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Interesting Facts About the African Rock Python

Sucheta Pradhan
The African rock python is known for its huge size and aggressive behavior. Here are some interesting facts about this vicious reptile.

Quick Fact

The African rock python is known to kill humans, though rarely. In 1973, the body of a Portuguese soldier was found in the snake's stomach.
The African rock python, Python sebae, is a huge, nonvenomous snake, belonging to the Pythonidae family. One of the seven subspecies of the genus python, the African rock python is native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is Africa's largest snake and thus, widely feared, owing to its immense size. However, reports of the reptile having killed a human are extremely rare, if any.
In 1788, a German naturalist named Johann Friedrich Gmelin, described the species for the first time ever. Later, in 1833, Sir Andrew Smith, a Scottish ethnologist and zoologist, identified a southern subspecies of Python sebae. Owing to this, there are now two subspecies of the Python sebae viz., the African rock python (Python sebae sebae) and the Southern African Rock Python (Python sebae natalensis). Here are some interesting facts about the African rock python.


➦ One of the world's largest species of snakes, and Africa's largest, the African rock python has a thick body, covered with colored markings in shades of yellow, brown, and olive.

➦ Known for their aggressive behavior, adult pythons grow to about 16 to 23 ft long, and can weigh between 120 to 190 lbs.
➦ Interestingly, the size of these snakes vary from region to region. They are often found to be smaller in densely populated areas, such as southern Nigeria, than in sparsely populated ones, such as Sierra Leone.

➦ Like most reptiles, the females are larger than males.

➦ The African rock python has a triangular head with a peculiar V-shaped mark outlined in a yellowish shade.

➦ It does not have fangs, but bears numerous teeth, which are curved inwards.
➦ Distinctive subocular marks, triangular in shape, that form the eye margins, are located under each of the two eyes.

➦ Scales are smooth and small. The lips have small pits, which are heat-sensitive. These enable the snakes to detect any warm-blooded prey in their vicinity.

➦ African rock pythons possess a pair of lungs, and a set of pelvic spurs, which are visible to the naked eye.

➦ The Python sebae natalensis are found to be smaller in size than the Python sebae sebae.

Distribution and Habitat

➦ The African rock python is found all over sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in Senegal, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Namibia.

Python sebae sebae is found more in the countries of Central and Western Africa.
➦ On the other hand, Python sebae natalensis is found in the southern part of Africa, from Kenya to South Africa.

➦ The python is known to inhabit a number of habitats that range from grasslands to forests, to rocky areas, and semi-deserts.
➦ The reptile is predominantly found to be residing near water sources, such as rivers and lakes.

➦ Adaptability to new habitats is not an issue for the African rock python. This is precisely the reason why it is also suspected to be an invasive species in the Florida Everglades.

➦ It may also be found, at times, near areas inhabited by humans.

Breeding and Reproduction

➦ These cold-blooded reptiles are oviparous in nature, meaning that they lay eggs in order to give birth to their young ones.
➦ Their breeding season is in spring, and the females lay between 20 to 100 eggs.

➦ The elongated eggs bear hard shells, and are laid in old burrows of animals, caves, or termite mounds.
➦ The incubation period is about 90 days, and the females care for the eggs through this period by coiling themselves around the clutch. This way, the eggs remain protected from predators.

➦ The hatchlings that come out of the eggs after they hatch, are about 50 cm long, and resemble their parents, except for the more vividly contrasting colors.

Feeding Habits, Prey and Predators

➦ Though nonvenomous, African rock pythons are carnivores. They hunt their prey by first coiling around it, and then squeezing and suffocating it to death. Most victims are thought to die of cardiac arrest.

➦ They swallow the entire animal, head first.

➦ The python's stomach bears very strong acids, which aid in the digestion of food. It does not chew its prey, just swallows it.
➦ Common animals which are preyed upon by the African rock python include deer, pigs, monkeys, birds, large rodents, antelopes, warthogs, fruit bats, crocodiles, and monitor lizards.

➦ After consuming a large animal, the python can go without food for several weeks. It rests during this time, as the food slowly and steadily gets digested. In this state, the reptile is most vulnerable to attacks of its predators, such as wild dogs, mongooses, and hyenas.

Interaction with Humans

➦ Humans are known to kill African rock pythons, especially for their skin, that is used for making good quality leather. In Africa, these reptiles are also hunted for their meat.

➦ Their fat is thought to possess medicinal qualities, and is used widely in African folk medicine.
➦ Owing to their aggressive nature, there have been instances, although rare, of these reptiles having attacked humans. The most recent incident happened in South Africa in 2002, when the python swallowed a 10-year-old child.
Though the African rock python is not one of the threatened species of the world, its population has been declining since the recent past, primarily due to hunting and loss of habitat. However, the trade of the reptile is being monitored and controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), thus imparting protection to its population to some extent.