IN THE WILD: This is how African rock pythons kill their victims

The social and economic status of an animal is always judged from its ability to defend and to feed itself and this happens regardless of what others are paying when they come across this marauding killer.

Last week we saw how weight of an elephant helps the largest terrestrial animal to live almost free from attacks from predators like lions, leopards, cheetah and others. With this in mind let us see how weight help the African rock python to hunt and kill its victims. Scientists say these reptiles are almost exclusively mammal feeders but sometime they may eat reptiles such as lizards and crocodiles.

Different researches indicate that python starts its life by hunting and eating small mammals such as rats and others of that size until it grow and its body become very big to be fed by such small prey. From this stage it will increase its search for food while the size of its victim grow from small and medium antelopes but when this snake reaches its prime age. It may became very dangerous when includes humans in its menu.

Recent reports from Sulawesi in Indonesia a woman was killed and swallowed by a 23 feet long python. Scientists say African rock python can swallow a human because their lower j aw is indirectly attached to their skull. Allowing it to ex pand not only that, a python’s lower jaw comes apart, giving it an incredible flex ibility to open up and during this process which takes about an hour the snake will use its teeth to pull and push its victim’s body into an empty stomach where powerful acid are used in the second stage where digestion takes place.

Scientists say from South America, Asia and Africa south of Sahara many people are killed and eaten by these silent hunters who left no trace or evidence behind after the initial attack because bodies of their victims with their clothes are swallowed down. Scientists said we don’t hear reports of pythons killing people but some villagers are lost while hunting in the forest and its is not possible to establish their whereabouts because pythons rarely leave a carcass as a trace.

The animals can digest flesh and bones, meanwhile scientists say documented attacks on humans are exceptionally rare, Despite the species being common in many regions of Africa, and living in diverse habitats including those with agricultural activity.

Scientists say pythons are endowed with great ability of going up to between 10 and 21 days without food but when nothing happens these opportunistic hunters can surprisingly endure a long period without enough food and this happens when they don’t see suitable prey.

They can go for long periods on very little food until they see something big enough. The second stage is when the animals arrive and the predator crawls closer to identify its target which is followed q uickly by the attack whereby the fangs target and pressed on the legs or sides of the victim to hold and control it for some seconds before the predator embark on another move. It will wrap its powerful coils around the victim’s body, cutting off blood circulation to the brain, blocking off airways and preventing the chest from expanding. In different scenario, the snake will launch an attack from a closest point but if the area has no enough vegetations cover the snake will get under the water where it leave a small part of its forehead at the surface.

From this position the P ython may come up to take breath and scan the whole area with its tongue. When the scanning tongue happen to pick any indicative signs, the snake may decide to hold its breath and get deeper into the water where it will remain submerged for 30 minutes. Then to prove the information, the snake may come out to see the real situation for 15 minutes before going back into water where it will wait for another move for up to nine to twelve hours from the same position.

In an attacking position, the big reptile is capable to wait strategically and motionless for many hours for a prey to appear in a pool of water inside a national park or game reserve. As antelopes arrive on the side of a river and start to drink water.

The snake will slowly push its head into the surface and select its prime target, when the prey is selected, the snake will push its head to an attacking position where it may stay for few seconds before launching its full scale ambush using its very long and powerful mouth. The typical African rock python adult measures 4 .8 meters but rumors from C ongo forest and Selous in Tanzania and other tropical forests in the continent indicates there are bigger species measuring up to 6 meters.

Scientists say with availability of enough food, it’ s possible to have larger species in tropical rain forest of western Tanzania especially in game reserves such as Lukwati, Rukwa, Luaf, Ugala, Kigosi, Moyowosi, Burigi, Kimisi, Rumanyika and national parks such as Katavi, Mahale and Gombe.

An adult African rock python which is in good health weighs from 44 to 5 5 kilograms but there are few which carry more than 91 kilograms, this claim was proved in 1958 when a very large African rock python measuring 7 meters was killed in one of tropical rain forests of Africa but scientists say males are typically smaller than females.

Scientists say these snakes are smart hunters which know how to use landform such as rock which are brown in colour and features like dry vegetation.

The African rock pythons are very clever capable of combining different things for camouflaging with their yellowish, brownish or grey body colours, like other species of snakes the body of P ython is covered by irregular shaped scales which shine from their hard surfaces which provide protection to the internal delicate body system made up by different organs. P ython have a small triangular head marked with backward turned V symbols around both eyes which are used for hiding, its body is covered with blackish, brownish or grey scales which has smooth surface that help the snake to penetrate easily between different vegetation and maneuver quickly on rocks.

Miraculously the snake is said to have a forklike tongue to scan the surrounding when its extended from the mouth to collect moisture from the air and deposit them into the upper floor of the mouth. Inside the mouth of the African rock python there is a slitlike structure where the Jacobson’s organ is located, the slitlike structure functions as a special smelling organ which identifies tiny scent particles from the air.

Like other snakes the P ython has high sensitive internal ears capable of detecting low freq uency sounds ranging from 100 to 7 00 hertz which allows it to detect motion, static position and sound waves traveling through the ground.

Scientists say big pythons are incredibly powerful animals with huge muscles to both move and eat and constrict and because of their size, weight and colour, from the banks of Ruvama river to the shores of lake V ictoria people have many tales about these mysterious reptiles. rstanslaus@yahoo.com”


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Author: Reginald Matillya

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