Monday, December 03, 2007

Animal of the Week -- December 3, 2007

Apologies if last week you didn't receive an image with AOTW, so distracted was I by the handfuls of straws and the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel all around me that I neglected to send an image. Mind you, as it was an extinct animal, the images weren't that great, but you can see an impression of the beast here:

This week I am somewhat spoiled for pictures. For the animal is a vision of grace and beauty, very much alive, and seemingly up for posing for a good shot or two. This week's animal is Python molurus bivittatus (Burmese python), one of the world's longest, heaviest, and apparently friendliest snakes. In the Cambodian village of Sit Tbow, Chamreun, a 4.8 m long snake has adopted Sambeth Uon as her companion. Having first crawled into Sambeth's crib when he was a boy and she a 50 cm snakelet, Chamreun has returned to Sambeth after each of several attempts by his parents to relocate her from their home to the wild. Sambeth now says that he loves the python like a sister, and the family's neighbours have adopted the snake as a village mascot believing that she brings luck, she also brings a bloody great feeding bill, munching her way through forty chickens a week.

Growing up to 8 m in length, Brumese pythons are typically wary of people and would rarely seek out human company. Even when kept as pets they aren't renowned as the most affectionate snakes. In 1992, a Florida teenager was killed by his pet Burmese python, the 24 kg snake constricting the 60 kg boy. Suffocating him with a series of deadly coils wrapped around his neck and chest. The snake did not attempt to eat the Florida teenager, although there are records of larger Burmese pythons eating adult humans. Burmese pythons are able to eat food up to one quarter their length and the same weight as them, so Chamreun could make short work of Sambeth, but the boy doesn't seem at all worried about this prospect, saying "She is my best friend and protects me from danger. All my other friends are jealous of her." I am not sure jealousy is quite right, perhaps you want to try terrified, Sambeth.

Popular as pets, escaped populations of these leviathan snakes have established themselves in Australia and the USA. An Australian farmer was surprised when, after the disappearance of several sheep, he went out one morning to find a Burmese python with a sheep sized bulge in its belly trapped under his newly erected electric fence. And an Everglades ranger was a little more than surprised when he came across the grizzly scene in one of this week's photographs a couple of years back, a Burmese python ruptured during the act of swallowing an Alligator, both reptiles dead in a gruesome tableau.

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