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Pythons are a family of nonvenomous snakes. They are constrictors -- they subdue their prey by squeezing it to death. Their original distribution included Asia, Africa and Australia. However, they have been introduced into other areas accidentally, where they are becoming a threat to native species.
Countries in Asia
Asia is home to many iconic pythons. The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is an Asian python that often ends up in pet shops. Its range includes Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and nearby islands. The Indian python (Python molurus) has some overlap but is found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh in addition to India. It was once believed that the Burmese python was a subspecies of Indian python, but the snake has since been reclassified as a distinct species.
Africa is home to many species of python as well. The ball python (Python regius) comes from this continent. It's popular in the exotic pet trade. It is found coast to coast in Africa, in a band of countries including Sudan in the east and Sierra Leon in the west, south to the Central African Republic. Conversely, the Angolan python (Python anchietae) is one of the rarest snakes in the world, found only in war-torn Angola where few are willing to brave its landmine-ridden habitat to collect them.
In prehistoric times, pythons were native to Europe. Fossil evidence shows that, when Europe had a warmer climate, several species of pythons called it home. Back then, Europe's weather was more like the modern tropics. The last of the pythons in Europe probably went extinct in the Eocene, about 5.2 million years ago, when Europe began to cool to its present-day climate. They inhabited western, southern and eastern Europe. Their range included present-day France, the Czech Republic and Italy.
Australia is home to several species of pythons. Six different carpet python (Morelia spilota) subspecies exist, each with very distinctive coloration -- though all have a carpetlike pattern to their scales resembling a Persian rug. Unlike other pythons, the carpet python is known to inhabit suburban areas, where it can run into people more often than rainforest-dwelling species like the ball python and Burmese python. As such, this species is well-known in Australia.
Pythons are not native to the Americas, but they have demonstrated they can live there. Pythons, probably people's escaped pets, have colonized the Everglades and threatened native species. Even pythons that are endangered in their native range, like Burmese pythons, can be problematic invasive species in new habitats where they lack natural predators. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Burmese pythons are liable to spread to a substantial portion of the southern United States if no measures check their spread.
- NCBI: Zoo Keys: Annotated Checklist of the Recent and Extinct Pythons (Serpentes, Pythonidae), With Notes on Nomenclature, Taxonomy, and Distribution; Wulf D. Schleip and Mark O’Shea
- USGS Newsroom: USGS Maps Show Potential Non-Native Python Habitat Along Three U.S. Coasts
- IUCN Redlist of Endangered Species: Python bivittatus
- Austrailia Zoo: Reptiles -- Carpet Pythons
- Smithsonian: Five Giant Snakes We Should Worry About
- IUCN Redlist of Endangered Species: Python anchietae
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