Climate change making Burmese python spread westward in India: Study

Formerly regarded as a subspecies of the Indian rock python, the Python bivittatus is one of the largest snake species in the world?

Published - May 19, 2023 01:50 am IST - GUWAHATI

Burmese python is one of the largest snake species in the world. Photo: Special Arrangement

Burmese python is one of the largest snake species in the world. Photo: Special Arrangement

Climate change is making the Burmese python slither westward across the Ganga Basin from the northeastern region in India, a new study has found.?

Formerly regarded as a subspecies of the Indian rock python, the Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the largest snake species in the world. It can grow up to 20 feet and weigh more than 250 pounds, with females being larger than males.?

The Burmese python’s expanding range can be interpreted as a bioindicator of the changing climate as reptiles are extremely sensitive to the thermal features of the environment, the study published in the latest edition of the?Journal of Threatened Taxa?said.?

The authors of the study are Pichaimuthu Gangaiamaran, Aftab Alam Usmani, C.S. Vishnu, Ruchi Badola, and Syed Ainul Hussain — all from the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India.?

“The range extension of animals is influenced by various factors, particularly environmental variables, and ecological requirements. In this study, we have attempted to quantify the potential current distribution range of the Burmese python in and around the Ganga Basin,” the herpetologists said in the study.?

They recorded 38 Burmese python individuals — mostly from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar — between 2007 and 2022, with 12 of them rescued from human habitations. Eight pythons were females and five males while the sex of the others was not ascertained.?

The Burmese python is native to the tropical rainforests and subtropical jungles of eastern and northeastern India, Myanmar, southern China, Southeast Asia, and some extent of the Indonesian archipelago. Its distribution also encompasses eastern Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.?

Expanded range

The expanded minimum convex polygon (a measurement of habitat area recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) range of the python during the study was calculated to be 60,534.2 sq. km.?

According to the study, variables such as annual mean temperature (20.9%), land use or land cover (3.3%), isothermal conditions (0.1%), and elevation (6.6%) influenced the Burmese python’s distribution in the range extended landscape.?

“These results will support the field managers in rescuing individuals from conflict areas and rehabilitating them based on the appropriate geographical region,” the study said.?

A Burmese python differs from an Indian rock python in several ways.?

The supralabials (scales bordering the mouth opening along the upper jaw in reptiles) touching the eye, the tongue, and some parts of the head are bluish-black in the Burmese python compared to pinkish in the Indian rock python. Also, the former is greyish in colour while the latter is yellowish.?

Pythons perform a significant role in the ecological system by controlling the population of ungulates, reptiles, birds and other small mammals. But the Burmese python has become an invasive species in the United States with global warming trends predicted to increase its suitable habitats significantly.

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