Unexpected Encounters with Australian Reptiles #2 - Black Headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus)

Saturday, Jan 21, 2012 at 15:58


This species is very easy to identify with its shiny black head and distinct banding. They and their close cousin, the Woma belong to Aspidites, a genus endemic to Australia. Black Headed Pythons are found across the top third of Australia in a broad range of habitats. In the wild, they spend considerable time in burrows and will also shelter in hollow logs, burrows, deep soil cracks, inside termite mounds, under rocks and there crevices.
They are often known by common names such as the tar pot snake, rock python etc.

In the winter months they are sometimes observed holding their head in a vertical position and it is thought that the black coloured head serves as a solar panel to heat their entire body without fully emerging from their burrow.

Although their body coloration and pattern does not vary considerably there is noticeable differences in coloration between the ones found in the Pilbara district of W.A compared to Black headed pythons found in the Northern Territory and Queensland which tend to have a much darker body colour.

When disturbed in the wild, Black headed pythons will often hiss and open their mouth slightly but will bite only rarely. When they do occasionally strike it is usually in the form of a head butt only (with a closed mouth). They are claimed to have the most powerful bite of any Australian snake and while not venomous, people who have been the unlucky recipients of a bite can testify to the fact that the blackhead has powerful jaws compared to other pythons of similar size (thankfully not me!).

These snakes are mentioned in, or play a central role in, the stories of the Indigenous Australians Dreamtime tradition. The Nyangumarta aboriginals in the Pilbara call this snake purruyura

The Black-headed python is found in the warmer tropical areas of Australia and occupy a wide variety of habitats including sclerophyll forests, vegetated shrubby plains, sparsely vegetated deserts, and rocky laden areas or escarpments.

Black headed Pythons predominately feed on reptiles including other snakes but will eat mammals. One recent series of photographs from a mining region of WA shows a BHP consuming a large goanna over a 5 hour period (and then having great difficulty moving off).

One of the funniest episodes in snake whispering I've encountered on my travels involved an EO member taking care of his early morning ablutions. I’ve clipped the story from my travel journal and printed it here for your amusement. (Sorry Michael).

7th June, 2009

There was great excitement about the camp this morning as just before departure, Michael J went for a stroll into a small gully running south from our plateau campsite for a last minute leak. While standing quietly relieving himself he glanced to his right and realised he was urinating on a 7 foot snake that was not exactly happy about the warm bath. Well Michael reckoned it stopped him in mid stream and all appendages automatically retracted into his body as he leapt backwards and headed the short few metres back to the campsite hollering and shouting. The culprit turned out to be a fine specimen of a black headed python. They are very similar in colour and shape to the Woma, in fact close relations but for the black head. This particular fellow was in prime condition at more than 2 metres long and as thick as a coke can in the middle. He was fairly non-plussed about the early morning sprinkle and provided some great photo and video opportunities. Still being cold he was a bit sluggish but could move well enough when he wanted to. That was the fourth snake in two days. More than I’ve seen in the past 4 years of outback travel. Michael’s rude shock certainly adds new meaning to the old Australian euphemism of “Syphoning the python”!

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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