Aspidites ramsayi 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Pythonidae

Scientific Name: Aspidites ramsayi (Macleay, 1882)
Common Name(s):
English Woma, Ramsay's Python
French Python de Ramsay
Spanish Pitón de Ramsay
Aspidiotes ramsayi Macleay, 1882

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2017-02-23
Assessor(s): Bruton, M., Wilson, S., Shea, G., Ellis, R., Venz, M., Hobson, R. & Sanderson, C.
Reviewer(s): Auliya, M. & Bowles, P.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Cox, N.A.
Listed as Least Concern, as while at least one subpopulation is thought to be declining the species has a wide range, and it is not expected to be declining at a sufficient rate,or widely enough across its range as a whole, to be listed in a higher threat category. Nevertheless, this is a secretive species and further research is needed into both the species' ecology and the extent and impacts of apparent threats across its range as a whole to clarify whether declines are underway and the rate of any such decline.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occurs in the desert and adjacent areas of the central parts of Australia, with its distribution extending to the Brigalow Belt of Queensland (Cogger 2014). A subpopulation in southwestern Australia may be isolated from the main body of the species' distribution. Records are scarce in the far east of the range; this may also represent a disjunct subpopulation, however evidence for this is limited as this is an area with few people (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia)
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:It is locally common in some parts of the core range, uncommon to rare elsewhere. This is a secretive species that spends much of its time beneath ground and is very difficult to survey (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). The species is presumed to be declining in the southwest and far east of the range. Based on regular sightings of this elusive species and its apparent tolerance of historical land clearance, the population may be relatively stable in core areas of its distribution in central and eastern parts of the range (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). In the far east of the range, the species may have undergone local declines due to broadscale cropping (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This species is associated with desert and semi-arid areas predominantly found in sandy areas, but is also found in spinifex grassland, Eucalyptus and acacia woodlands on claysoils, rocky areas, and other non-sandy habitats. The availability of underground burrows (generally either natural or those excavated by other species), suitable ground cover, and other shelter sites appears to have a greater influence on the species occurrence than the broad habitat type, and radio-tracking studies have found that the species occurs can persist in cleared and regrowth landscapes so long as suitable underground shelter sites remain (M. Bruton, unpubl. data). The species is an opportunistic feeder: analysis of the stomach contents of museum specimens suggests that Womas' diet across Australia was approximately evenly divided between mammals (including introduced species such as mice and rabbits) and reptiles, with birds occasionally being taken (Slip and Shine 1990, Shine 1999) It is a principally terrestrial to fossorial species that shelters in hollow logs, animal burrows, rock crevices or under thick ground vegetation during the day. Bruton (2013) reported the first evidence of arboreality in this snake during a radio-tracking study, with animals being found up to 10 - and most commonly 2-4 - m high. The snakes climbed trees infrequently (10 records of 1,680 "radio-tracking events" - Bruton 2013). In all instances this behaviour was associated with either hunting prey or descending trees, presumably after consuming prey. Individuals' surface activity is temperature-dependent, and at least in the eastern part of the range animals are active diurnally in winter and nocturnally in hotter months (M. Bruton, unpubl. data).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is a food item among Aboriginal groups and it is traditionally harvested by following the track of the snake into its burrow and digging it out (Barker and Barker 1994). Animals are found in the international pet trade from the US across the EU to Japan, reported to be predominantly captive-bred.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although both Aspidites species exhibit digging behaviour (Ehmann 1993) and excavation of its own burrows was recently recorded for the first time in a wild woma population (Bruton 2013), the species appears to use self-dug burrows principally as temporary shelters and exhibits a preference for enlarging pre-existing burrows dug by other species (Bruton 2013). As such this snake is likely to rely to a large extent on already existing mammal or large lizard burrows for shelter. Although the species appears to be resilient to changes in surface vegetation, intensive agricultural activities such as cropping or trampling by grazing animals may destroy animal burrows on which this species depends (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017), and may have led to at least localized population declines (e.g. in the southwest). Cropping presently occurs across the Wheatbelt, encompassing much of the distribution of the southwest subpopulation, but only in peripheral areas of the snake's eastern range (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). The control of introduced rabbits by destroying ground burrows is likely to affect the persistence of fauna that relies on these burrows for protection from thermal extremes and predators. Research into developing and implementing more sustainable land management and to re-introduce native burrowing mammals to rabbit-exterminated areas are also required (Bruton et al. 2014). There are some indications that the species prefers native mammal burrows, and the loss of these mammals has probably contributed to a suspected decline in this species. The species is likely to be buffered against the impacts of predation by invasive mammals due to its large size and rapid maturation, and because animals spend little time above ground (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). Radio-tracking womas in an area of eastern Australia in which it co-occurs with cats, foxes and pigs has recorded no evidence of predation on pythons by these species (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). 

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates its trade. It has been recorded from many protected areas across its range. The species is categorized as Priority One in Western Australia, as Vulnerable in New South Wales (Mahon et al. 2011), and as Near Threatened in Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia. A captive breeding program is currently taking place and reintroductions have been conducted. In 2007 ten captive siblings were introduced to the Arid Recovery Reserve from which all rabbits, cats and foxes had been removed. All of the reintroduced snakes were killed within four months by the Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) (Read et al. 2011). This is likely to reflect naivety in the captive-bred source population, as the two species naturally occur sympatrically in parts of their ranges, in some cases sharing burrow sites (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017).  More information on breeding behaviour, survivorship of the young and predation by introduced cats and foxes is needed in order to better determine the status of the southwest and eastern subpopulations (Pedler 2011). Bruton et al. (2014) suggest that ground burrow systems may be considered as keystone structures for many dryland species (such as this species) and may therefore require protection. In particular, there is a need to better-understand how the distribution of key habitat features, specifically the availability of underground burrows, influences the distribution of this species, and the extent and impact of threatening processes such as cropping, grazing and rabbit extermination on these resources (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017). Much of the available information on burrow use in Womas is derived from recent studies in the east, and it is not clear whether the species exhibits similar associations across its range (M. Bruton pers. comm. 2017)

Citation: Bruton, M., Wilson, S., Shea, G., Ellis, R., Venz, M., Hobson, R. & Sanderson, C. 2017. Aspidites ramsayi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T2176A83765377. . Downloaded on 11 December 2017.
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