The African rock python is a large, non-venomous snake native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of the six largest snake species in the world and is widely feared, though it very rarely kills humans. African rock pythons have a thick body covered with colored blotches, often joining up in a broad, irregular stripe. Body markings vary between brown, olive, chestnut, and yellow, but fade to white on the underside. The head of these snakes is triangular and is marked on top with a dark brown “spear-head” outlined in buffy yellow. Under the eye, there is a distinctive triangular marking, the subocular mark. Like all pythons, the scales of the African rock python are small and smooth. Those around the lips possess heat-sensitive pits, which are used to detect warm-blooded prey, even in the dark. Pythons also possess two functioning lungs, unlike more advanced snakes, which have only one, and also have small, visible pelvic spurs, believed to be the vestiges of hind limbs. Males in this species are typically smaller than females.
African rock pythons are found throughout almost the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Namibia and South Africa. They live in a wide range of habitats, including forest, savanna, grassland, semidesert, and rocky areas. They are particularly associated with areas of permanent water and are found on the edges of swamps, lakes, and rivers. These snakes also readily adapt to disturbed habitats, so they are often found around human habitation, especially cane fields.
African rock pythons are solitary and interact with each other only during the breeding season. They are mainly terrestrial but are also good climbers and can often be seen hanging on tree branches. They are very good swimmers and can stay submerged for long periods of time. African rock pythons are primarily nocturnal creatures, however, they may come out from their shelters during the day to bask in the sun. During the dry season theses snakes usually become dormant. African rock pythons are known to be very aggressive and when threatened can be extremely defensive. They usually produce a hiss as a warning sign and can give a painful bite or constrict with great ferocity.
African rock pythons are carnivores. They feed on a variety of large rodents, monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, vultures, fruit bats, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and more in forest areas. In suburban areas, they hunt on rats, poultry, dogs, and goats. Occasionally, these snakes may eat the cubs of big cats such as leopards, lions, and cheetahs, cubs of hyenas, and puppies of wild dogs such as jackals and Cape hunting dogs.
African rock pythons usually breed in the spring. They are oviparous, laying between 20 and 100 hard-shelled, elongated eggs in an old animal burrow, termite mound, or cave. Females protect their nests coiling around the eggs, protecting them from predators and possibly helping to incubate them until they hatch around 90 days later. Hatchlings are well-developed at birth and measure between 45 and 60 cm (17.5 and 23.5 in) in length; they appear virtually identical to adults, except with more contrasting colors. Once they have hatched, the young usually move off on their own; however, sometimes females may guard their hatchlings for up to two weeks to protect them from predators. Young African rock pythons become reproductively mature at 3 to 5 years of age.
Although African rock pythons are not endangered, they do face threats from habitat reduction and hunting. People are often fearful of large pythons and may kill them on sight. African rock pythons may also be threatened by hunting for leather in some areas. They are also collected for the pet trade, although these snakes are not generally recommended as pets due to their large size and unpredictable temperament. Some of the African rock python’s habitats are also known to be under threat. For example, mangrove and rainforest habitats and their snake communities are under serious threat in southeastern Nigeria from habitat destruction and exploration for the oil industry.
African rock pythons are often found near human settlements due to the presence of rats, mice, and other vermin as a food source. This way they help control their populations which also benefits the farmers.