Gentle giant – the Burmese python is the largest native species in Hong Kong (in length) which I feel more comfortable catching than many smaller snakes. Not saying they won’t bite though.
Size does matter, but length or girth?
Wild pythons in Hong Kong used to be much larger back in the 50s. The record-holder was 5.74 m (18’10”). Nowadays the ones found rarely exceed 3-4 m. But length is not what makes the Burmese python a true giant. Weight is. The heaviest record is 182.8 kg (403 lb). A few species could grow longer (such as the Reticulated python) but probably only one single species can grow heavier – the Green anaconda.
The Big 5
The Burmese python is the largest snake in Hong Kong and the second-largest (in weight) in the world after the Green anaconda. Together with the Reticulated python (the longest snake in the world), African rock python, and Indian python, they make the big 5 of snakes. But the size ranking of these giant snakes should not be considered definitive. There is considerable variation in the maximum reported size of these species, and most measurements are not truly verifiable.
The 5 largest snakes in the world (not listed in order):
- Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
- Burmese python (Python bivittatus)
- Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)
- African rock python (Python sebae)
- Indian python (Python molurus)
Has Burma separated from India a decade ago? What?
Surprisingly, such an iconic snake did not get to become a full species until 2009. Before that, the Burmese python was considered just a subspecies of the Indian python (Python molurus). Asian rock python was the name for both on the species level.
It swallows more than just swallows
When keeping backyard poultry was still allowed in Hong Kong back in the day, before 2006, chicken was the python’s favorite item on the menu. After 2006, its diet has been back to natural which consists of birds, rodents, feral cats, dogs, monkeys, barking deers, calves, goats, and wild boars.
Overgrown in the West; Protected in the East
Despite the fact that the Burmese python has become a very “successful” invasive species on the other side of the globe in the Florida Everglades, it is locally protected in Hong Kong. As apex predators of Hong Kong, these giant snakes contribute to ecosystem services by controlling the overpopulation of rodents, boars, and especially feral cats which kill a large number of local species every night.
Due to their large mass and the amount of self-confidence, when we encounter them chances are they can be moving very slowly. Roadkills happen often. I have had them crossing the road slowly (or barely moving) right in front of my car when driving in suburbs or rural areas. I had to block the road with my car until they finished crossing. Even had to move those not willing to move to the roadside.
They travel by day, too
Mainly nocturnal, but they are often found hanging out during the day in the warmer days in Hong Kong. They travel a lot – have a large home range. It is recorded that there’s a radio-tracked adult female which covered an area of more than 12 hectares within 24 hours on Lantau Island.
Not only in Burma
In Hong Kong, it is widely distributed including all major islands. Outside Hong Kong, in spite of the name, the distribution of the Burmese pyhton is not limited to Myanmar but throughout southern and Southeast Asia, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and southern China in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, and Yunnan.
See more of my encounters with Hong Kong Wildlife.
緬甸蟒, 蟒蛇, 黑蛇蟒, 蚺蛇, 南蛇, 琴蛇