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Reptile Center Survival Guide

Snake Bytes: Pythons


The Dangerous, Beautiful Python


If you’re looking for the classic snake, the python is probably it. It's big, it can squeeze you to death, and it's pretty darn cool.


Pythons are found throughout the world, including parts of Africa and Asia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and even in the Florida Everglades in the U.S. They are among the largest snakes in the world, ranging in size from 1.5 feet long to around 30 feet long!


Pythons belong to the family of Old World boa constrictors, which prey on live animals and use their strong muscles to wrap around their intended meal, squeezing the air out of the victim until it is dead and then swallowing it whole. An awesome spectacle of nature, pythons have heat-sensing organs that allow them to locate prey even in complete darkness. It's scary, but you have to admit, pretty impressive.


As an Old World family of snakes, pythons have evolved and taken up different physical characteristics over time. They have teeth to grip their prey with, and can be found in a variety of colors, ranging from dark brown to bright emerald green. But because pythons are non-venomous, they rely on their strong muscles to kill their prey.


Despite all these intimidating characteristics, maybe even because of them, there are people who like to keep pythons as pets.


Unfortunately, what many pet owners do not realize is that it takes a strong constitution to live with a snake of this heft. Pythons are very well known for the damage they can leave behind when left unchecked. They have been known to crush grown adults, unguarded children, and family pets. (Some pythons will attempt even larger prey -- one in the Florida Everglades attempted to eat a full grown alligator and subsequently died.)


Anyone considering bringing a python into their home needs to seriously consider the serious responsibility of being knowledgeable and cautious with an animal such as this.


In the wild, pythons do not usually attack people unless provoked. So don’t tease any pythons you happen to come into acquaintance with. However, if you know there are pythons nearby, it is a good idea to keep an eye on small children and pets, as they can look appetizing to a hungry python. You should be especially vigilant during droughts and floods, as they may become desperate for food and roam to new hunting territories.


That said, pythons are best suited for those who are used to owning snakes and who know how to take safeguards against the snake's escape. Pythons are definitely not recommended as a first pet, or as a second pet, for that matter. If you really want a snake for a pet, do your research first, and start with a smaller, more benign snake that is limited in how large it can grow and that is easy to contain (perhaps a corn snake).


However, if you should find yourself in the company of a python, perhaps the pet of a friend, always treat it with respect and keep in mind that it is much stronger than you. And never hold a python without having someone else around to lend assistance. It could save your life.

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