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Biology

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This species is nocturnal, and preys upon a variety of terrestrial vertebrates such as small mammals, ground birds and lizards (2). It catches much of its prey in burrows where there is not enough room to throw its coils around it. Instead the woma pushes a loop of its body against the animal so it is crushed to death against the side of the burrow. Many adult womas are covered in scars from retaliating rodents as this technique doesn't kill prey as quickly as normal constriction. By day it shelters in hollow logs, animal burrows or thick vegetation (5). Like other pythons this snake lays eggs (4). Mating occurs from May to August and between 5 and 19 eggs are deposited between September and October. Females coil around their eggs throughout the incubation period, and after two to three months the young emerge (5).
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Conservation

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This species is listed on Schedule 4 of the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act which classifies it as Specially Protected Fauna (2). Under the Australian Protected Areas Programme, a 132,566 hectare area has been established to protect species including the woma python (6). It is important to provide incentives for landowners in this area to reduce the impact of current land use practises on this species (2). Population surveys should be conducted on the woma python both within and outside of this reserve in order to best target conservation practices (2).
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Description

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The woma python is distinguished from other Australian pythons by its narrow head which is barely distinct from the neck (2). It has small eyes, smooth scales, a broad body and a thin tail (3). This species is coloured grey, olive, brown or rich red-brown above, with several darker olive brown to black cross-bands on the body. The sides are paler and the underside is a cream to yellow colour, with pink or brown blotches (2). The woma python and its relative the black-headed python, do not have heat sensitive pits bordering the mouth like other pythons (4).
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Habitat

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Inhabits arid zones, favouring open myrtaceous heath on sandplains and dune fields that are dominated by spinifex grass (Triodia species) (2).
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Range

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This species is found in the Australian interior, from central Australia into the south-western edge of Queensland, and into northern South Australia. There is also one coastal area in north-eastern Australia around the Pilbara coast where this species is found (5).
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Status

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Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Schedule 4 (Specially Protected Fauna) of the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act (2).
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Threats

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Populations have been affected by the clearing of habitat for agricultural development and grazing in Australia. Habitat loss not only removes the woma python's shelter, but also depletes the abundance of small vertebrates in the area. Predation by introduced foxes has also played a part in the woma python's decline in Australia (2) (5).
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Distribution

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Continent: Australia
Distribution: Australia (Central Australia: New South Wales, North Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, West Australia)
Type locality: Fort Bourke, NSW, Australia
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Woma python

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The woma python (Aspidites ramsayi), also known commonly as Ramsay's python, the sand python,[2][3][4][5] and simply the woma,[6] is a species of snake in the family Pythonidae. The species is endemic to Australia. Once common throughout Western Australia, it has become critically endangered in some regions.

Taxonomy

William John Macleay originally described the species in 1882 as Aspidiotes ramsayi. The specific name, ramsayi, is in honor of Australian zoologist Edward Pierson Ramsay.[7][8]

This is one of two species of Aspidites, the pitless pythons, an Australian genus of the family Pythonidae. The generic name, Aspidites, translates to "shield bearer" in reference to the symmetrically shaped head scales.

Description

Adults of A. ramsayi typically are around 1.5 m (4.5 feet) in total length (including tail). The head is narrow, and the eyes are small. The body is broad and flattish in profile, while the tail tapers to a thin point.

The dorsal scales are small and smooth, with 50-65 rows at midbody. The ventral scales are 280-315 in number, with an undivided anal plate, and 40-45 mostly single subcaudal scales. Some of the posterior subcaudals may be irregularly divided.

The dorsal color may be pale brown to nearly black. The pattern consists of a ground color that varies from medium brown and olive to lighter shades of orange, pink, and red, overlaid with darker striped or brindled markings. The belly is cream or light yellow with brown and pink blotches. The scales around the eyes are usually a darker color than the rest of the head.

Aspidites ramsayi may reach a total length of 2.3 m (7.5 ft), with a snout-vent length (SVL) of 2.0 m (6.6 ft).

Snakes of the genus Aspidites lack the heat-sensing pits of all other pythons. A. ramsayi is similar in appearance to A. melanocephalus, but without an obvious neck. The coloration or desire to locate this species may lead to confusion with the venomous species Pseudonaja nuchalis, commonly known as the gwardar.[2]

Distribution and habitat

Aspidites ramsayi is found in Australia in the west and center of the country: from Western Australia through southern Northern Territory and northern South Australia to southern Queensland and northwestern New South Wales. Its range may be discontinuous. The type locality given is "near Forte Bourke" [New South Wales, Australia].[1]

The range in Southwest Australia extends from Shark Bay, along the coast and inland regions, and was previously common on sandplains. The species was recorded in regions to the south and east, with once extensive wheatbelt and goldfield populations.[2]

Conservation status

This species, A. ramsayi, is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.[6]

The Adelaide Zoo in South Australia is co-ordinating a captive breeding program for the species, and the offspring raised have been released into the Arid Recovery Reserve in the states north with no success due to mulga snake, Pseudechis australis, predation.

Many populations in the southwest of the country, since the 1960s, became critically endangered by altered land use. The sharp decline in numbers, without an authenticated record since 1989, was most notable in the Wheatbelt areas.[2]

Behavior

Aspidites ramsayi is largely nocturnal. By day this snake may be found sheltering in hollow logs or under leaf debris. When travelling across hot sands or other surfaces it lifts its body off the ground and reaches far forward before pushing off the ground again, having only a few inches of its body touching the ground at a time.

Feeding

Aspidites ramsayi preys upon a variety of terrestrial vertebrates such as small mammals, ground birds, and lizards. It catches much of its prey in burrows where there is not enough room to maneuver coils around the prey; instead, the woma pushes a loop of its body against the animal to pin it against the side of the burrow. Many adult womas are covered in scars from retaliating rodents as this technique doesn't kill prey as quickly as normal constriction.[9]

Although this species will take warm-blooded prey when offered, A. ramsayi preys mainly on reptiles. Perhaps due to this, species within the genus Aspidites lack the characteristic heat sensing pits of pythons, although they possess an equivalent sensory structure in the rostral scale.[10]

Reproduction

Aspidites ramsayi is oviparous, with five to 20 eggs per clutch. Females remain coiled around their eggs until they hatch, with the incubation period lasting 2–3 months. An adult female about 4–5 years old and 5 ft (about 1.5 m) in total length usually lays about 11 eggs.

Captivity

Considered to be more active than many pythons, as well as being a very docile and "easy to handle" snake, the woma is highly sought after in the reptile and exotic pet trade. It is one of the hardiest python species in captivity, often enthusiastically accepting prey and other items. One made headlines in May 2015 for requiring surgery to remove the feeding tongs it had swallowed as well as its meal.[11] This snake will breed in captivity.

References

  1. ^ a b McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré TA (1999). Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume 1. Washington, District of Columbia: Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  2. ^ a b c d Browne-Cooper R, Bush B, Maryan B, Robinson D (2007). Reptiles and Frogs in the Bush: Southwestern Australia. University of Western Australia Press. pp. 237, 238. ISBN 978-1-920694-74-6.
  3. ^ O'Connor F (2008). Western Australian Reptile Species. Birding Western Australia. Accessed 20 September 2007.
  4. ^ "Aspidites ramsayi ". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 19 September 2007.
  5. ^ Mehrtens JM (1987). Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. 480 pp. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
  6. ^ a b Bruton M, Wilson S, Shea G, Ellis R, Venz M, Hobson R, Sanderson C (2017). "Aspidites ramsayi ". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T2176A83765377. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T2176A83765377.en. Downloaded on 02 January 2019.
  7. ^ O'Shea M (2007). Boas and Pythons of the World. London: New Holland Publishers Ltd. 160 pp. ISBN 9781845375447.
  8. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Aspidites ramsayi, p. 216).
  9. ^ "Woma python (Aspidites ramsayi )". arkive.org Archived 2005-07-23 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Westhoff G, Collin SP (2008). A new type of infrared sensitive organ in the python Aspidites sp. (Abstract). Archived July 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 6th World Congress of Herpetology. Manaus.
  11. ^ McCurdy, Euan (2015). "Winston the python bites off more than he can chew". (http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/15/asia/python-swallows-barbeque-tongs/
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Woma python: Brief Summary

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The woma python (Aspidites ramsayi), also known commonly as Ramsay's python, the sand python, and simply the woma, is a species of snake in the family Pythonidae. The species is endemic to Australia. Once common throughout Western Australia, it has become critically endangered in some regions.

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