Other common names
African python, Northern African rock python, African rock python
Most adult African rock pythons are about 10-16 feet (3-5 m) in total length. These are very large, stout-bodied snakes with two mostly continuous and irregular dark blotches down the back that are bordered by black and white. The background body coloration is usually tannish-brown or brownish-gray. The top of the head is dark with a light stripe on both sides of the head that extends through the eye to converge on the nose, forming a dark spearhead pattern. Juvenile color pattern is similar to that of adults, except the coloration is more vivid.
Range in Florida
African rock pythons are a non-native species from sub-Saharan Africa that have likely been established in Florida since the early 2000s. They have been found in Sarasota and Miami-Dade counties. However, they are currently known to be established only in a small localized area on the southeastern side of US 41 (Tamiami Trail) and SR 997 (Krome Avenue) in Miami, Miami-Dade County.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-venomous African rock pythons typically bite to defend themselves. Small individuals are not generally dangerous to people or pets. However, larger African rock pythons have large, sharp teeth, and their bites can cause severe lacerations. Large animals are also fully capable of eating dogs and cats. Virtually all bites occur when the snakes are intentionally bothered.
Comparison with other species
Burmese python (Python bivittatus) Burmese pythons have bold, dark dorsal blotches separated by thin light-colored bars. The belly is light colored in the center with small dark spots along the sides.
Most adult African rock pythons are about 10-13 feet (3-5 m) in total length, with a record length in Florida recorded of 14.4 feet (4.4 m). These are very large, stout-bodied snakes with two mostly continuous and irregular dark blotches down the back that are bordered by black and white. The sides have smaller dark markings usually edged in white or yellow that are often C-shaped (open end facing the head) on the front part of the body but transition to vertical bars further down the body. There is a light-colored stripe down the top of the tail that never extends down the sides. The background body coloration is usually tannish-brown or brownish-gray. The belly is light-colored with a dark mottled pattern. The top of the head is dark with a light stripe on both sides of the head that extends through the eye to converge on the nose, forming a dark spearhead pattern. A second light stripe extends diagonally from the corner of the mouth to the eye. The scales on the body are smooth. The pupil is vertically elliptical (cat-like). There are deep facial pits between the scales along front of the upper lip. Juvenile color pattern is similar to that of adults, except the coloration is more vivid.
In Florida, African rock pythons have been found in and around sawgrass prairies, melaleuca stands, agricultural areas, man-made canals and lakes, and housing developments.
African rock pythons typically remain well hidden in dense vegetation to avoid detection. However, if they are cornered, both juveniles and adults may quickly strike at the attacker. If grabbed or pinned, they will often bite the attacker and hold on while writhing and constricting. Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort. However, they tend to be more willing to bite in defense than Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus).
African rock pythons in Florida primarily feed on a wide range of mammals and birds, both wild and domestic. These snakes are powerful constrictors.
In Florida, females are known to lay 11-47 eggs, but the species is known to lay up to 100 eggs in its native range. Females remain coiled around the eggs without eating until they hatch. Hatchlings are 18-24 inches (45-61 cm) in total length.
The deep facial pits between the scales on the upper lips of African rock pythons are sophisticated heat-sensitive organs that allow these snakes to sense the heat emitted by endothermic (warm-blooded) prey even in complete darkness. This extra sense helps these snakes to be highly effective nighttime predators.
Efforts are underway to eradicate this species from Florida given its currently restricted distribution, and these efforts appear to be making progress. However, locating these snakes during surveys is extremely difficult and remains a major obstacle to eradication efforts.
African rock pythons were listed as an injurious species in 2012 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This listing prevents the importation of this species into the United States except for zoological, educational, medical, or scientific purposes and only with a permit.
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Reed, R.N., K.L. Krysko, R.W. Snow, and G.H. Rodda. 2010. Is the Northern African Python (Python sebae) established in Southern Florida? IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians 17: 52-54.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.