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Reticulated Python Natural History – a Giant Snake in Wild and Urban Habitats

Reticulated PythonThe massive Reticulated Python, Broghammerus (formerly Python) reticulatus is one of the world’s best known snakes, and always the main attraction at zoo reptile houses.  It is also widely bred in private collections, although such is ill-advised given the potential dangers inherent in keeping such a formidable beast (even after decades in captivity, most retain their irascible temperament).  Today I’d like to explore a lesser known side of this impressive snake – its habits in nature, and its amazing ability to thrive even in large, crowded cities.

Description

The Reticulated Python, or “Retic” as it is known to herp enthusiasts, vies with the Green Anaconda for title of world’s longest snake  (an Anaconda would be twice as heavy as a Retic of the same length, however).  Stories abound as to its potential size, but the longest reliable measurement appears to be 32 feet, 9 inches; individuals longer than 23 feet are exceedingly rare.

I was on hand to unpack a much-touted giant that was collected in Java and eventually purchased by the Bronx Zoo.  While impressive, she measured a “mere” 21 feet…but was, I learned, far more powerful than any captive of the same size!

The background color is yellowish-tan, marked with an intricate, lattice-like (“reticulated”) pattern of black blotches and oval markings.  Although striking when viewed up close, these markings provide excellent camouflage by disrupting the snake’s outline among fallen leaves and shadows.

Range

This snake occupies a huge range that extends throughout much of east and Southeast Asia, including many adjacent islands.  It may be found in India, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and is capable of crossing stretches of open ocean to colonize islands.

Three subspecies have been described – Broghammerus reticulatus reticulatus, found throughout most of the range, B. r. saputrai, limited to Selayer Island in the Flores Sea and B. r. jampeanus, found only on Tamahjampea Island, Indonesia.  The 2 island races are much smaller than the nominate subspecies, and are becoming well-established in the pet trade.

Habitat

Despite its massive size, the Reticulated Python is extremely adaptable and occupies a wide variety of habitats; a nearby source of water is common to most.  Woodlands, rainforests, brushy grasslands, overgrown fields, swamps, riversides, farms and towns are all utilized, and it is established in several large cities, including Bangkok and Singapore.

Status

The range is expanding in some places due to human activities; Retics may establish new populations in agricultural and urban areas, where they prey upon rodents and domestic animals.

However, it is also heavily utilized in the skin trade and for food in some parts of the range…from 2000-2007 Malaysia and Indonesia exported over 2,600,000 wild-caught snakes, and a good many more were likely unreported.  The Reticulated Python is listed on CITES Appendix II; Fortunately, it breeds well in captivity.

Longevity

Captives have survived for over 30 years; unknown in the wild.

Reproduction

Reticulated Python incubating EggsIn common with related species, the female protects her eggs and incubates them.  Female Reticulated Pythons engage in a “shivering” motion that can raise their core temperatures and the temperature of the egg clutch.

Females deposit 30-100 eggs after a gestation period of 100-150 days.  The eggs hatch in approximately 85 days. The hatchlings are 30-32 inches long-large enough to consume adult mice right away and become sexually mature at a length of approximately 10 feet.

Diet

The range of animals taken is vast and includes an astonishing variety of reptiles, mammals, amphibians and birds. Adults concentrate on large prey items such as monkeys, deer, antelope, wild pigs and monitor lizards. There are authenticated reports of sub-adult tigers, leopards and crocodiles being consumed, and people have been taken on several occasions. Domestic geese, ducks, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs and cats are on their menu around farms and in cities.

All pythons have thermo-receptive sensory pits, located along the upper jaw, that assist in locating warm-blooded animals at night. Prey is killed by constriction, with death resulting due to compression of the lungs (suffocation) and heart failure (trauma to the heart and blood vessels).

Reticulated Pythons are, along with Burmese Pythons, Green Anacondas and African Rock Pythons, the only constrictors known to have killed and, in some cases, consumed people.

Urban Pythons and Uninvited Zoo Guests

While Florida’s introduced Burmese Pythons have received much attention in recent years, the Reticulated Python actually has a far longer association with people in its natural range.  In fact, the Retic appears unique among large constrictors in its ability to adapt to human presence, with large populations having been established in the heart of Bangkok and Singapore.

On a visit to the Bronx Zoo some time ago, zookeepers from the Singapore Zoo informed me that Reticulated Pythons are a menace to zoo animals, with a 40 pound cape hunting dog having been consumed by a large female in one instance…and I thought raccoons and skunks were troublesome! Zoo employees also remove several hundred Retics from the city of Singapore each year.

Giant Meals

IbexThe appetites and eating abilities of this species have been much investigated in zoos.  Perhaps the most startling account is give by the legendary Carl Hagenbeck of the Hamburg Zoo – a 25 foot Reticulated Python consumed a 71 pound ibex (a wild goat) several days after eating 2 domestic goats of 28 and 39 pounds, for a grand total of 138 pounds of food within a few days!

The largest meal reliably documented to have been taken by this (or any snake) seems to be a 130 pound impala antelope; this reported by James Oliver of the Bronx Zoo.  The species’ most elegant meal may be a Siamese cat (including bells and collar) that was taken by a specimen that found its way into the palace of a former king of Siam (Thailand)!  Please see the article below for more on huge meals taken by other snakes.

Further Reading

Massive Snake Meals

Natural History and Taxonomy

Size, Habits and Recent Changes in Classification

 

 

 

 

13 comments

  1. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    Do you by any chance know of any of your colleagues with access to Brahminy blind snakes? I’ve always been fascinated by these creatures-they seem like they’d be interesting(though no doubt very secretive) captives.

    All the Best! (from Big Fisherman’s Cove Catalina island, CA)
    ~Joseph

    • avatar

      Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you; I hope all is well.

      Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone working with Brahminy Blind Snakes but they would be a great one to have in an “ant farm” type enclosure. Seems they always show up accidentally here…I came across some years ago when truckloads of trees and were being delivered to the Bx Zoo from Fla for a new building…hothouses in Florida seem to be the place for them…

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Morning Frank,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your article on reticulated pythons but do have a question. You mentioned twice in this article that they consumed people? I do not dispute that they have killed people but have found no documented instances of them consuming a human. I’ve been told that the snakes physiology restrictions and the fact that they consume prey head first prevents them from swallowing past the shoulders of humans? In the continental US, over the ten year period covered only eight instances were reported of human fatalities from non-venomous constrictor snakes. Most of those fatalities were due entirely from careless handling of mostly large Burmese and a couple retics. I could find not one instance of documented consumption of humans by reticulated pythons or any other large snake.

    If you can furnish this information contrary to what I have found, I’d like to know.

    Thanks for the otherwise great presentation of this wonderful reptile.

    H.J. Lewis

    La ARK

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest and the kind words, much appreciated. No instances in the US that I know of. Those I have in mind were garnered over the years while perusing old issues of Copeia, Herpetologica and Herpetological Review; I was fortunate to have access to all issues dating back to the founding of each journal during my years at the Bronx Zoo. Unfortunately, these journals are not accessible on line, except for occasional articles, and I did not record notes as I read. The instances were well-documented, however, as is necessary for inclusion in those journals (as I’m sure you know, you can ignore much of what you may read on the net about supposed predation, etc.). African Rock Pythons have consumed people as well, Green Anacondas likely; 1 instance (a toddler) supposedly occurred the week prior to my arrival in Apure, Venezuela, but I and co-workers were on a project deadline and could not follow up). The oft-quoted shoulder rule really depends on the size of the individual…i.e. I observed a Green Anaconda regurgitate an 80 pound white tailed deer that was wider than a good many people.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Just to let you know, retic eggs take longer than 60 days to hatch, it take between 84-88 days. Also length does not determine sexual maturity in retics, age does. Males can breed as early as 18 months of age, and females as early as 3 years, but most females breed at 4+ years.

    • avatar

      Hello Jesus, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. The incubation time reference is a typo; thanks very much for alerting me.

      As for sexual maturity, there is some overlap between age and size, especially as regards captive animals. The origin of the founders has an influence as well.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hey Frank,

    While I do appreciate your experience and knowledge, I still find your reply to be vague as to any admissable documentaion that any snake has ever consumed a human! Such comments as below should include specifics documenting their validity if stated. Hearsay, supposedly is not proof and second hand is second hand and totally not reliable proof. I challange you or anyone to supply proof of such statements before stating them as fact!

    “African Rock Pythons have consumed people as well, Green Anacondas likely; 1 instance (a toddler) supposedly occurred……..”

    The deer or antilope that you speak of regardless of their weight being consumed as proof that a human can be consumed by the same snake I disagree with. Deer and other long necked animals with graduated head, neck and shoulders is a very different anatomy than humans. I’ve observed larger birds and mammals being killed and atempted to be consumed by and then halfway swollowed to be regurgated by snakes. I still find it unlikely that humans could be swollowed given the jaw structure of snakes and the larger head, smaller short neck and wide shoulders of the human anatomy!
    Guess this would be a great study to undertake and make for a wonderful publication somewhere! LOL

    Later gator,
    H.J.

  5. avatar

    Nice article frank!
    here is a video i saw recently about there retics size

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53bZE50TuBc

    • avatar

      Hello Mike, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the link. That was a very impressive snake (she died awhile back at the Columbus Zoo). Unfortunately, the way the keepers were handling her – head unrestrained and even out of view – reinforces the dangerous notion that these animals can be treated as pets, as one would a well-trained dog; very surprising to see that being done by staff at a well-known zoo.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    I would have to disagree a little with you there Frank. Grabbing a large powerfull snake by the head or trying to restrain it is a good way to get bitten, or worst, constricted. I have owned some nasty retics and if they weren’t small enough for me to hold them by the head safely, they were lead into a holding container. I own a 18 foot, 145lb. female amel tiger retic and I never have to restrain her or her head. Even though she is of a “gentle” temperment, i still keep her head away from me when I handle her.

    • avatar

      Hello Jesus, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad things have worked out well for you and of course the opinions you express are held by a great many experienced owners. However, over the course of my career I’ve responded to far too many serious injuries and fatalities (I was on call – NYPD and nearby police dept’s – for decades; worked with zoos here and abroad in developing safety protocols, etc.) to have any doubts on this subject; colleagues worldwide have as many such experiences as I.

      As you know, there is no way to keep a large snake’s head away from you if the head is not restricted; if it tries to bite, you will be bitten. Keeping an animal calm by guiding it into a container as you describe is a sensible idea that usually works well…handling an animal as shown on the zoo footage, where at one point the head was behind an individual and not visible, is not.

      I wish you well in your endeavors.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Awesome article!I have 2 albino type II males and 2 tiger females and an albino tiger females.Always made me feel blessed to live with with those giant creatures.

    Thanks for the nice detailed article.

    Best regards from shitty communists ruled beautiful mainland China.

    • avatar

      Hello Noel,

      I appreciate the kind words, thank you. Glad to see you are interested in their natural history, many folks seem to bypass that. I imagine you have a good deal of room?! Best regards, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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