Overview

Distribution

Continent: Asia
Distribution: S Nepal, India (Arunachal Pradesh (Miao - Changlang district, Itanagar – Papum Pare district) [A. Captain, pers. Comm.]), Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, S China (S Yunnan east to Fujian, incl. Hainan and Hong Kong; Sichuan, Guangxi, Guangdong), Indonesia (Java, Bali).  progschai: Sulawesi;
Type locality: SW Sulawesi. Diagnosis: see Jacobs et al. 2009.  
Type locality: Java (designated by MERTENS 1930)
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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Range Description

This species occurs from India, where it has a very disjunct distribution and is known from only two small, isolated areas in the northeast, through Nepal to Indonesia and China (including Hainan). It is absent from Peninsular Malaysia, with a southern limit to its distribution in mainland Asia of Surat Thani in Thailand (M. Auliya and T. Chan-ard pers. comm. September 2011). This snake is absent from Borneo and Sumatra; Borneo has traditionally been included (erroneously) in the species' distribution based on a record of skins from a port in East Kalimantan (M. Auliya pers. comm. September 2011). In Indonesia it has only been confirmed from Java, Nusa Barung, Bali, Sumbawa, and possibly also Lombok, as well as in south Sulawesi (M. Auliya September 2011). It is absent from the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. Whitaker and Captain (2004) report it from Nepal and Bangladesh. As Python molurus, the species has been reported from between 10 and 4,050 m asl.

The species is also introduced and established in the wild in southern Florida, USA via the pet trade (Snow et al. 2007), where it has had detrimental impacts on native fauna, and has recently been blamed for localized declines of up to 99% in encounter rates of several common native mammal species since 2000 in some parts of the Everglades National Park, as well as the apparent loss of introduced rabbits and foxes from these sites (Dorcas et al. 2012).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Burmese Python is mostly found in forested areas, including mangrove forests and rainforests, but is also found in grasslands, marshes, streams and rivers, including the Tonle Sap wetland in Cambodia. It is found in wet rocky areas near streams and pools, large rotting logs, large burrows, caves, crevices and old and ruined structures. It has been found inside villages, outside houses, in Cambodia (T. Neang pers. comm. August 2011). It is a good climber and an expert swimmer. It is more nocturnal than diurnal. It feeds on small to large mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, preferring to mostly feed on mammals. Breeding occurs in India between December to February after which larger females lay between 80-100 eggs in the months of March and June (Daniel 2002, Whitaker and Captain 2004). Gestation in captivity lasts four months, and eggs have an incubation period of 60 days (Reed and Rodda 2009). In common with almost all snakes, the species reproduces sexually. Exceptionally, however, a female in captivity isolated from males produced viable eggs in five consecutive years; genetic evidence confirmed that the offspring were genetically identical to the mother, making the Burmese Python the only boid snake known to exhibit parthenogenesis (Groot et al. 2003). The snake is unusually cold-tolerant for a python, including subtropical areas of China within its native range, and hibernates to survive the winter (B. Stuart and M. Auliya pers. comm. August 2011).

Observations from Indonesia suggest that this species prefers more arid environments than the Reticulated Python (Broghammerus reticulatus), with which it is sympatric through most of its range. This ecological niche partitioning allows the two species to exist in syntopy, although the Burmese Python is the rarer of the two around human habitations (M. Auliya pers. comm. September 2011).

Captive animals reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years of age with a regular food source (Reed and Rodda 2009), with males maturing earlier than females; generation length in the wild is unknown, but is expected to be at least as long and likely longer.

The introduced population in Florida thrives in the wet habitat of the Everglades.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: TNR - Not Yet Ranked

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2acd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
Stuart, B., Nguyen, T.Q., Thy, N., Grismer, L., Chan-Ard, T., Iskandar, D., Golynsky, E. & Lau, M.W.N.

Reviewer/s
Auliya, M. & Bowles, P.

Contributor/s

Justification
The Burmese Python is a widely distributed species found throughout Southeast Asia, with evidence of extensive and widespread population declines. Neither generation length nor the scale of declines throughout this snake's global range are well-known, however, it has been listed as Critically Endangered in two major areas within its range due to localized declines greater than 80% over a ten-year period, and exhibits apparently high but unquantified rates of decline throughout its distribution. This snake is conservatively estimated to have declined by at least 30% over the past ten years across its global range as a result of over-harvesting for a variety of uses, to some extent compounded by the effects of habitat loss, and with the drivers of this decline not having ceased. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.
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Population

Population
This species has declined across its native range through harvesting for the skin, traditional medicine and pet trade, as well as habitat degradation. Zug et al. (2011) stated that pythons are rare in Myanmar. It is reported to be rare in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nnam (Q.T. Nguyen and T. Neang pers. comm. August 2011). The Vietnam Red Data Book estimates a decline in this species of more than 80% over 10 years in this country (Dang et al. 2007). This snake is now very rare in mainland China, as it is heavily exploited for food and skins, with population declines estimated at 90% over ten years (Wang and Xie 2009), although it remains common in Hong Kong where it is a protected species. No population data is available for this species in any part of its Indonesian range (M. Auliya pers. comm. September 2011), however, it is now very rare in Indonesia, and is difficult for even traders to find (M. Auliya and D. Iskandar pers. comm. September 2011). It is common in Thailand, where its protected status is well-enforced (T. Chan-ard pers. comm. August 2011). Although rates of decline are not available for many areas of this snake's range, the observation that it is declining throughout its native range and the scale of declines reported from China and Viet Nam justify a conservative estimate of population declines over the past 10 years in excess of 30%, and potentially close to or exceeding 50% over the preceding ten years, with declines ongoing due to heavy exploitation and, to a lesser degree, habitat loss.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
This species is under threat due to illegal trade; in China it has been heavily impacted by overexploitation for food and skins, the latter for use both in leather and in traditional musical instruments such as Erheen, Sanxian and hand drums (CITES 2011) and Vietnamese populations are under pressure from a combination of use in food and leather production, export to supply the pet trade, and consumption in snake wine. Similar pressures are presumed to account for the rarity of this species throughout the remainder of its range, for which no quantitative data is available. The subspecies P. b. progschai, which has a restricted range in southern Sulawesi, is of some interest in the commercial international pet trade, and may be vulnerable to exploitation, the type specimen having been recorded in a trader's collection (M. Auliya pers. comm. September 2011, Jacobs et al. 2009). Despite its designation as a protected species in this country, populations in China exhibit no evidence of recovery, and illegal harvesting is ongoing (M. Lau pers. comm. September 2011).

Habitat degradation through slash and burn agriculture in upland areas (Q.T. Nguyen pers. comm. August 2011) may pose a risk by eliminating this snake's prey and making it more vulnerable to exploitation by humans (T. Neang pers. comm. August 2011).

Ironically, this is an invasive species that is firmly established in southern Florida, USA, and poses a threat to the ecosystem there by consuming native wildlife (Snow et al. 2007, Dorcas et al. 2012).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Curbing harvesting of this species throughout its range is needed if populations are to persist outside Thailand. The biology of the species is being extensively studied in its introduced range in southern Florida (e.g. Snow et al. 2007, Dorcas et al. 2011, Dorcas et al. 2012) due to probable negative impacts on the ecosystem and fear by the U.S. public, and more is now known about the species in its introduced range than its native range. More research is required on native populations throughout its range, including those in Indonesia, China, Viet Nam and Cambodia, particularly to establish the effects of trade on this python (Q.T. Nguyen pers. comm. August 2011). It is listed on CITES Appendix II. It is a protected species in Viet Nam, China, Thailand and Indonesia, and is known from protected areas (Q.T. Nguyen, M. Lau and M. Auliya pers. comm. September 2011). It is listed as Critically Endangered in the Vietnam Red Data Book (Dang et al. 2007) and in the Chinese national Red List (Wang and Xie 2009).
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Wikipedia

Burmese python

The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the five largest snakes in the world, native to a large variation of tropic and subtropic areas of Southern- and Southeast Asia. Until 2009 they were considered a subspecies of Python molurus, but now are recognized as belonging to a distinct species.[3] They are often found near water and are sometimes semi-aquatic, but can also be found in trees. Wild individuals average 3.7 metres (12 ft) long,[4][5] but have been known to reach 5.74 metres (19 ft).[6]

Description[edit]

(video) An albino Burmese python at a zoo in Japan.

Burmese pythons are dark-colored snakes with many brown blotches bordered in black down the back. The perceived attractiveness of their skin pattern contributes to their popularity with both reptile keepers and the leather industry. The pattern is similar in colour, but different in actual pattern from the African rock python (Python sebae), sometimes resulting in confusion of the two species outside of their natural habitats. The African rock python can generally be distinguished by its tighter pattern of markings, compared to the Burmese python, which has bolder patterns, similar to those seen on a giraffe.[7]

In the wild, Burmese pythons grow to 3.7 metres (12 ft) on average,[4][5] while specimens of more than 4 metres (13 ft) are uncommon.[8][9] In general, individuals over 5 metres are rare.[8] The record maximum length for Burmese Pythons is held by a female named “Baby”, that lived at Serpent Safari, Gurnee, Illinois, for 27 years. Shortly after death, her actual length was determined to be 5.74 metres (18 feet 10 inches). Widely published data of specimens that were reported to have been even several feet longer are not verified.[6] There are dwarf forms on Java, Bali and Sulawesi. On Bali they reach an average length of 2 metres (6.6 ft),[10] and on Sulawesi they achieve a maximum of 2.5 metres (8.2 ft).[11]

Geographic range and habitat[edit]

Natural Distribution of the Burmese Python (green).

Burmese pythons are found throughout Southern- and Southeast Asia, including Eastern India, Nepal, western Bhutan, southeastern Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, northern continental Malaysia, far southern China (Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi and Yunnan),[12] Hong Kong, and in Indonesia on Java, southern Sulawesi, Bali and Sumbawa.[13] Burmese Pythons are also reported from Kinmen, very close to the Chinese mainland but in Taiwanese territory;[14] Burmese Python belongs to the fauna of Taiwan when Taiwan refers to the Republic of China, but not to the island of Taiwan.

This python is an excellent swimmer and needs a permanent source of water. It can be found in grasslands, marshes, swamps, rocky foothills, woodlands, river valleys, and jungles with open clearings. They are good climbers and have prehensile tails.

Invasive species[edit]

United States range in 2007.
An American Alligator devouring a Burmese Python. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service.

Python invasion has been particularly extensive in South Florida, where a large number of pythons have made their way to the Everglades.[15] It has been suggested that the current number of Burmese pythons in the Florida everglades has reached a minimum viable population and become an invasive species. More than 1,330 (US National Park Service website - December 31, 2009[16]) have been captured in the Everglades.

A paper published by the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that bird and coyote populations are threatened, as well as already-rare rival predatory species, such as Florida panthers.[17]

Florida's Hurricane Andrew was deemed responsible for the destruction of a python breeding facility as well as with possible zoo, warehouse,[18] and household escapees.

By 2007, the Burmese python was already established in Northern Florida, in the coastal areas of the Florida Panhandle (see map). In February 2008, USGS scientists published a projected range map for the US, based on average climate data of the snake's home range and global warming projections, which predicted that by the end of the 21st century these snakes could migrate to and flourish in as much as a third of the continental United States, including all three coasts.[19] However, a subsequent study produced a map incorporating both climatic extremes and averages which projected that the Burmese python's range as limited to Southern Florida.[20] Also, this projection was criticized in an unsigned Axcess News article as not having been peer-reviewed.[21] Burmese pythons kept throughout winter in an experimental enclosure in South Carolina all died during the study, apparently because they could not properly acclimate to the cold, but most survived extended periods at temperatures below those typical of southern Florida.[22]

Recently published in Integrative Zoology the study ‘Environmental, physiology and behavior limit the range expansion of invasive Burmese pythons in southeastern USA’ (Jacobson et al. 2012) contradicts the initial USGS study (Reed Rodda 2008) which claimed that non-native Burmese Pythons could expand as far north as the southern one third of the United States. Jacobson et al. (2012) along with three other cold climate studies, (Avery et al. 2010; Dorcas et al. 2011; Mazzotti et al. 2011) provide a combined claim that the Burmese Python will remain in the Everglades. Furthermore, other reputable herpetologists have commented on the controversial theory positing future migration past the Florida Everglades:

The National Geographic Society's Resident Herpetologist, Dr. Brady Barr, said "Climate data reveal that temperatures found in southern Florida simply are not conducive to the long term survival of large tropical snakes. When it gets cold, these snakes die." Dr. Barr also said "Feral Hogs are a bigger problem for the Everglades than pythons. The press has sensationalized this story to the point that people think the sky is falling. Hopefully comprehensive research such as Jacobson et al. will put an end to the hysteria."[23]

Behavior[edit]

Burmese pythons are mainly nocturnal rainforest dwellers.[24] When young, they are equally at home on the ground and in trees, but as they gain girth they tend to restrict most of their movements to the ground. They are also excellent swimmers, being able to stay submerged for up to half an hour. Burmese pythons spend the majority of their time hidden in the underbrush. In the northern parts of its range, the Indian python may brumate for some months during the cold season in a hollow tree, a hole in the riverbank or under rocks. Brumation[25] is biologically distinct from hibernation. While the behaviour has similar benefits, specifically to endure the winter without moving, it also involves preparation of both male and female reproductive organs for the upcoming breeding season. There is controversy over whether the Burmese species is able to brumate.

Burmese pythons breed in the early spring, with females laying clutches which average 12–36 eggs in March or April. She will remain with the eggs until they hatch, wrapping around them and twitching her muscles in such a way as to raise the ambient temperature around the eggs by several degrees. Once the hatchlings use their egg tooth to cut their way out of their eggs, there is no further maternal care. The newly hatched will often remain inside their egg until they are ready to complete their first shedding of skin, after which they hunt for their first meal.[26]

Diet[edit]

Like all snakes, Burmese pythons are carnivorous. Their diet consists primarily of appropriately sized birds and mammals. The snake uses its sharp rearward-pointing teeth to seize its prey, then wraps its body around the prey, at the same time contracting its muscles, killing the prey by constriction. They are often found near human habitation due to the presence of rats, mice and other vermin as a food source. However, their equal affinity for domesticated birds and mammals means that they are often treated as pests. In captivity their diet consists primarily of commercially available, appropriately sized rats, graduating to larger prey such as rabbits and poultry as they grow. Exceptionally large pythons may even require larger food items such as pigs or goats, and are known to have attacked and eaten alligators and adult deer in Florida, where they are an invasive species.[27][28]

Digestion[edit]

The digestive response of Burmese pythons to such large prey has made them a model species for digestive physiology. A fasting python will have a reduced stomach volume and acidity, reduced intestinal mass and a 'normal' heart volume. After ingesting prey, the entire digestive system undergoes a massive remodelling, with rapid hypertrophy of the intestines, production of stomach acid, and a 40% increase in mass of the ventricles of the heart in order to fuel the digestive process.[29]

Conservation[edit]

Leather goods and skins of Burmese python and reticulated python (Python reticulatus reticulatus) at a local shop at Mandalay, Burma

Wild populations are considered to be "threatened" and are listed on Appendix II of CITES. All the giant pythons (including the Indian python, the African rock python, and the reticulated python) have historically been slaughtered to supply the world leather market, as well as for folk medicines, and captured for the pet trade. Some are also killed for food, particularly in China.

IUCN has recently listed the Burmese python as "Vulnerable", reflecting its overall population decline. Important reasons for the decline are trade for skins and for food; habitat degradation may be a problem in some upland areas.[1]

In Hong Kong, it is a protected species under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170.

Captivity[edit]

Burmese pythons are often sold as pets, and are made popular by their attractive colour and apparently easy-going nature. However, these animals have a rapid growth rate, and will often exceed 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) in length in a year if cared for and fed properly. By age 4, they will have reached their adult size, though they continue growing very slowly throughout their lives, which may exceed 20 years.

Although this species has a reputation for docility, they are very powerful animals, capable of inflicting severe bites or even killing a keeper by constriction.[30] They also consume large amounts of food, and due to their size, require large, often custom-built, secure enclosures, which can be very expensive. As a result some are released to the wild by irresponsible pet owners. For this reason, some jurisdictions (including Florida)[31] have placed restrictions on the keeping of Burmese pythons as pets. Violators would be imprisoned for more than 7 years or fined $500,000 if convicted.

A secondary problem with feeding Burmese pythons is that many owners believe if a snake acts hungry, that it should be fed. As Burmese pythons are opportunistic feeders, they will eat almost any time food is offered, and often act hungry even when they have recently eaten. This often leads to overfeeding, and obesity-related problems are common in captive Burmese pythons.

Handling[edit]

Audience volunteers holding an adult Burmese python.

Although pythons are typically afraid of people due to their high stature, and will generally avoid people, special care is still required when handling them. A three-metre long Burmese python is capable of killing a child[32] and a five-metre long (around 16.5 feet) Burmese python is capable of overpowering and killing a fully grown adult.

Variations[edit]

Caramel Burmese python.

The Burmese python is frequently captive-bred for colour, pattern, and more recently size. Its albino form is especially popular and is the most widely available morph. They are white with patterns in butterscotch yellow and burnt orange. There are also "labyrinth" specimens, which have mazelike patterns; khaki-coloured "green"; and "granite", which have many small angular spots. Breeders have recently begun working with an island lineage of Burmese pythons. Early reports indicate that these "dwarf" Burmese have slightly different colouring and pattern from their mainland relatives and do not grow much over 2.1 metres (7 ft) in length. One of the most sought-after of these variations is the leucistic Burmese. This particular variety is very rare, being entirely bright white with no pattern and blue eyes, and has only recently (2008/2009) been reproduced in captivity as the homozygous form (referred to as "super" by reptile keepers) of the codominant hypomelanistic trait. The caramel Burmese python has caramel-coloured pattern with "milk-chocolate" eyes.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Stuart, B., Nguyen, T.Q., Thy, N., Grismer, L., Chan-Ard, T., Iskandar, D., Golynsky, E. & Lau, M.W.N. (2012). "Python bivittatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Python bivittatus at the Reptarium.cz Reptile Database
  3. ^ Jacobs, H.J.; Auliya, M.; Böhme, W. (2009). "On the taxonomy of the Burmese Python, Python molurus bivittatus KUHL, 1820, specifically on the Sulawesi population". Sauria 31 (3): 5–11. 
  4. ^ a b M. A. Smith: Reptilia and Amphibia, Vol. III, Serpentes. In: The Fauna of British India, Ceylon and Burma, including the whole of the Indo-Chinese Sub-Region. Taylor and Francis, Ltd., London 1943, p 102-109
  5. ^ a b S. M. Campden-Main: A field guide to the snakes of South Vietnam. City of Washington 1970, p 8-9.
  6. ^ a b D. G. Barker, S. L. Barten, J. P. Ehrsam, L. Daddono: The Corrected Lengths of Two Well-known Giant Pythons and the Establishment of a New Maximum Length Record for Burmese Pythons, Python bivittatus. Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 47(1): 1-6, 2012, pdf.
  7. ^ Comparing Wild Florida Burmese & African Rock Pythons - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MosOA408Ye8
  8. ^ a b H. Saint Girons: Les serpents du Cambodge. Mémoires du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Série A 1972, p. 40-41.
  9. ^ J. Deuve: Serpents du Laos. Mémoire O.R.S.T.O.M. Nr. 39, Paris 1970, p. 61-62, 65-66.
  10. ^ J. L. McKay: A field guide to the amphibians and reptiles of Bali. Krieger Publishing Company 2006, ISBN 1-57524-190-0, p. 13, 14, 18, 86.
  11. ^ R. de Lang, G. Vogel: The snakes of Sulawesi: A field guide to the land snakes of Sulawesi with identification keys. Frankfurt Contributions to Natural History Band 25, Edition Chimaira 2005, ISBN 3-930612-85-2, S. 23-27, 198-201.
  12. ^ D. G. Barker, T. M. Barker (2010). "The Distribution of the Burmese Python, Python bivittatus, in China". Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 45 (5): 86–88.  The authors describe the presence of this specimen in Sichuan as an anomalous occurrence, and do not include the province in the python's range
  13. ^ D. G. Barker, T. M. Barker (2008). "The Distribution of the Burmese Python, Python molurus bivittatus". Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 43 (3): 33–38. 
  14. ^ Hans Breuer & William Christopher Murphy (2009–2010). "Python molurus bivittatus". Snakes of Taiwan. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  15. ^ "Top 10 Invasive Species". Time. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  16. ^ http://www.nps.gov/ever/naturescience/burmesepython.htm
  17. ^ Adams, Guy (2012-02-01). "Pythons are squeezing the life out of the Everglades, scientists warn". The Independent (London). 
  18. ^ "Democrats Hold Hearing on Administration’s Plan to Constrict Snakes in the Everglades - House Committee on Natural Resources". Naturalresources.house.gov. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  19. ^ U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (2008-02-20). USGS Maps Show Potential Non-Native Python Habitat Along Three U.S. Coasts. www.usgs.gov, last accessed 2008-03-11.
  20. ^ Pyron RA, Burbrink FT, Guiher TJ (2008) Claims of Potential Expansion throughout the U.S. by Invasive Python Species Are Contradicted by Ecological Niche Models. PLoS ONE 3(8): e2931. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002931
  21. ^ , Axcess News (2012-03-12). U.S. Fish and Wildlife turn blind eye to science, fact. www.axcessnews.com, last accessed 2012-03-12.
  22. ^ Dorcas, M. E.; Willson, J. D.; Gibbons, J. W. (2010). "Can invasive Burmese pythons inhabit temperate regions of the southeastern United States?". Biological Invasions 13 (4): 793. doi:10.1007/s10530-010-9869-6.  edit
  23. ^ http://usark.org/featured/new-python-cold-study
  24. ^ Dr. Susan Evans (2003). "Python molurus, Burmese Python". The deep Scaly Project. Digital Morphology. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  25. ^ Glossary of commonly used terms
  26. ^ Ghosh, Anwiksha. "Burmese Python". AnimalSpot.net. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  27. ^ National Geographic: Python Bursts After Eating Gator
  28. ^ "Large Python Captured, Killed After Devouring Adult Deer | KSEE 24 News - Central Valley's News Station: Fresno-Visalia - News, Sports, Weather | Local News". Ksee24.com. 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  29. ^ "Digestive physiology of the Burmese python: broad regulation of integrated performance". Jeb.biologists.org. 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  30. ^ Thirteen Foot Burmese Python Kills Owner
  31. ^ Burrage, Gregg (2010-06-30). "New law makes Burmese python illegal in Florida". Abcactionnews.com. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  32. ^ Pet python kills Florida toddler

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryan Christy: The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers. New York: TWELVE, 2008 ISBN 978-0-446-58095-3
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