Wildlife Photography with marysejansenart
Cold-blooded constrictor prefers ambush as hunting method
Table of Contents
Snake on the Road!
As I am about to top the crest of a hill, two ladies are frantically gesturing me to stop. There is a snake on the road! I pull up and see a ginormous Carpet Python lying on the tarmac. I quickly get my camera and hop out of the car. I’m glad for the warning, I wouldn’t have wanted to kill this beautiful snake. What a magnificent specimen! It is one of the bigger pythons I have encountered and it must come close to the top of its range which is 4 metres!
I keep a safe distance. Even though Pythons are not venomous, they can still give you a nasty bite. And this one is ready to strike as the snake is a bit feisty towards the cars that pass on the other side of the road. It has its head raised with its neck in an s-shape, characteristic for snakes on the attack. It lashes out tentatively at the passing cars, clearly not quite comprehending it is no match for these metal bulldozers that could kill it in an instant.
It’s this snake’s lucky day. One of the ladies tells me she has just graduated from a snake handling course and she coaxes it gently off the road, towards a safer place in the bush. I observe she does this by tickling the tip of its tail with a stick, while staying well clear of the head for her own safety. It triggers the snake to start moving. I’m not encouraging anyone to try this at home though, unless you’ve been trained to do so!
Cold-blooded Constrictor Snakes
You might wonder what the snake was doing there in the first place? Since reptiles are cold-blooded they need the sun to warm them up. The asphalt is a great place for that as it warms up pretty quickly. On warm summer days like these, you may find snakes sun basking in the early morning or late afternoon, getting ready for their hunt. The warmer they are, the quicker they are, which obviously benefits their chances of catching anything. It also means, they are more dangerous to us, so always give them a wide berth or back up if you can’t get around them safely – especially when it comes to venomous snakes!
Carpet Pythons are not venomous but they are constrictor snakes. They hunt by lying in ambush and when prey passes by within reach, they lash out and bite so that they can hold on to the victim while curling their incredibly strong, muscular body so tightly around it that it can no longer breathe.
I am looking at another Carpet Python, curled up in a small tree. Carpet Pythons own their name due to the beautiful patterns on their skin. Check it out in the close-up image below: isn’t that a natural piece of art?!
The snake looks like it is sleeping. And although snakes do sleep many hours a day, I can’t be sure. It does have its neck in the S-shape which means it could possibly strike at any moment so it might well be laying in ambush! Check out the featured image, what do you think: Nap or Ambush?
Carpet Python Feeding Habits and Habitat
Pythons swallow their prey whole, so depending on the size of the prey this can be quite an ordeal! Their jaw is not hinged like ours which enables them to open their mouth really, really wide! Then, slowly, bit by bit, they begin to ingest their meal, always head first. Digestion of a large prey can take up to a couple of days!
Generally though, they will opt for smaller sized prey. Their favourite menu items are mice and rats, possums, lizards, bats and birds. They may also go for domestic animals like chickens, cats and small dogs. They can hunt day or night, depending on the temperature and the availability of prey. They cover a wide range of habitats. Mostly they prefer an arboreal lifestyle, but they can also be found on the ground in open spaces.
Furthermore, they have adapted well to urbanization and many people will have a Carpet Python in their roof space without even being aware of it! I know my roof gets visited occasionally as we have found excretions and shed skins in our roof space, but we have never seen the actual snake. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing, as they will keep the rodent pests under control! If you ever find one inside your living space however, please call a certified snake catcher, as they will capture it safely and release it in the wild.
Brumation, Breeding and Growing
During the winter the chances of seeing a python are slim. During the cooler months they enter a state of brumation, which is a type of hibernation. In proper hibernation, the animal sleeps for a long period of time, but in brumation it just enters a state of low activity (read here about another animal that practices brumation). So it is still possible to encounter a sun basking snake during winter every now and then. As spring comes and the days warm up, they get more active and the Carpet Pythons move into their breeding season.
After mating, the female snake lays around 20 eggs. It takes up to 60 days to incubate them. The mother is very protective of her clutch and won’t eat during this period. She coils herself around the eggs and keeps them warm by generating heat through muscular contractions. As soon as the eggs hatch, the little snakelets are on their own. They measure about 40cm when they hatch and reach sexual maturity at three years of age.
Adult Carpet Pythons generally grow around 2-2.5 metres long, but some can get bigger – up to 4 metres! To grow, they need to shed their skin. Snakes are unique in the fact that they can shed their whole skin in one piece. The process takes a some time and leaves the snakes a bit vulnerable, so they tend to hide out in a safe place during shedding. As a bonus, the shedding also helps the snakes get rid of parasites that live on their skin.
Join me on my walk and catch sight of the large Carpet Python slithering off the road in the latest episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’:
If you are interested in purchasing a print of ‘Nap or Ambush’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various merchandise products, please head to my shop. For ‘Snake on the Road’, click here. And for ‘Snake Art’, click here.