Pythons – Not A Danger But In Danger

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There are more than 250 species of snakes in India, and the majority of them are nonvenomous snakes. One of the most common species of non venomous snakes in India are Pythons. Even though they are very large in size, they are not harmful at all. They roam around on the ground sometimes and sometimes on trees. Burmese Pythons, Indian Rock Pythons and Reticulated Pythons are the three species found here. Because of their large size and colorful patterns, they are quite attractive. Even though people perceive them as dangerous, Pythons are generally harmless. They have very strong teeth but they contain no fang or venom. Although they could be found in all regions in the past, nowadays they can only be found in some of our forests.

Burmese Pythons

Burmese Pythons are the most common in India. Currently, they can be found in Indian subcontinents and forests. They are usually 3 to 6 meters long. The scales on their body is smaller than the scales on their heads. Brown markings on their bodies and heads create some beautiful patterns. Their bottom side is yellowish with larger scales. Their colors make them look very attractive. Their heads are triangular and their eyes are fairly large. Their mouths are wide making it easy for them to consume large prey. Their black tongues are split into two at the front which is very sensitive. Their tails are thin relative to their size. In their younger stages, they can move very fast and spend a lot of time on trees. They hang onto the branches and are sometimes completely camouflaged with the trees. But mature pythons move very slowly. While moving, they are very calm and quiet to not arouse their prey. Thy move forward by moving the scales on their bottom in the opposite direction. They stay on the ground in such a way that it is quite hard to notice them. They can sometimes be seen in coiled form. They are generally solitary animals. Thy are nocturnal and go out hunting at night. Then they spend the daytime hanging around quietly on trees. Their life span is usually 20 to 25 years.

Reticulated Pythons

Reticulated Pythons are usually very long. They are much thinner in size than Burmese Pythons. Those snakes are the longest in length in the world. They are also much more active and faster than Burmese pythons. However, only few of them are found in India’s evergreen forests. They can grow up to 9 meters in length. They are light yellow in color. There are diamond like shapes decorating their body but their patterns are like watermarks. There are black lines running from their eyes on their triangular heads. here are some heat sensitive openings under their mouth which helps them gauge the temperature of their environment. They can use these to locate their prey in the dark. Their nasal openings are fairly large and located in the middle of their head. Their tails are thin and their anal pore and sex organs can be seen near tail. Although, they are generally tame, they can attack rapidly when faced with danger. They like to live close to water bodies. They also swim underwater occasionally.

Indian Rock Pythons

Indian Rock Pythons are a bit lighter colored than Burmese and Reticulated Pythons and found in tropic and subtropic areas. They are generally not very long and grow up to 3 meters. They are also called black tailed pythons. They have whitish blotched patterns on their body with dark brown shades. They move quite slowly and rarely attack humans. They like to stay close to banks and are very good swimmers. They don’t discriminate between mammals, birds and reptiles and prey on all of them. The arrangement of teeth in their mouth is like reverse saw and it is highly unlikely, that their prey can escape from their mouth. The amazing thing about them is that they can raise their body temperature quite above the ambient level by muscular contractions for hatching their eggs. Indian Rock Pythons are classified as near threatened species.

Conservation

Pythons conjure up very scary images in people’s minds. From childhood, we are conditioned to be afraid of snakes. In books too, Pythons have been presented as something that would attack. In reality, they are very tame and non-venomous.  Pythons play an important role in maintaining environmental balance. In every ecosystem, the apex predator plays and integral role. They are at the top of their food chain and play an integral role in the food chain by feeding on lizards, rats and frogs. They don’t randomly attack humans due to their calm nature. But people’s superstitions, lack of knowledge and habitat destruction has led to these snakes being endangered. Globally, the main factor is commercial harvesting. Every year, 2 to 3 lac pythons are exported from Asia to EU and America. Many fashion brands create shoes, belts, bags etc from their skin. This exportation is going on both legally and illegally. There are python farms in some countries but in many cases, they are just capturing them from the wild. Instead of keeping them in the farms, they are being exported. Another biggest reason for their decline is habitat destruction. Our forests are being destroyed and along with them our Pythons. Also, our protected areas like National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries are just too small. In one season, a python can travel 45 kilometers. Most of our forests are not large enough for these Pythons to live and prosper ideally. We can not increase our forested areas right now. We need to ensure that these snakes are not harmed when they roam outside of our protected areas.  So, a lot of pythons roam into our tea gardens and other populated areas. Definitely, we can farm them and release them into nature. There is also a need of surveying different areas to document their current population and habitats. By this we can collect a lot of new information on their behavior and feeding habits. We need grassroots efforts to educate the masses about them and we need more research. If we can educate our future generations about these helpful animals, it will be possible to protect them.

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