The African rock python is one of the headlining names when you search for snakes in Africa. It is the biggest snake on the continent. We know pythons for their size, power, and beautifully colored skin.
Pythons live throughout Sub-saharan Africa. You can find them from Senegal to Ethiopia and down to South Africa. There is, however, a slight difference between the rock python species found in central and southern Africa.
Rock pythons, like all pythons, are constrictors that use their muscles to subdue their prey. This doesn’t mean you should let them bite you because they still have very sharp teeth that can leave a nasty scar.
It’s time to uncover everything there is to know about these elusive hunters.
African Rock Python vs. Southern African Python
African rock pythons (Python sebae) are one of two python species found in Africa. The other python is the Southern African python or Southern African rock python (old name).
For a long time, these two snakes were both thought to be part of the Sebae species. The African rock python was the nominate species, while the Southern African rock python was the subspecies Python sebae natalensis.
However, since then, we have split them into two distinct species: Python sebae and Python natelensis. We’re going to focus on Python sebae in this article – the true rock python of Africa.
How to Identify African Rock Pythons
Pythons are one of the easiest snakes to identify when they are fully grown. The simple reason is that they are the only snakes that can reach such incredible lengths.
Apart from the snake’s length, we can also use the coloration, head shape, and scales to help identify them. Juvenile rock pythons can be a bit more challenging because they are a lot smaller.
However, once you have gone through all the identification tips below, you should have no problem identifying the largest snake species in Africa.
Rock python size
The African rock python is the largest snake in Africa, growing up to around 6.5 m in length. This is considerably longer than its Southern African cousin, which grows to approximately 5.5 m.
It would be quite tricky to know which snake you are dealing with by just looking at its length. Even though these two snakes are so similar in size, it’s their distribution that gives them away.
Rock python distribution
African rock pythons live in Central Africa, stretching from Senegal in the West to Ethiopia in the East. You can find these snakes as far south as Northern Angola.
Southern African pythons do not live in any of these countries and, instead, live in the 5 countries found at Africa’s tip. Namely South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.
So, if you happen across a thick 5 m-long snake in any Central African country, you can be certain that you have just encountered an African rock python.
Rock python head & scales
Any snake expert would tell you the best way to identify a snake is through its body features. Although length and color are also useful, there is too much variation between snakes in the same species.
The two main features to look at are the scales and head. African rock pythons have a very particular triangular-shaped head. You should be able to make out the distinctive brown spear with yellow outline. With the tip ending on the nose.
Another key feature on their head is the smaller triangular marking found underneath the eye. This is a subocular (below the eye) marking and is characteristic of an African rock python.
The rest of the body has small, smooth scales with colorful patches. These patches can vary in color but are usually combinations of brown, yellow, black, and white.
These colorations are similar to the Southern African python. Which makes it difficult to differentiate these snakes using only their color.
What do African Pythons Eat?
What do the longest snakes in Africa eat? Many people want to know this, especially if they have read the headline ‘African Rock Python Eats Boy’.
This tragic story surfaced after an African rock python escaped from a reptile store and killed two Canadian boys. Although this story highlights the dangers of keeping exotic animals as pets, it is by no means a normal situation.
In their native environment, African rock pythons have a wide range of prey to choose from. Any animal is fair game. Including rodents, monkeys, bushpig, warthogs, antelopes, and even crocodiles or big cats.
These snakes are not picky. Anything that they can overpower and swallow whole is good enough. When it comes to these large African snakes, it’s best to keep children and pets safely away from them.
How do they subdue prey?
Although these rock snakes can be dangerous, rock pythons are not venomous snakes. This means that their bite will not have any severe side effects. Instead of overpowering their prey using venom, these snakes use their sheer strength to catch their meals.
These snakes are slow-moving and often prefer waiting for food to come to them. Once they have identified their prey, they will strike. African rock pythons’ teeth are sharp and curve backward to grab prey with an initial bite.
Once attached, the seemingly cumbersome snake comes alive. It immediately starts wrapping its large body around its prey. Every time the prey breathes out, the python squeezes harder.
Although this might seem like a slow way to kill your prey, it is actually relatively quick. These large pythons can stop their prey’s heart or suffocate them within minutes.
African Rock Python Breeding
African rock pythons reproduce during spring. They are oviparous snakes that can lay anywhere between 20 – 100 eggs. You can find these hard-shelled eggs in old animal holes or cavities. Each egg is roughly the size of a tennis ball.
Contrary to most snakes, female rock pythons are great parents. The female will coil around her eggs and stay with them until they hatch – sometimes up to 90 days later.
It doesn’t stop there. Rock python mothers will go as far as guarding their new hatchlings for the next two weeks. This behavior is incredibly unique for snakes.
Hatchlings appear to look almost identical to adults, except for having more contrasting colors. These baby pythons can be anywhere between 45 – 60 cm in length.
Rock Pythons in Captivity
You can find African rock pythons for sale in the USA. However, officials across the country are changing the laws relating to importing and breeding these majestic creatures.
Some reptile enthusiasts are not happy about these changes. If we look at the latest stories coming from the USA and Canada it makes sense. In Canada, we saw two boys’ deaths. In the USA, there is a big problem with alien snakes escaping into the wild. Including rock pythons in Florida.
African rock pythons in Florida are one of the bigger snake problems. These snakes do not have any natural predators in North America. So any snakes that escape can wreak serious havoc on the native wildlife.
Living in the everglades gives them free reign to many of the large mammals (and pets) that call this area home. It’s important to prevent these things from happening. After all, we should conserve both African wildlife and the indigenous wildlife of North America.
African Rock Python Facts
Before ending this article, we are going to look at 5 of the most interesting rock python facts:
- African rock pythons have heat sensors on their upper lip. These help them sense heat differences between prey and their surroundings.
- These snakes have two functioning lungs. This is different from other more advanced snake species that only have one functioning lung.
- On the snake’s belly, you can see visible pelvic spurs. These are what remains of hind limbs that have since disappeared.
- African rock pythons do not hibernate, but they will enter a dormant state during the dry season when food is scarce. During this time, they will not hunt, nest, mate, or explore new territory.
- The African rock python is one of the 6th largest species of snakes in the world. Other species include green anaconda, reticulated python, Burmese python, Indian python, and amethystine python.
Seeing the Largest Snake in Africa
Although the African rock python seems dangerous, it is much less of a problem than many originally thought. These snakes are non-confrontational and, unless you step on them, there is very little chance that you will ever even encounter one in the wild.
Considering they are the largest snake in Africa, many people are still very interested in seeing them. If you are one of them, make sure to book one of our safaris through Central Africa – where these secretive animals call home.