Special Sub-Topic: Perusing Pythons
|Though invasive species can now be found in the Everglades, in which three continents are pythons (members of the family Pythonidae) found in the wild? |
Africa, Asia and Australia. Python is actually a genus, which describes 17 species of snake. This genus is part of the Pythonidae family, which describes a further 9 species. (A python is defined as any member of the Pythonidae family).
A number of Burmese pythons (a sub-species of the Indian python) can now be found in the Everglades. These are believed to have escaped from animal homes which were damaged by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, though most are believed to have been abandoned in the wetlands by exotic animal keepers. The booming numbers of these large constrictors is worrying the Floridians, as many rare creatures (as well as pets) are being killed.
|Pythons are held as some of the most dangerous snakes on earth, but are often confused with anacondas. Which of these is *not* a difference between pythons and anacondas? |
Pythons suffocate their prey, anacondas crush them. Both pythons and anacondas are constrictors, but neither crushes their prey to death. Instead, they apply constant pressure, which causes either death by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.
Whilst pythons belong to the Pythonidae family, anacondas are boas and so belong to the Boidae family. Anacondas (made up of three species - green, yellow and dark spotted) are more adapted to life in water, and this can be seen in their eyes, which are located on the tops of their heads.
|The reticulated python is the longest snake in the world. TRUE or FALSE, this huge snake has the same number of vertebrae as a human (33), but each bone is elongated.|
f. Snakes do not have a fixed number of vertebrae, but the number can reach over 300 in some species!
The giraffe has the same number of neck vertebrae as a human (7), but each bone is extremely elongated. If this quality was also present in pythons, the snakes would be nowhere near as agile as they are.
|Pythons, like many large constrictors, possess vestigial hind limbs. Whilst these "spurs" serve no purpose in locomotion, how are they put to use by some male pythons? |
To grip females during mating. It is believed that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards around 150 million years ago.
Whilst the python can grow in excess of 20 ft, their vestigial limbs are only a few inches long, and the majority of this is made up of nail rather than bone.
|Pythons tend to travel by the rectilinear method (in straight lines) when on land, as opposed to the concertina method (s-shaped movement). Why do large pythons tend not to use the concertina method? |
They are too heavy. The rectilinear method involves the contraction of certain rib muscles, which act to drag the large snake along on its belly. As a result, the scales on the underside of the python are broad and extra tough.
The rectilinear method is actually the slowest form of locomotion in snakes. Nevertheless, and despite the hindrance of having no limbs, pythons are very mobile.
|Pythons are unable to chew their food, and so swallow prey whole. Which of these methods is most commonly demonstrated to help a python to swallow large prey?|
An extra set of upper teeth "walk" along the prey. Pythons possess two sets of upper jaws. Both left and right sides of each jaw can move independently of each other, and so can literally walk their way along the prey.
The teeth are needle sharp and are curved inwards, thus exploiting the reaction of prey to pull away once bitten.
|It is well known that the jaws of a python can open to an astonishing size; however, large prey animals still pose a problem when it comes to breathing. How does a python combat this?|
By pushing part of the windpipe (the glottis) out as a snorkel. The left and right side of both the upper and lower jaws are not fused and so can open very wide. Moreover, an intermediate quadrate bone connects the lower jaw to the skull, meaning that the vertical span of the python's jaw is also vast. Even with these incredible adaptations, there is still no room for air to pass, and so the windpipe of the large snake is pushed out through the side of its mouth, where it acts as a snorkel. The windpipe is kept open by stiff cartilage.
|Despite the huge appetite of pythons, they are capable of going months without food.|
t. Being cold-blooded creatures, the total amount of food required by pythons is far lower than that required by mammals of a similar size, as mammals must maintain a constant body temperature using energy from food. When a large meal does come along, however, the python is very well prepared. The stomach acid of the python is incredibly strong and the intestines swell to several times their original size before receiving food. This requires a huge amount of energy and so pythons will be largely inactive for several hours/days after a large meal.
|Being such near perfect predators, it may surprise many to hear that pythons have fairly poor eyesight. They do, however, compensate for this with what some call a sixth sense. What does this sixth sense allow pythons to detect?|
Infrared rays. Most pythons have three holes (or pits) above their top lip, which are responsible for their unique heat-sensing ability. (Some python's "pits" are located on the lower jaw.)
Contrary to popular belief, snakes are not deaf; though it is true that they have no external ears. Snakes actually "hear" vibrations by laying their jaw on the ground and are able to detect sound waves as we do, though to a lesser extent.
The most effective sense possessed by a snake is its taste/smell. The tongue-flicks of snakes allow chemicals in the air to be detected by the Jacobson's organ. Also, the forked quality of a snake's tongue allows chemicals from the right to be compared with those on the left, meaning that the direction of prey can be easily determined.
|Finally, it is perhaps worth stressing once more just how physically odd pythons are. Which of these is *not* an odd anatomical feature of a python?|
They have only one kidney. The organs of pythons are hugely elongated, so as to fit them into their slim, tubular bodies. Paired organs are placed one in front of the other so as to save space.
The majority of a python's body is dedicated to muscle and fat. The fat is primarily for energy, not insulation. Females in particular have large stores of fat, as egg production requires lots of energy.
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