Python bivittatus

Burmese Python Python bivittatus bivittatus Hong Kong Ngu Larm
Burmese Python in Hong Kong (© Kevin Caldwell)

English name: Burmese Python
Scientific name: Python bivittatus (formerly Python molurus bivittatus)
Thai name: งูหลาม (Ngu Larm)

Description: To 820cm long. The second largest snake in Asia and one of the five largest snakes in the world. The body is yellowish-brown above fading into grayish-brown on the lower sides with large brown blotches lining both the top and sides. The head has a large dark arrow-shaped marking on the top with a light line in the middle and thick tan lines bordering each side, as well as both pale and dark brown lines extending down and back from the eye.

Similar Species: The Reticulated Python doesn’t have an arrow marking on the top of its head and has the “reticulated” pattern of intertwined yellow, brown, and black on its body rather than simple brown blotches.
Eastern Russell’s Viper is smaller, has rough scales, and a stout head with multiple blotches rather than a single arrow. Never touch a snake unless you are absolutely certain of its identification.

Range: Found from the Nepal/Bhutan border east to Vietnam and south to most of Thailand outside of the southern peninsula. Populations also exist on Java and some of the surrounding islands.

Habitat: Found in grassland, scrubland, woodland, and swamps. Is comfortable both in trees and in the water, though larger adults spend more time on the ground as they grow. Does not adapt to urban areas as well as the Reticulated Python and is not usually found within the city of Bangkok itself.

Place in the ecosystem: Helps control rodent populations by eating rats and mice. Adult specimens can consume larger mammals, monitors, and birds. Young pythons are eaten by monitors and large birds of prey.

Danger to humans: Though lacking venom, size alone can make the Burmese Python a threat to humans. Even the younger ones inflict a nasty bite with their large mouths and long teeth, and larger pythons can constrict and potentially suffocate a smaller person. Care should be taken when going near a large python, and pythons over two meters long should not be handled except by those experienced with large snakes (preferably a team of at least two for any snake over three to four meters long). This being said, pythons rarely attack humans and very few fatalities have been credibly reported.

Conservation status and threats: Habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, and hunting for meat, folk medicine, and skins have led the Burmese Python to be considered a Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES. The Burmese Python is rare in the Bangkok area.

In areas where large carnivores like the tiger have vanished, Burmese Pythons may be the last apex predator remaining. Unfortunately, it is still common for people to kill these incredible snakes out of fear or to protect domestic animals. This is lamentable, and some actions are being undertaken to educate people on coexisting with these creatures, though far more work needs to be done.

Interesting facts: Like other pythons, the Burmese Python has heat receptors under certain facial scales that allow it to sense warm-blooded prey, even in the dark.

The Burmese Python is a macrostomatan (‘big-mouthed’) snake that can separate its loosely attached jaws to swallow food 4-5 times larger in diameter than its own head.

Snakes of Taiwan: Python bivittatus bivittatus
Wikipedia: Burmese Python
USGS: Python molurus bivittatus
National Geographic: Burmese Python
Digimorph: Python molurus, Burmese Python
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Snakes of South Vietnam
Snakes of Thailand and their Husbandry