 months, after which it accepted a meal and continued to feed normally there after.
Reticulated pythons can weigh up to 350 lbs. This is an extremely large snake, considered by many as the largest snake in the world (definitely the longest). Lengths of more than 16 feet are common and sizes of 25 feet or more occur regularly. The largest reticulated python maintained in captivity was at the Pittsburgh Zoo; a 28.5-foot and 320 pound female named Colossus. They are sexually dimorphic in size, as females attain larger sizes than males. The largest reticulated python ever measured which was 32 ft 9.5 inches and holds the record for the largest snake in the world according to the Guiness Book of World Records, 1991.
Sexual maturity is reached in the first 2 – 4 years. Males breed at 7 – 9 feet, while females are typically 11 feet long before they become receptive. Breeding usually takes place between the months of September – March. Females may avoid eating when they are gravid (carrying eggs). Females usually lay 25 – 80 eggs and sometimes even more, which are then maternally incubated by wrapping her body around the eggs and “shivering” to raise her body temperature. The eggs are incubated at 88-90 degrees F, for 80 – 90 days. Eggs are large in size, greater than 250 g. Female Reticulated pythons show maternal care for their offspring while incubating and protecting her eggs. Females will also defend their eggs aggressively from predators, however once the eggs hatch, they are on their own.
Reticulated pythons have a reputation of being aggressive. Because of their large size alone this animal should be given great respect. Usually a reticulated python’s aggressive behavior is a feeding response, and are not generally confrontational. Wild caught snakes have a hard time adjusting to captivity and often bite to avoid interaction; leading to the misinterpretation that this is an aggressive animal. However, those reticulated pythons that are captive-born and raised properly show no signs of aggression. As are most snakes, reticulated pythons are solitary creatures.
Reticulated pythons are long-lived snakes. Accounts of specimens living to 25 years old are commonplace in captivity.
IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
Sadly, hundreds of thousands of reticulated pythons are captured from the wild to be killed for their skins each year, raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of this species. These animals also fall victim to the Asian ritual of blood drinking and gall bladder removal. When encountered in its natural state by humans this snake is almost always killed. Rapid growth rate, early maturation and high fecundity give hope to the long-term survival of this species.
An interesting fact about this snake is its ability to consume large artiodactyls, even those with antlers. If the antlers are small enough they are simply ingested and digested, however if they are too large the snake can actually break them back to lie along the body allowing them to be swallowed when the animal is consumed. It has been reported that these animals are sometimes swallowed hind quarters first (rarely) and that when the snake works its way to the antlers, it stops, and allows its digestive acids to breakdown the animal’s flesh until the antlers actually become weak and drop off.
Mexico, T. 2000. “Python reticulatus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 12, 2006 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Python_reticulatus.html.