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Light Phase Indian Python ( Python molurus )

Light Phase Indian Python
Note the pinkish head and smudged markings on forehead, just back from eyes.
Photos by Andy Smyth, Photographer. ©

The Light Phase grows at a slower rate than the Dark Phase and it is also less common than the latter.

Habitat: Jungles, rocky hill slopes, rivers, and still waters
Type: semi-aquatic and arboreal
Status: Endangered
Size: Up to 13 feet
Food in wild: mammals up to the size of a small antelope, birds and fish
Breeding: Every two years
Incubation period: 56-85 days
No of eggs: Average is 30, but varies greatly. Hatching increases with temperature and humidity
Lifespan: 10-15 years

This is the largest and commonest of the three subspecies of Indian Python, and the form usually owned by herpetologists and pet owners. However, in 1977, Glasgow Zoopark was lucky enough to acquire a pair of the subspecies Python molarus molarus . Known then as the " light phase " Indian Python, ( as opposed to the " dark phase " Burmese python ). We have maintained this subspecies ever since, breeding them on several occasions and acquiring " fresh blood " in 1985, from Dvur Kralove in Czechoslovakia.

Most of the " light phase " Indian pythons in European Zoos, such as Rome or even Moscow can be traced directly back to Glasgow Zoopark. In 1984, we received a Meritorious Breeding Certificate for Sustained Good Husbandry for this species from the National Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland.

The third sub-species is the Ceylonese Pmpimfura, confined to Sri Lanka, and although we were told at the time, that our original animals were from Sri Lanka, we hesitate before assigning them to this rare category.

Burmese Pythons range from North-eastern India, east to China and south to Malaya and the East Indies. It is absent from the Phillipines. The island of Timor contains a small python previously considered as a fourth sub-species of Python molarus . This is now classified as a separate species, the Timor Python , Python timoriensis , and we own several specimens. Even when adults this species rarely exceeds 1.2 metres in length.

During the late 1970's and early 1980's we bred the Burmese Python on several times before discontinuing to concentrate on rarer, more endangered, species. At the time, dealers were buying-in hatchlings from abroad by the hundred, for just a few pounds each. We could hardly give them away, and only received an exchange value of a maximum of 8 which did not begin to cover the costs involved in breeding this attractive snake. There is no doubt in our minds that captive breeding to supply the commercial demand for pets is perfectly viable, and we see little justification in dealing in wild-caught specimens of this snake, when captive populations are, or could be, self-sustaining.

As anyone who has read Asian natural history widely, or travelled in that region knows, colour variants occur in the wild, and are the subject of considerable mythology. The late Adrian Nyoke, at the ill-fated Knavesborough Zoological Gardens collected quite a number of specimens including white and albinos (known as lencistics today). These are regularly bred today and the genetics are well understood. Personally, I find such snakes eye-catching and fascinating, and we have exhibited a few over the years, though none currently.

We do appreciate that some conservationists find the whole subject of mutations distasteful. It is probably inappropriate for zoos and serious reptile collections to devote too much space to mutations, but for private herpetologists, this can be a rewarding and satisfying area of activity and study.

Our current specimens Python molarus molarus , have attained a maximum length of 3 metres. They are long-lived with some specimens achieving 17 years of age.

Although no longer growing much, if at all, our snakes shed an average every six weeks and we save all skins particularly for educational use by teachers (and trainee teachers at Jordanhill Campus of the University of Strathclyde . They (the snakes, not the teachers!) are fed once a week on a dead rabbit or chicken, supplemented with vitamin and calcium additives.

When we kept the larger, more common form, Python molarus molarus , we found they grew extremely quickly. If abundantly fed, they grew from 33cms at hatching, to well over a metre in a year, or 18 months. We never liked them to grow so fast, fearing this " forcing " could have deleterious long-term problems, so deliberately tried to grow them on at a more sedate pace.

Properly, and regularly handled, young Indian pythons make fascinating pets for youthful herpetologists, provided they have sufficient space, and can afford the heating and feeding costs. Once they reach 2.5 metres in length, or more, ( they can grow to 4.5 metres ) they become quite heavy and bulky to lift. Although tame, Burmese Pythons are recognised as being relatively " placid ", it should never be forgotten that hungry, frightened, ill, shedding, breeding, or generally upset, large specimens are potentially dangerous and can deliver a serious bite.

They should never be taken for granted, which is usually the cause of some of the distressing incidents one reads about from time to time in the newspapers. These snakes are predators, and a large, hungry snake, given the chance to predate what it perceives as small, vulnerable prey sometimes succumbs to the temptation.

Although it doesn't happen very often, we have been asked to assist now and then when law enforcement agencies have raided a drug-dealers house. The last line of defence is sometimes a couple of large Burmese pythons left loose in the room. It does work, as most police officers in our experience, whilst they might tackle dogs, draw the line at snakes!