Southern African pythons’ coils can crush the life out of their prey, but they also gently warm their brood of babies.
Snakes get a bad rap — stories from the Bible to “Harry Potter” paint serpents as deceitful, unfeeling or downright evil. But perhaps that’s only because we don’t know them well enough; as it turns out, snakes can be caring and attentive mothers.
A new study recently described how southern African pythons care for their young, offering the first evidence of maternal care in an egg-laying snake species. The mother python’s muscular body — which can crush the life out of large mammal prey — coils gently around her babies in the nest, protecting them and keeping them warm at night as they grow.
Snakes are trying to give birth
But her attentiveness comes at a cost. As female pythons typically don’t eat during their breeding season, which lasts about six months, they lose approximately 40 percent of their body mass while looking after their eggs and then caring for a tangled pile of babies. The moms were “in poor condition” after this period, the study author reported.
After the eggs hatched, the python mothers stayed with their young for two weeks. The mothers’ bodies darkened from their normal light-brown patterns to nearly solid black as they brooded. An adaptation that likely helps them to warm themselves in the sun and then pass that extra heat to their young, according to the study. The pythons would bask near the burrow entrance until their body temperature climbed to nearly 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), just a few degrees away from temperatures that could kill them,
A clutch of southern African python babies bask in the sun.
And these devoted python mothers aren’t alone; ongoing research is revealing attentive mothers in other snake species too, Scientist said.
“Biologists are discovering that females of many types of rattlesnakes show maternal care of babies. In some species, mothers appear to even cooperate by taking shifts to look after young,” he said.
However, those rattlesnake species give birth to live babies. For now, the southern African python is the only egg-layer to demonstrate a maternal side. Snakes have typically been written off as indifferent parents. But perhaps that’s only because there is still much to be learned about their habits, he suggested.
“Research is showing that snake reproductive biology is far more complex and sophisticated than we previously thought.
Here is wonderful pictures of snake mother.