The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Python (serpent)
PYTHON, a serpent of the subfamily Pythoninæ of the boa family. Pythons differ little from boas (see Boidæ), but, except a small, aberrant species in Mexico, are found in Africa. India and eastward to Australia. They rival the boas (q.v.) in size and strength and have similar habits, hanging motionless from trees by their prehensile tails or lurking in the grass or in water where animals are likely to come or at the drinking places. They are especially fond of rocky places, affording snug retreats and are generally known in Africa as “rock-snakes.” Hence they pounce on their victims, which are instantly enveloped in folds of their flexuous and muscular bodies and crushed and rolled into a compact mass. Greatly exaggerated stories are told of the huge creatures these serpents are able to swallow, but, although a tiger or an ox might be killed by the great Indian python, a crushed dog or goat (horns and all) is the limit of its power to eat. The process of swallowing is very slow and many weeks may elapse before another meal is desired. In fact, however, small rodents and birds form the greater part of their fare and these are more frequently caught. These great serpents are justly dreaded by the natives of the regions they inhabit and the literature of travel, ancient and modern, abounds in narratives of their terrible deeds, and many legends and superstitions have clustered about them, especially in the Orient. Few trustworthy records exist of their having attacked human beings, however, and most of the species are readily tamable. They are nocturnal in disposition, hiding in holes or shady tree-tops during the day.
All pythons lay from 50 to 100 eggs on the ground in some dry, grassy place, and the female coils about them, guarding and warming them for about two months when they hatch. The boas, on the contrary, bring forth their young alive.
The biggest pythons arc those of southern Asia, the first place belonging to the netted python (Python reticulatur) of Indo-China and the Malay Archipelago, which sometimes exceeds 30 feet in length and is perhaps the largest kind of serpent known. It is light yellowish brown with squarish black markings and its skin glitters in the sunlight with splendid prismatic hues. It abounds in hot, low-lying regions and has a savage disposition. Its rate of growth is slow and it probably lives to a great age. The adigar (P. molurus) of all India, Ceylon and Malaya, reaches nearly the same length and is of heavier build; it varies from yellowish to dark brown in ground-color, with elongate, irregular dark blotches. The three African species known as “rock-snakes,” are smaller, none exceeding 18 feet long. One of them, the royal python (P. regia), dark-brown, with a row of light spots along the back, is the species most often seen in traveling menageries. Another (P. sebæ) is called “fetch-snake,” on account of the superstitious regard paid it by the negroes of the West Coast. It is marked with many dark zig-zag cross-bars and a dark line along the spine. Australia possesses several pythons, which are smaller and more active than the tropical species. Two, the carpet-python and the diamond snake, are common and well known; they are pests of the poultry-yard, but useful as destroyers of rats and rabbits.