Giant snakes, some exceeding twenty metres in length, often feature in movies and hoax social media posts. But, says Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute, none of the modern-day snakes get anywhere near that length.
The world’s longest snake is the Reticulated Python of Asia that may in unusual cases reach 7.5 m in length, while the Green Anaconda from South America reaches 6.55 m but is far bulkier. The Southern African Python, Python (previously known as the Rock Python while it was still a subspecies of the East African Rock Python) reaches close on 6 m in length but rarely exceeds 5.5 m.
This is by far our longest and bulkiest snake, that occurs from the Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal to Mozambique, Swaziland, Gauteng, Limpopo, the North West and elsewhere further north where it is found in bushveld areas. An excellent swimmer, it favours water but often seek shelter in Aardvark holes.
The Southern African Python is active mostly at night, when it ambushes its prey. It feeds mainly on dassies, cane rats, monkeys, small antelope and game birds. It has over 80 sharp recurved teeth and quickly latches onto prey before constricting it. Like other snakes, the meal is consumed whole and if it is an antelope with horns, it will swallow it head-first. The entire meal is digested, but horns, hooves, hair and feathers will be passed out with faeces.
Females grow much larger than males and produce 30 to 60 (but rarely more than 100) eggs in summer, each roughly the size of a tennis ball. Eggs are usually laid in an Aardvark hole and a female may return to the same laying site year after year. She will coil around her eggs and remain with them throughout the incubation period which is roughly three months. During this time, she may leave the hole to bask at its entrance but rarely moves away and will not eat until all of the eggs have hatched. Hatchlings measure 50 to 70 cm in length and are not protected by the mother. Attacks by the Southern African Python are rare and in most instances the snake will quickly release its victim and move off, leaving some teeth punctures that will bleed. To date, we are aware of only one documented fatal attack by a Southern Africa Python which happened back in the 1970s.
The Southern African Python, though not threatened or endangered, is a protected species and may not be caught or killed.
About the ASI
The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by Johan Marais, one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience, in conjunction with Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate that has been working at ASI for the past four years. Besides their public and corporate training courses, ASI provides additional educational information, interesting reads and various tips in newsletters, articles, posters and other documents on their website. They are also the largest distributors of snake handling equipment on the continent and have a free app that includes first aid information, snake identification features, snake removal information and more.
www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com firstname.lastname@example.org | Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713 Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176 | Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039.