The tiger python is one of the five largest snake species in the world. It belongs to the giant snakes and can reach about 8 meters in length. The animal has a calm character, and in addition leads a sedentary lifestyle. These features make this non-venomous snake very popular with terrarium owners. It is readily purchased in zoos and circuses. The tiger python is often used in photo and video shoots because of its spectacular coloration.
Origin of the species and description
The taxonomy of the tiger python has been the subject of controversy for over 200 years. Two subspecies are now recognized. Based on recent studies, the species status is debated for two forms. An adequate study of tiger pythons has not yet been completed. However, previous observations in India and Nepal show that the two subspecies live in different, sometimes even in the same places, and do not mate with each other, hence it is proposed that each of these two forms has significant morphological differences.
Video: Tiger Python
On the Indonesian islands of Bali, Sulawesi, Sumbawa, and Java, certain geographic and morphological aspects of animals have led to significant changes. These populations are more than 700 kilometers from mainland animals and show differences in character and have formed dwarf forms in Sulawesi, Bali and Java.
Due to differences in size and coloration, scientists want to distinguish this dwarf form as a separate subspecies. Molecular genetic studies of the status of this dwarf form are still controversial. It remains unclear how deeply other Indonesian island populations differ from mainland populations.
Another of the supposed subspecies is found exclusively on the island of Sri Lanka. On the basis of coloration, pattern and the number of shields on the underside of the tail, it shows differences from the mainland subspecies. However, most experts consider the difference insufficient. The tiger pythons of this region reflect the expected range of individual variation in the population. After a molecular genetic study, it became clear that the tiger python is closest to the Hieroglyphic python.
Appearance and features
Tiger pythons are dimorphic, female longer and heavier than males. Males have larger cloacal processes or vestigial limbs than females. The cloacal processes are two projections, one on each side of the anus, which are extensions of the hind limbs.
The skins are marked with a rectangular mosaic pattern that runs the length of the animal. They are a yellowish-brown or yellow-olive background with asymmetric enlarged dark brown spots of various shapes, forming interesting patterns. The eyes are crossed by dark stripes, starting near the nostrils and gradually turning into spots on the neck. The second stripe starts from below the eyes and crosses the upper labials.
Tiger pythons are divided into two recognized subspecies that differ in physical characteristics:
- Burmese pythons (P. molurus bivitatus) can grow to a length of about 7.6 m and weigh up to 137 kg. It has a darker color, with shades of brown and dark cream rectangles that lie on a black background. This subspecies is also characterized by an arrow-shaped marking present on the top of the head, from which the drawing begins;
- Indian pythons, P. molurus molurus, remain smaller, reaching a maximum of about 6.4 m in length and weighing up to 91 kg. Has similar markings with light — brown and brown rectangles arranged on a creamy background. On the top of the head there is only a partial arrow-shaped marking. Each scale has one color;
- the head is massive, broad and moderately separated from the neck. The lateral position of the eyes gives a field of view of 135°. A strong grasping tail makes up about 12% in females and up to 14% in males of the total length. Thin, elongated teeth are consistently pointed and bent towards the pharynx. In front of the upper oral cavity is the premaxillary bone with four small teeth. The upper jaw bone supports 18 to 19 teeth. Of these, the 2nd-6th teeth — the largest.
Where does the tiger python live?
It inhabits the lower half of the Asian continent. Its range extends from southeastern Pakistan to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nepal. It is assumed that the western limit of the species is the Indus Valley. In the north, the range can extend to Qingchuan County, Sichuan Province, China, and in the south to Borneo. Indian tiger pythons seem to be absent from the Malay Peninsula. It remains to be determined whether the populations scattered on several small islands are native or wild, runaway domestic animals.
The two species have different distribution ranges:
- P. molurus molurus is native to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal;
- P. molurus bivitatus (Burmese python) is found from Myanmar east through southern Asia through China and Indonesia. It does not exist on the island of Sumatra.
The tiger python snake is found in a variety of habitats including rainforests, river valleys, grasslands, woodlands, scrublands, grassy swamps, and semi-rocky foothills. They settle in places that can provide sufficient cover.
This species is never found very far from water sources and seems to prefer very wet areas. They depend on a constant source of water. They can sometimes be found in abandoned mammal burrows, hollow trees, dense thickets, and mangroves.
Now you know where the tiger python lives. Let's see what it eats.
What does the tiger python eat?
The diet consists mainly of live prey. Its main products are rodents and other mammals. A small part of its diet consists of birds, amphibians and reptiles.
The range of prey varies from mammals and birds to cold-blooded lizards and amphibians:
- little monkeys;
- rodents, etc.
When searching for food, the tiger python may stalk or ambush prey. These snakes have very poor eyesight. To compensate for this, the species has a highly developed sense of smell, and there are notches in each scale along the upper lip that sense the warmth of nearby prey. They kill prey by biting and squeezing until the prey suffocates. The affected prey is then swallowed whole.
Fun fact: In order to swallow prey, the python shifts its jaws and stretches the highly elastic skin around the prey. This allows snakes to swallow food many times the size of their own heads.
Studies of tiger pythons have shown that when digesting a large food animal, a snake's heart muscle can increase by 40%. The maximum increase in heart cells (hypertrophy) is achieved after 48 hours due to the conversion of proteins into muscle fibrils. This effect contributes to an energetically more favorable increase in cardiac output, which speeds up digestion.
In addition, the entire digestive system adapts to the digestive conditions. So up to three times the intestinal mucosa increases two days after feeding. After about a week, it shrinks back to its normal size. The entire digestion process requires up to 35% of the energy absorbed from prey.
Character and lifestyle features
The tiger python snake is absolutely not a social animal that spends most of its time alone. Pairing — the only case when these snakes are found in pairs. They begin to move only when food becomes scarce or when they are in danger. Tiger pythons first detect prey by smell or by sensing the prey's body heat with their heat pits, and then follow the trail. These snakes are mostly found on the ground, but sometimes climb trees.
Tiger pythons are active mainly at dusk or at night. Daily initiative is closely related to the ambient temperature. In areas with significant seasonal temperature fluctuations, they seek shelter with a more pleasant, more consistent microclimate during the cool and hot months.
An interesting fact: In areas with lakes, rivers and other bodies of water, representatives of both subspecies live a semi-aquatic life. In water, they move much faster and more agile than on land. While swimming, their body, with the exception of the tip of the snout, is completely submerged in water.
Often tiger pythons are partially or completely submerged for several hours in shallow water. They remain completely submerged for up to half an hour, without breathing air, or sticking out only their nostrils to the surface of the water. The tiger python seems to avoid the sea. During the colder months from October to February, Indian pythons remain hidden and generally enter a short period of hibernation until temperatures rise again.
Social Structure and reproduction
The tiger python reaches sexual maturity at the age of 2-3 years. At this time courtship may begin. During courtship, the male wraps his body around the female and repeatedly flicks his tongue over her head and body. Once they line the cloacae, the male uses his vestigial legs to massage and stimulate the female. The result is copulation where the female raises her tail so that the male can insert one hemipenis (he has two) into the female's cloaca. This process lasts from 5 to 30 minutes.
In the middle of the hot season in May, 3-4 months after mating, the female is looking for a nesting place. This place consists of a serene shelter under a pile of branches and leaves, a hollow tree, a termite mound, or an uninhabited cave. Depending on the size and condition of the female, she lays an average of 8 to 30 eggs weighing up to 207 g. The largest clutch recorded in northern India was 107 eggs.
Interesting fact: During incubation, the female uses muscle contractions to raise her body temperature slightly higher than the ambient air temperature. This raises the temperature by 7.3°C, allowing incubation in colder regions while maintaining the optimum incubation temperature of 30.5°C.
The soft-shelled white eggs measure 74-125 × 50-66 mm and weigh 140-270 grams. At this time, the female usually coils around the eggs in preparation for the incubation period. Loop location regulates humidity and heat. Incubation lasts from 2-3 months. The expectant mother very rarely leaves eggs during incubation and does not eat food. Once the eggs hatch, the young quickly become independent.
Natural enemies of tiger pythons
If tiger pythons sense danger, they hiss and crawl away in an attempt to hide. Only when cornered do they defend themselves with powerful, painful bites. Only a few of the snakes are quickly irritated and go to extreme measures. There were rumors among the locals that pythons attacked and killed children left unattended. However, there is no solid evidence for this. Reliable deaths are known in the US, where owners sometimes suffocate from the “hugs” of a tiger python. The reason has always been careless care and handling, which could trigger the animal's hunting instinct.
The Tiger Python has many enemies, especially when young.
- king cobra;
- Indian gray mungo;
- feline (tigers, leopards);
- black kite;
- Bengal monitor lizard.
Their favorite hiding places — earthen caves, rock crevices, termite mounds, hollow tree trunks, mangroves and tall grass. In addition to animals, humans are the main predator of the tiger python. There is a large volume of exports for the animal trade. The skin of Indian pythons is highly valued in the fashion industry due to its exotic look.
In its native range, it is also hunted as a food source. For centuries, tiger python meat has been eaten in many Asian countries, and eggs have been considered a delicacy. In addition, animal entrails are important to traditional Chinese medicine. The leather industry is a sector not to be underestimated in some Asian countries where professional hunters, tanners and traders work. Even for farmers, this is an additional income.
Population and species status
The commercial exploitation of the tiger python for the leather industry has resulted in significant population declines in many of its range countries. In India and Bangladesh, the tiger python around 1900 was widely distributed. This was followed by over-hunting for more than half a century, with up to 15,000 skins exported annually from India to Japan, Europe and the United States. In most areas, this has led to a massive reduction in the number of individuals, and in many places even to complete extinction.
In 1977, exports from India were prohibited by law. However, illegal trade continues today. Now the tiger python is rarely found in India outside of protected areas. In Bangladesh, the range is limited to several areas in the southeast. In Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the tiger python is still widely distributed. However, the use of these species for the leather industry has increased significantly. In 1985 it peaked at 189,068 hides officially exported from these countries.
The international trade in live tiger pythons also peaked at 25,000 animals. In 1985, Thailand introduced a trade restriction to protect tiger pythons, meaning that only 20,000 skins could be exported annually. In 1990, skins of tiger pythons from Thailand averaged only 2 meters in length, a clear sign that numbers of reproductive animals have been massacred. In Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the leather industry is still involved in the ongoing python decline.
Tiger Python Conservation
Extensive deforestation, wildfires and soil erosion are a problem in tiger python habitats. Growing cities and the expansion of agricultural land are limiting the habitat of the species more and more. This leads to the reduction, isolation and, ultimately, to the elimination of individual groups of the animal. Habitat loss in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka is mainly responsible for the decline of the tiger python.
That is why this snake was declared endangered in Pakistan in 1990. Also in Nepal, the snake is endangered and lives only in the Chitwanchasto National Park. In Sri Lanka, the python's habitat is increasingly restricted to the primeval jungle.
Fun fact: Since June 14, 1976, P. molurus bivitatus has been listed in the US by the ESA as endangered worldwide. area. The subspecies P. molurus molurus is listed as critically endangered on CITES Appendix I. Another subspecies is listed on Appendix II, as are all other python species.
The imminently endangered light tiger python is listed on Appendix I of the Washington Convention for the Protection of Species and is not traded. . Wild populations of the Dark Tiger python are considered vulnerable, are listed on Appendix II and are subject to export restrictions. The Burmese tiger python is listed as endangered by the IUCN due to overfishing and habitat destruction.