The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the five largest species of snakes in the world (about the third-largest as measured either by length or weight). Wild Burmese Pythons average 3.7 m (12.1 ft) long, but have been known to reach 5.74 m (18.8 ft). It is native to a large variation of tropic and subtropic areas of South and Southeast Asia. Until 2009, it was considered a subspecies of Python molurus, but now is recognized as belonging to a distinct species. Burmese pythons are dark-colored snakes with many brown blotches bordered in black down the back. The perceived attractiveness of their skin pattern contributes to their popularity with both reptile keepers and the leather industry. The pattern is similar in colour, but different in actual pattern from the African rock python (Python sebae), sometimes resulting in confusion of the two species outside of their natural habitats. The African rock python can generally be distinguished by its tighter pattern of markings, compared to the Burmese python, which has bolder patterns, similar to those seen on a giraffe.
Burmese Pythons are often found near water and are sometimes semi-aquatic, but can also be found in trees. They are mainly nocturnal rainforest dwellers. When young, they are equally at home on the ground and in trees, but as they gain girth, they tend to restrict most of their movements to the ground. They are also excellent swimmers, being able to stay submerged for up to half an hour. Burmese pythons spend the majority of their time hidden in the underbrush. In the northern parts of its range, the Indian python may brumate for some months during the cold season in a hollow tree, a hole in the riverbank, or under rocks. Like all snakes, the Burmese python is carnivorous. Its diet in the wild, consists primarily of appropriately sized birds and mammals. The Burmese Python uses its sharp rearward-pointing teeth to seize its prey, then wraps its body around the prey, at the same time contracting its muscles, killing the prey by constriction. It is often found near human habitation due to the presence of rats, mice, and other vermin as a food source. However, its equal affinity for domesticated birds and mammals means it is often treated as a pest. These giant snakes have also been known to have attacked and eaten alligators and adult deer in Florida, where they are an invasive species.
Burmese Pythons are often sold as pets, and are made popular by their attractive color and apparently easy-going nature. However, these animals have a rapid growth rate, and often exceed 2.1 m (6.9 ft) in length in a year if cared for and fed properly. By age four, they will have reached their adult size, though they continue growing very slowly throughout their lives, which may exceed 20 years. In captivity, its diet consists primarily of commercially available, appropriately sized rats, graduating to larger prey such as rabbits and poultry as it grows. Exceptionally large pythons may even require larger food items such as pigs or goats. An adult Burmese Python requires a secure enclosure that is no less than 4 feet (width) x 8 feet (length). Some jurisdictions in the United States have placed restrictions on the keeping of Burmese pythons as pets. Violators can be imprisoned for more than 7 years or fined $500,000 if convicted.
In the wild, Burmese pythons breed in the early spring, with females laying clutches of 12–36 eggs in March or April. They remain with the eggs until they hatch, wrapping around them and twitching their muscles in such a way as to raise the ambient temperature around the eggs by several degrees. Once the hatchlings use their egg tooth to cut their way out of their eggs, no further maternal care is given. The newly hatched often remain inside their eggs until they are ready to complete their first shedding of skin, after which they hunt for their first meal. Burmese pythons reach sexual maturity somewhere between eighteen months to four years of age. The size of a sexually mature Burmese python should be between 6 feet to 9 feet for the males, and 9 feet or more for the females. The females do grow larger than the males of the species in this case. In captivity, the breeding season most commonly starts at around November and ends at March of the following year. At around this time, breeders stop feeding their snakes. The Burmese pythons kept for captive breeding should be well established and in excellent condition before they perform for courtship and actual breeding. The breeding of Burmese pythons may be induced, which is done by reducing daytime photoperiod to 8-10 hours and dropping the temperature during nighttime to somewhere in the mid 70s. At this point, the male should be introduced into the female’s cage. Some breeders mist the animals with water, which is also said to help induce breeding activity.