Unexpected Encounters With Australian Reptiles #6 - The Woma Python (Aspidites Ramsayi)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012 at 21:56


The Woma python is a medium sized python commonly found in desert areas where they are aptly suited.

They have a very large distribution through northern Western Australia, through the Northern Territory and sparsely in South Australia. Throughout the Woma's extensive range there are several recognized and distinct morphs of the reptile. Woma pythons are suitably adapted to survive in some of the driest desert area on our continent. They inhabit sandy soiled areas that are generally covered in spinifex or poverty bush Acacia translucens.

The woma lives in semi-arid and arid environments in central and south-west Australia, although there are few recent records of the snake within the southern parts of its range. In Western Australia it can be found in two separate populations, the northern one from the Pilbara coast north to the Eighty Mile Beach area, and southern one from Cape Peron south and east to the eastern Goldfields region, although records suggest that the Peron population is isolated from the nearest southwestern locality. Juvenile and adult womas can be seen on roads and tracks in Shark Bay’s Francois Peron National Park.

Also known as the sand python or Ramsay’s python, the woma has a grey, olive, golden brown or rich red-brown back, ringed with darker bands. Its belly is cream to yellow. It can grow 2.7 m long, although the average length is 1.5 m. Unlike most other Australian pythons, the woma has a narrow pointed head rather than a broad head distinct from its body. It does not have the characteristic python heat-sensory pits along the lips and front of the head. These features result in it being occasionally mistaken for a venomous snake, although like all pythons the woma is harmless to humans.

Woma's are a burrowing species and most burrows are found beneath vegetation as the roots tend to strengthen the burrow from collapse in sandy soil. During the day the woma shelters in hollow logs, old reptile or mammal burrows or thick vegetation. It uses its head like a shovel to dig and enlarge its burrow. It emerges at night to search the red sandy plains and spinifex clumps for food, which probably consists mainly of reptiles, although it can include small mammals and birds. The snake wiggles the end of its tail to lure its prey close enough to strike, then kills its prey by squeezing it in the coils of its body, or by squashing it against the walls of its burrow.

The woma python is a threatened species, receiving special protection under Western Australia’s Wildlife Conservation Act and classified as ‘endangered on the IUCN Red List. Womas in south-western Western Australia are considered highly endangered. They have suffered a severe decline in Wheatbelt areas since the 1950s and there have been few confirmed sightings outside Shark Bay since the 1980’s. The clearing of land for agriculture is thought to be the greatest culprit, destroying the snake’s shelter sites and reducing the amount of food available within its range. Foxes and feral cats may also kill womas.

''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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