Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Holy Grail

Do you like snakes?  Love snakes? Afraid of snakes?  Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, I encourage you to read further. 

I am going to tell you all about one type of snake that has warmed my heart ever since I met him.  I hope you will become at least partial to him after I have given you many reasons why snakes are great!  I will discuss this species native history, and some interesting facts that you may not know about snakes and this specific species.  Let’s slither right in!

This special snake is a Royal Python (Python regius) named Monty (get it? Monty Python and the Holy Grail?)  Anyway, he is such a handsome colored snake that he will definitely grab your attention when you look at him.  Below is one of the many pictures I have taken of him since I have been working at the World Bird Sanctuary.

Royal Pythons are native to central and west Africa in mixed grassland, savanna, and forest areas.  They are terrestrial, which means they are ground dwelling animals.  They spend all of their time on the ground.  Their main diet consists of small mammals, but they will also prey upon small birds and eggs.  Monty is fed 4-5 large mice every two weeks (we have frozen mice that we thaw before we feed them).  Even though the mice are dead, he still constricts the mice when I feed them to him, then swallows them whole, head first. 

These stocky pythons usually have large dark brown markings with lighter brown spots dispersed throughout the body.  The belly is white with larger scales than the rest of the body.  The multicolor of the body does vary depending on geographic range in Africa.  With these snakes and others, it is the females that are larger and have longer tails than the males.  Below you can see Monty’s unique markings.
Females will typically lay 1-11 leathery-shelled eggs in a clutch (a group of eggs).  The female will then consistently coil around the eggs to protect them until they hatch, which takes from 44-54 days.  After hatching, the neonates, or hatchlings, will be independent but may stick around the female for a few months.  In the wild, Royal pythons live up to 10 years old.  In captivity however, their age can increase dramatically to 20-30 years on average.  According to the Philadelphia Zoo (Pennsylvania, USA), they had a Royal Python live to be 50 years old!  Monty was hatched in 2000, making him 13 years old this year.  He is also around 5 ½ pounds (~2500g) and 3 ½ feet long.  The typical range is 5-15 pounds and 3-6 feet in length. 

Royal Pythons are also known as a Ball Python because they will coil into a ball to hide.  The term “royal” refers to the ancient legends of African rulers that wore live pythons on their bodies as a part of their apparel.  One famous example is the Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra of Egypt.

Snakes have the mistaken reputation of being mean, ugly, scary, slimy creatures that will bite at anything given a chance.  This is simply not true.  I think snakes are very beautiful and interesting animals.  They can be timid just like other animals out there.

If you have never felt a snake before, then you must request to if you come to visit us.  They are very smooth and dry.  I was amazed the first time I touched Monty! 

Sometimes when I hold him, I put him on my shoulders and he moves around gently to explore.  He sticks his tongue out while he moves around to smell his surroundings.  That’s right!  I said smell!  You may be thinking “I don’t smell with my tongue—how can Monty?” This is how it works: when they stick their tongue out, they are picking up molecules in the surrounding air.  Next, they bring their tongue back in their mouth and then touch it to the roof of their mouth.  Snakes have a sensory organ called the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth, and this helps tell them what is going on around them. 

And, no—Monty has never bitten me and has never constricted me tightly.  I just love showing him off to people because he is such an awesome snake!

Monty is available for adoption in our Animal Adoption program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This summer Monty can be seen at the Monsanto Environmental Education Center at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm.  Monty is a very handsome snake.  You should stop on by and visit him! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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