Burmese Python, Python molurus bivittatus
Length: max: 7m (23 ft); avg: 5m (16.5ft)

These reptiles are brown in color, marked with a network of broad cream to buff bands bordered with black. There is a complete dark arrow on top of the head.

Found in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Indo-China, and western Indonesia, the Burmese or Indian Python prefers forested areas, particularly near water and rocky escarpments. Mainly nocturnal, they climb and swim well and often submerge in water. Becoming remarkably tame in captivity, they are perhaps the most popular of the larger boids.

A young specimen can be kept in a small terrarium, but it will soon outgrow this. Unless you have space for a larger terraria, you should not start with this species (unless you decide to allow your python to have free range in your home, as I do). Females and males should be kept separately outside the breeding season. Feed small specimens on mice/rats, larger ones on rabbits/chickens.

This species probably breeds more readily in captivity than any other boid. The female lays 25-60 eggs and coils around them for incubation. The best results occur if the female is allowed to brood naturally rather than attempting artificial incubation. The young, each about 70cm (28in) in length, hatch in about 60 days. Albino and pied specimens are becoming quite common, and some experts are entering into the realm of reptilian color breeding with this species.

I just today met my first example of this species. His name is Corn Pops, because he's an albino python. In these snakes' case, albino means they're a lovely set of shades ranging from pale yellow to white. Their eyes are pale gold. Apparently, albino pythons cannot survive in the wild because their odd coloration makes it difficult if not impossible to sneak up on food, or to ambush it.

Corn Pops is a four-year-old. Burmese Pythons live approximately 20 years. He's already 7.5 feet long (2.4 meters?) and weighs something near 10 kilos, perhaps a touch more. Since he has been raised in captivity at an animal outreach program, he is handled by humans nearly every day and as a result is quite calm and accepting of such treatment. In fact, humans are quite popular with Burmese Pythons as we are the equivalent of 'self-warming trees' - an attractive nap spot for an ectothermic arboreal hunter.

Some fascinating bits about Corn Pops and his ilk. For one, they're just beautiful. Go find one if you don't believe me. For two, their scales vary quite widely in size and shape over their body. The variations are in practical patterns; for example, on his underside, CP has a series of much larger scales that are laid out transverse to his spine. When he climbs (trees, people, rocks, what-have-you) he can flex these scales out to 'dig in' and provide a better grip.

Near his cloaca, CP has another curious feature - a pair of very small horned feet! Since his kind evolved from lizards, it is thought, these would appear to be the vestigial remnants of his back legs. Although they appear just as a set of small claws on his underside, if you examine dissected pythons (or X-rays of them) you will in fact find that they are attached to a small set of leg and hip bones beneath the skin.

Other adaptations for underground life abound. CP has no ears; rather, he has a pair of small vibratory bones in the sides of his head, behind a smooth membrane. In addition to his eyes, which are useful for close-range hunting, he sports a set of (I believe four) heat-sensitive organs on his snout. With these, he can determine the difference in temperature between a potential meal and the background. Some snakes have been measured as able to distinguish between objects whose temperature varies by as little as 0.003 degrees Celsius.

The tongue is classic snake-tongue; forked, lithe, quick. Corn Pops uses the tongue mostly to smell with. He has Organs of Langerhans (I think that's the name) on the bottom of the tongue at the end, which (when waved through the air) perform nearly exactly the same function as our nasal passages - they detect odors. Again, fantastically sensitive; snakes, it is thought, can tell the difference between individual humans just by 'tasting' the air around them.

Finally, a quick note on playing with him. I was gracefully draped by 7.5 feet of python upon expressing my desire to meet him. Although he gripped me reflexively to prevent himself falling, he was quite gentle. Mostly, he was curious - after he'd spent perhaps ten minutes trying to maximize his contact with my bare skin. This may be one of the things that panics non-herp-familiar folks; my bare skin was to be found around my neck and at my wrists. His coiling there could easily be mistaken for a choking attack or binding action; in fact, it was neither. He just liked warming himself there. For a moment or two, as he figured out how to best coil, he remained curled almost entirely around the top of my head, a pale gold turban with a swaying snout.

CP eats defrosted frozen rats around every two weeks. It is quite normal for his kind to go a month without food. They are most efficient; they will digest the bones and meat of their prey, passing only the hair and perhaps claws through their alimentary canal untouched. In order to swallow said rats, this creature can perform two amazing contortionist tricks. First, he can 'unhook' his lower jaw, leaving it connected to the upper merely by a longish stretch of cartilage. Second, he can actually widen his head by unfolding 'kinks' in his skull that run down the length of it, at the middle of the snout and below. These two tricks allow him to regularly snack on animals perhaps three times the diameter of his head, and swallow them whole (snakes don't chew).

Finally, unlike the feared snakes of literature, CP doesn't have fangs. He has a large number of small, uniform teeth, which help him to grip his meal as he ingests it, but that's all. As a constrictor, he doesn't have a poison gland at all, relying on hunting and muscle strength to subdue his prey.

Besides being gorgeous, he's really quite friendly, and actually cute. I had a quick sit down with him on me, and as soon as I was seated comfortably, he draped himself around the hollows of my collarbones, stuck his snout in my ear once (snake tongues TICKLE) and then tucked his head under a coil, apparently happy to nap on Warm Human.

The problem with keeping them is that they will eventually reach six or seven meters in length, at which point if they did happen to panic, or otherwise lose it, they could probably do quite a good job of taking on and noshing on adult jaguars. Adult humans would stand even less of a chance.

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