Pythons are a type of non-venomous snake found in Asia, Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa. One of the largest species of snake, pythons are most well-known for the way they kill their prey- by slowly squeezing it to death before swallowing it whole.
Pythons are large, long and muscular. They can reach as long as 35 feet and weigh as much as 300 pounds. Different types of python have different markings, but generally, pythons are shades of brown and olive with white underbellies.
Pythons are often confused with boa constrictors, who kill their prey in a similar manner. However, pythons have more bones and teeth than boa constrictors.
Pythons are notorious for slowly squeezing their live prey to death. They typically eat small mammals, such as mice, but pythons have been known to kill and eat much larger animals, such as pigs and cats.
To kill their prey, they first swiftly grab a live animal with their teeth, and then begin to wrap their body around the animal. This is called called constriction. The python stops the constriction process when the animal has suffocated, before its bones are crushed. The python then unhinges its jaw and begins to swallow its prey, generally head-first. Muscles within the snake's body work to push the food down the length of the body and digest the animal.
There are several types of python. The reticulated python, found in Southeast Asia, can reach up to 33 feet in length. The Indian python is often used by snake handlers and charmers to preform tricks. The royal python (also called the ball python), native to central Africa, can curl itself up into a ball. Finally, the diamond python is a large variety of yellow-and-black constricting snake native to Australia, so named for the diamond-shaped markings on its back.
Because pythons are bulky snakes, they don't move in a sideways s-shaped motion like some smaller snakes do. Instead, the python moves using a pattern called "rectilinear progression." To move forward, the snake stiffens its ribs and the scales on its underbelly, which work to propel the snake forward.
Pythons move at a rate of about 1 mile per hour, which makes them at risk for predators- namely, large birds of prey, such as eagles, and large cats, like lions and leopards.
Pythons as Pets
Pythons can be kept in captivity as pets, though there is some controversy surrounding this, and certain types of python are safer to keep than others. Docile ball pythons are generally considered easy snakes for beginners to care for, and can live more than 20 years. Other types of python are generally not recommended as personal pets, as they can be dangerous.
In July 2009, a 2-year-old child in Florida was strangled to death by her parents' pet python while napping in her crib. The Humane Society reports that as of 2009, at least 12 people have been killed in the by pet pythons in the United States. Five of these deaths have been children.