All About the Python Snake: Diet, Adaptation and Habitats

By: Desiree Bowie  | 
Reticulated python coiled on a moss-covered branch
The reticulated python holds the record for the world's longest snake, with some exceeding 25 feet (7.6 meters). John Conrad / Getty Images

Pythons are a diverse group of nonvenomous constrictor snakes found in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe. The name "python" is derived from the Greek word pythōn, referring to a mythical serpent.

The python snake is known for its impressive size, with some species growing up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) long.


Despite their formidable appearance, most pythons are not dangerous to humans unless startled or provoked. But be warned: Avoid their young, or you'll incur their wrath.

Types of Pythons

The Pythonidae family consists of nonvenomous constrictor snakes known as pythons. Within this family, the Python genus encompasses a variety of species characterized by their muscular bodies, heat-sensing pits and constricting hunting style.

Let's get to know some of the most popular members of this unique genus.


  1. Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus): Native to Southeast Asia, this snake species holds the record for the world's longest snake, with some snakes known to exceed 20 feet (6.1 meters). They have a complex geometric pattern on their skin and are found in a variety of habitats, including forests and grasslands.
  2. Burmese python (Python bivittatus): A type of giant, heavy-bodied snake, Burmese pythons can be found in Southeast Asia's grasslands, marshes, swamps and the Everglades National Park in Florida, where they are considered an invasive species. They are known for their attractive patterning and can grow up to 23 feet (7 meters) long.
  3. Ball python (Python regius): This African species is on the smaller side for pythons, reaching only about 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) in length. They are popular pets due to their manageable size, docile nature and variety of color morphs. Ball pythons are native to sub-Saharan Africa and thrive in grasslands and shrublands.
  4. Carpet python (Morelia spilota): Native to Australia, New Guinea and surrounding islands, this python species is known for its diverse range of patterns and colors. Carpet pythons are semi-arboreal, living in various habitats, including rainforests, woodlands and urban areas.
  5. African rock python (Python sebae): One of Africa's largest snakes, they can grow up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) long. These powerful constrictors are found in a range of habitats, from savannas to forests near water bodies.
  6. Green tree python (Morelia viridis): Known for their striking green color, these pythons inhabit rainforests in New Guinea and parts of Australia. Green tree pythons spend most of their time in trees and are relatively small, growing up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long.
  7. Indian python (Python molurus): Found in South Asia, this large python prefers grasslands, marshes and other near-water environments. Indian pythons have a light-colored pattern and can grow up to 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, although such large specimens are rare.
  8. Blood python (Python brongersmai): Native to the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia, they are known for their stocky build and often reddish-brown coloration. Blood pythons inhabit forests and swamps and are relatively short, with adults typically measuring around 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters).


Pythons, members of the genus Python, are renowned for their distinctive physical and behavioral characteristics. Physically, they are among the largest snakes in the world.

Muscular Bodies

Their bodies are muscular and adept at constricting, a method they use to subdue prey by coiling tightly and suffocating it. This physical prowess is complemented by their unique skin patterns and colors, which provide excellent camouflage in their natural habitats.


Built-in Hunting Tools

One of the snake's most remarkable feeding adaptations is its highly flexible jaws. Equipped with backward-facing teeth, these jaws allow pythons to swallow prey significantly larger than their heads. This enables them to tackle a range of prey sizes, from small rodents to larger mammals and birds.

Pythons also possess specialized heat-sensing pits near their mouths, allowing them to detect thermal radiation from warm-blooded animals. This sensory adaptation is beneficial for nocturnal hunting and other low-light conditions, compensating for their generally limited vision.

Dual Lung Capacity

These snakes also have two lungs, a trait considered primitive or ancestral among snakes. This feature is a callback to their evolutionary origins from lizard-like reptiles, which typically have two functioning lungs.

Over the course of snake evolution, many species adapted to having a single lung to streamline their bodies for burrowing or other specialized living conditions. This adaptation allows for a more elongated and flexible body, which is advantageous in navigating narrow spaces or moving across various terrains.

The right lung is typically longer and more developed in pythons, while the left lung is often smaller or sometimes even rudimentary.


In terms of lifespan, pythons are long-lived compared to many other reptiles. In the wild, they can live for over 20 years; in captivity, their lifespan can extend even further, often exceeding two decades.

Their relatively long lifespan, combined with a generally calm disposition, has made certain species, like the ball python, popular in the pet trade.


The Python Diet

Pythons have a dietary pattern that reflects their predatory prowess. They mainly prey on mammals and birds, selecting their meals based on availability and size. Smaller pythons may eat rodents and birds, while larger species can take down bigger animals like monkeys, pigs and the occasional deer.

These ambush hunters have a stealthy hunting strategy; they often lie in wait, camouflaged, and strike with lightning-fast precision.


Once their prey is in their grasp, they employ constriction — a method that entails wrapping around their catch and tightening their coils each time the prey exhales — eventually leading to suffocation.

What's fascinating about pythons is their ability to consume prey much larger than their heads due to their flexible jaws and skin. This adaptability in their eating habits is essential for their survival, especially for species living in environments with scarce large prey.

Thanks to their slow metabolism, they can go without eating after consuming a large meal for weeks or months.



Just as we seek environments that bolster our strengths and comfort, pythons inhabit various landscapes across Africa, Asia and Australia that play to their predatory prowess. These reptiles can be found in lush rainforests, arid desert sand hills, swamps, grasslands and even near human settlements.

The adaptability of pythons to different climates and terrains is a testament to their resilience. In rainforests, they blend seamlessly into the dense foliage, using the abundant cover for an ambush. They demonstrate remarkable tenacity in arid regions, adapting to scarce water resources.


They have become invasive species in places like Florida, where escaped or released pet pythons have established breeding populations. This has raised ecological concerns due to their impact on local wildlife.

Do Pythons Lay Eggs?

The reproductive process for these ambush predators begins with the female laying many eggs, which can vary greatly depending on her species and size. For instance, while some species lay about a dozen eggs, larger retics may lay a staggering 100 eggs in one clutch.

During the incubation period, lasting typically between 60 to 90 days, the female python exhibits a remarkable level of maternal care, a rarity among reptilian species. She coils herself protectively around her clutch, creating a warm, secure nest.


This brooding behavior is more than just guarding; the mother python actively regulates the temperature of the eggs through muscular contractions akin to shivering. This effort is vital for properly developing the embryos within the eggs.

Once the python eggs are ready to hatch, the young use a specialized, temporary tooth, known as the "egg tooth," to break through the eggshell. These hatchlings are immediately independent and equipped with the instincts and skills needed for survival. They receive no further care from their mother post-hatching.


Are Pythons Nonvenomous Snakes?

Pythons are not venomous, but they are still deadly creatures. Unlike venomous snakes that use venom to immobilize or kill their prey, pythons are constrictors.

They capture and subdue their prey by coiling around it and squeezing, which is a method that relies on their physical strength rather than venom. This constriction cuts off blood flow, leading to the prey's incapacitation and eventual death, after which the python consumes its meal whole.


Pythons also known for their slow metabolism, allowing them to survive months between meals under certain conditions.

Reticulated Python: The World's Longest Snake

Reticulated pythons, known as the world's longest snakes, can grow over 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, with some individuals recorded at about 32 feet (9.8 meters). Native to Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines and parts of South Asia, they adapt well to various environments.

These pythons are nocturnal and solitary, exhibiting agility and excellent swimming ability. While their conservation status is currently "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they face threats from habitat loss and hunting for their skin.


Pythons vs. Boa Constrictors

Boa constrictors and pythons are large constrictor snakes that are highly adaptable but have little in common.

Boas are native to Central and South America and thrive in various habitats, from rainforests to semi-deserts. In contrast, pythons are found primarily in Africa, Asia and Australia, showing a similar adaptability to diverse environments.


One key difference lies in their reproductive methods: Most boa constrictors are ovoviviparous, giving birth to live young, whereas pythons are oviparous, laying eggs that the females often incubate by coiling around them.

Size-wise, pythons generally grow larger than boas, with some python species ranking among the longest snakes in the world. Regarding physical features, many python species possess heat-sensing pits along their lips, an adaptation less common in boa constrictors.

Behaviorally, pythons tend to be more docile than boa constrictors, contributing to their popularity in the exotic pet trade. These differences underscore their adaptations to their respective environments and evolutionary histories.

This article was written in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.