Saturday 15 June
African burrowing python (Calabaria reinhardtii)
African burrowing python fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
African burrowing python description
This unusual and secretive snake closely resembles the sand boas (subfamily Erycinae), leading to controversy over whether it is in fact a python or a boa (2) (3) (4). Unlike sand boas, the African burrowing python is oviparous (lays eggs) and prefers dense forest to a more arid habitat (2) (5), and many believe that the features it shares with these boas are merely the result of adaptations to a similar, fossorial (burrowing) lifestyle (3) (5).
Though most currently classify this snake with the pythons (subfamily Pythoninae), no other python in the world resembles the African burrowing python in body shape (2). The body, head and tail are cylindrical and of fairly uniform diameter, and the small head, which is indistinct from the neck, so resembles the tail that it can be hard to tell which end of the snake is which (2) (3) (6); this is further confused by the presence of white bands on the underside of both the tail and chin (2) (5). The body is brownish in colour, with lighter red, orange or yellowish flecks and irregular blotches, the head and tail are generally darker, and the belly is grey or brown. The eyes are tiny and of the same brown colour as the surrounding scales (2) (3) and the mouth is small and inconspicuous, lacking the heat-sensitive pits characteristic of other pythons (3) (7). The scales are glossy and smooth, and the rostral scale on the tip of the nose is enlarged, to aid in burrowing (3) (4) (6).
- Also known as
- African burrowing boa, Calabar burrowing boa, Calabar ground boa, Calabar ground python.
- Charina reinhardtii and Eryx reinhardtii. Top
- The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Active at night.
- Rostral scale
- In snakes, the scale at the tip of the snout, just above the mouth.
- A taxonomic category below a family but above a genus; a sub-division of a family, containing genera which are different enough to warrant a minor separation from the rest of the family.
- CITES (December, 2008)
- O’Shea, M. (2007) Boas and Pythons of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
- Cimatti, E. (2003) Calabaria reinhardtii, African burrowing python. Reptilia, 28: 66 - 71.
- Bartlett, P.P. and Wagner, E. (1997) Pythons. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
- Kingsnake.com: The African Burrowing “Python” (Calabaria reinhardtii) (December, 2008)
- Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P. (1998) Snakes. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Angelici, F.M., Inyang, M.A., Effah, C. and Luiselli, L. (2000) Analysis of activity patterns and habitat use of radiotracked African burrowing pythons, Calabaria reinhardtii. Israel Journal of Zoology, 46(2): 131 - 141.
- Akani, G.C., Barieenee, I.F., Capizzi, D. and Luiselli, L. (1999) Snake communities of moist rainforest and derived savanna sites of Nigeria: biodiversity patterns and conservation priorities. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8: 629 - 642.
- Luiselli, L. (2009) Pers. comm.
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
African burrowing python biology
Being shy, elusive and spending most of its time underground (3) (8), many aspects of the biology of the African burrowing python are not well known (3). It is believed to be mainly nocturnal, although it has also been found foraging during the day (3) (5). The African burrowing python’s small mouth is not suited to large prey (3), and it is believed to feed mainly on nestlings of small mammals such as mice, which it usually takes from the nest and kills by squashing against the walls of the burrow or by constriction, potentially taking up to four or more at once. The African burrowing python is famous for its defensive behaviour; when threatened, it rolls into a ball with the head protected in the centre of the coils. Alternatively, the tail may be lifted and moved about so that it closely resembles the head, distracting predators away from attacking the python’s real head (2) (3) (5).
Female African burrowing pythons typically lay between one and five large, unusually elongated eggs at the end of the dry season (2) (3) (6). Unusually for a python (7), the mother does not appear to coil herself around the eggs during incubation (3). The hatchlings grow relatively fast, and in captivity can reach breeding age at around three years old, possibly living for over 20 years (3).Top
African burrowing python rangeTop
African burrowing python habitat
The African burrowing python inhabits rainforest, swamp forest and overgrown plantations (2) (3) (8). As well as burrowing into decaying leaves and soil on the forest floor, and sometimes inhabiting the burrows of small mammals, it may also be found climbing among small bushes or fallen branches or sheltering inside termite nests, especially during the dry season (3) (5) (8).Top
African burrowing python status
Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).Top
African burrowing python threats
Little information is available on the threats faced by African burrowing pythons, though rainforest destruction is thought to threaten snake communities in parts of its range, such as in southern Nigeria (9). Although this species is not common as a pet, most specimens in the pet trade are wild-caught, and few people have yet to successfully breed African burrowing pythons in captivity (3) (5) (6). If demand for this species increases, collection for the pet trade may become a concern in the future.Top
African burrowing python conservation
Although not currently considered at risk of extinction, the African burrowing python is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning that international trade in the species should be carefully monitored and controlled (1). The African burrowing python occurs in some protected areas in West Africa, such as the Cross River National Park and the Upper Orashi Forest Reserve in southern Nigeria (10), and the species would benefit from further research into its behaviour, ecology and status in the wild, in order to better inform conservation measures and to warn of any population declines.Top
Find out more
To help conserve snakes and other reptiles, visit:
International Reptile Conservation Foundation:
For more information on the African burrowing python, see:
Cimatti, E. (2003) Calabaria reinhardtii, African burrowing python. Reptilia, 28:66-71. Available at:
Authenticated (28/04/09) by Dr. Luca Luiselli, Senior Researcher in Ecology, Institute Demetra, Rome, Italy.
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.