AppearanceAfrica’s largest snake species and one of the world's largest, the typical African rock python adult measures 4.8 m . Rumors of specimens over 6 m are considered reliable, although larger specimens have never been confirmed. Weights are reportedly in the range of 44 to 55 kg , with a few weighing 91 kg or more. One specimen, reportedly 7 m in length, was killed by K. H. Kroft in 1958 and was claimed to have had a 1.5 m juvenile Nile crocodile in its stomach.
The snake varies considerably in body size between different areas. In general, it is smaller in highly populated regions, such as in southern Nigeria, only reaching its maximum length in areas such as Sierra Leone, where the human population density is lower. Males are typically smaller than females.
The African rock python's body is thick and covered with colored blotches, often joining up in a broad, irregular stripe. Body markings vary between brown, olive, chestnut, and yellow, but fade to white on the underside. The head is triangular and is marked on top with a dark brown “spear-head” outlined in buffy yellow. Teeth are many, sharp, and backwardly curved. Under the eye, there is a distinctive triangular marking, the subocular mark. Like all pythons, the scales of the African rock python are small and smooth. Those around the lips possess heat-sensitive pits, which are used to detect warm-blooded prey, even in the dark. Pythons also possess two functioning lungs, unlike more advanced snakes which have only one, and also have small, visible pelvic spurs, believed to be the vestiges of hind limbs.
The southern subspecies is distinguished by its smaller size , smaller scales on top of the head and a smaller or absent subocular mark.
Adult female, northern subspecies. Note the thick body. Juvenile, southern subspecies. Note the small shields on the top of the head and the comparatively reduced markings on the side of the head. Head of northern subspecies. Note the big shields on the top of the head.
NamingThe African rock python is one of seven species in the genus ''Python'', a genus of large constricting snakes found in the moist tropics of Asia and Africa. The African rock python is divided into two subspecies, ''Python sebae sebae'' and ''Python sebae natalensis'' . Some consider the more southerly population of this snake to be a separate species, ''Python natalensis'', while others consider this form to be a subspecies.
''Python sebae'' was first described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin, a German naturalist, in 1788. Therefore he is also the author of the nominate subspecies ''P. s. sebae''. The southern subspecies was first identified by Sir Andrew Smith, the father of South African zoology, in 1833.
''Python'' is a Greek word referring to the enormous serpent at Delphi slain by Apollo in Greek Mythology. ''Sebae'' is a Latinization of Dutch zoologist, Albertus Seba. ''Natalensis'' refers to the Natal region of South Africa. Common name usage varies with both the species and northern subspecies referred to as African rock python or simply rock python. The Southern African rock python is sometimes referred to as the Natal rock python or the African python.''
StatusPeople are often fearful of large pythons and may kill them on sight. The African rock python may also be threatened by hunting for food and leather in some areas. It is also collected for the pet trade, although it is not generally recommended as a pet due to its large size and unpredictable temperament. Little information is available on levels of international trade in this species.
Some of the African rock python’s habitats are also known to be under threat. For example, mangrove and rainforest habitats and their snake communities are under serious threat in south-eastern Nigeria from habitat destruction and exploration for the oil industry.
The African rock python is still relatively common in many regions across Africa and may adapt to disturbed habitats, provided that abundant food is available. It is not currently considered at risk of extinction, but is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species , meaning international trade in African rock pythons should be carefully monitored and controlled, giving wild populations some protection from over-collection for pets and skins. The species is also likely to occur in a number of protected areas, such as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, a World Heritage Site.
In the Florida Everglades, where the African rock python is an invasive species and posing a threat to indigenous wildlife, it has no protected status and is one of the species listed on a hunting program recently authorized by state officials to eradicate non-native reptiles, the others being the Burmese python, reticulated python, green anaconda, and Nile monitor.
HabitatThe African rock python inhabits a wide range of habitats, including forest, savanna, grassland, semi-desert, and rocky areas. It is particularly associated with areas of permanent water and is found on the edges of swamps, lakes and rivers. The snake also readily adapts to disturbed habitats and so is often found around human habitation, especially cane fields.
Rock python habitatsNorthern subspecies, Senegal National Park Southern subspecies, edge of the Cuando River, Botswana Southern subspecies in the wild
ReproductionReproduction occurs in the spring. African rock pythons are oviparious, laying between 20 and 100 hard-shelled, elongated eggs in an old animal burrow, termite mound or cave. The female shows a surprising level of maternal care, coiling around the eggs, protecting them from predators and possibly helping to incubate them, until they hatch around 90 days later. It was recently discovered in a manner unusual for snakes in general and pythons in particular that the female guards the hatchlings for up to two weeks after they hatch from their eggs in order to protect them from predators.
Hatchlings are between 45–60 cm in length and appear virtually identical to adults, except with more contrasting colors. Individuals may live for over 12 years in captivity.
Rock python egg developmentBrooding eggs Hatching Newborn
FoodLike all pythons, the African rock python is non-venomous and kills its prey by constriction. After gripping the prey, the snake coils around it, tightening its coils every time the victim breathes out. Death is thought to be caused by cardiac arrest rather than by asphyxiation or crushing. The African rock python feeds on a variety of large rodents, monkeys, warthog, antelopes, fruit bats, monitor lizards and even crocodiles in forest areas, and on rats, poultry, dogs and goats in suburban areas. Other Predators such as the Big Cats may fall to snake prey. However, the encounter in this circumstance are very rare and there will always target their cubs since a group of them can drive the snake off.
Rock python feeding behaviorConstricting a pregnant goat Stretching to consume an antelope
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