Morelia spilota 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Pythonidae

Scientific Name: Morelia spilota (Lacépède, 1804)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Carpet Python, Diamond Python, Western Australian Carpet Python
Coluber spilotus Lacépède, 1804
Morelia argus Duméril & Bibron, 1844
Morelia metcalfei Wells & Wellington, 1985
Morelia variegata Gray, 1842
Python perronii Wagler, 1828
Python punctatus Merrem, 1820
Python spilotes (Lacépède, 1804)
Taxonomic Notes: Six different subspecies have been recognized in Australia (Barker and Barker 1994), largely based on colour pattern, although the boundaries between many of these are fluid and poorly defined (Cogger 2014). Of there only Morelia spilota imbricata is supported by genetic data and geographic isolation.

This status of populations assigned to this species in New Guinea is unclear (O'Shea 2007). Seven subspecies are typically recognized; the elevation of several to species level by Hoser (2000) was made without comment and has been rejected by subsequent workers (Schleip and O'Shea 2010). Hoser's proposed subspecies Morelia spilota harrisoni is poorly-defined, being based on a small sample with variable characters that overlap with previously recognized M. spilota subspecies, and is considered invalid by Schleip and O'Shea (2010). Additionally, it has been argued that the name Morelia harrisoni was not validly published (Kaiser et al. 2013). Pending resolution of taxonomic issues within New Guinea carpet pythons, it has recently been proposed that all New Guinea representatives of this species should be regarded as M. s. variegata sensu lato (forthcoming New Guinea python book).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2017-06-15
Assessor(s): Tallowin, O., Parker, F., O'Shea, M., Vanderduys, E., Wilson, S., Shea, G. & Hobson, R.
Reviewer(s): Auliya, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Cox, N.A., De Silva, R., Milligan, H.T., Wearn, O.R., Wren, S., Zamin, T., Sears, J., Wilson, P., Lewis, S., Lintott, P., Powney, G.
This species is listed Least Concern, as it is the most widespread python species in Australia and is also found in southern New Guinea, and it is often common, occurs in a wide range of habitats including modified areas, and is unlikely to be affected by any significant threats
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species is one of the most widespread Australian python species (Torr 2000). It occurs over much of the mainland (except southern Victoria and the central and western desert regions) and many offshore islands. It is known from the Torres Strait islands of Waiben, and Kirriri (Lavery et al. 2012). In Papua New Guinea this species occurs throughout the southern Trans-Fly region in Western Province, the National Capital District and adjacent Central Province (Yule island south to Kwikila). In Indonesian New Guinea Morelia spilota variegata occurs in south-east Papua Province as far as Merauke (probably contiguous with the South Fly population). There is a isolated record from Mamberamo River in the north of Papua Province. It has been recorded at elevations of sea level to <50 m asl (O’Shea 1996).

Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria); Indonesia (Papua); Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinea (main island group))
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):50
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This python is known to be common and widespread in many areas, but there have been localized declines, particularly in inland arid and semi-arid regions (Shine 1994, Shine and Fitzgerald 1996, Bush et al. 1995). The numbers of the putative subspecies Morelia spilota imbricata have declined across most of south-western Australia presumably due to habitat degradation and clearance (Pearson et al. 2005).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

In Australia this python's habitats include rainforest, coastal woodland, along water courses, riverine gorges, savannas and modified environments. In Australia it is often found in suburban environments. Pearson et al. (2005) report that despite of the generalist nature of the species, certain habitat elements (shrubs, hollow logs) appear critical for the persistence of viable subpopulations. It is predominantly arboreal but also lives in burrows made by other animals. New Guinea subpopulations are found only in coastal savanna, woodland and grassland. Similarly to many other pythons, this species is nocturnal. Mating occurs from October to mid-December, eggs are deposited in December or early January and the female incubates the eggs (between 9 - 52 with an average number of 17) until hatching in March. Females only breed every second year or less while males are presumed to be active every year. Its diet consists almost primarily of small mammals (mice, rats and bandicoots), however, they have been recorded to take ground-nesting birds and lizards (agamas) (O’Shea 1996, 2007, Wilson and Swan 2003, Natusch and Lyons 2011, Natusch and Lyons 2012, Leseberg and Campbell 2015)


Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Yuwono (1998) recorded trade in this species from Indonesian New Guinea and reported that it was always available in adequate numbers.

The Carpet Python is, however, popular in the international pet trade and has been collected from the wild in Indonesia and traded for this purpose since at least 1992. Indonesia is currently the only country that allows the legal harvest and export of wild Carpet Pythons, which are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Natusch and Lyons 2012). The CITES Trade Database suggests that Indonesia exceeded their quota for this species in several years. As the cost of producing large number of snakes in captivity is greater than collecting similar numbers from the wild, it is likely that many Carpet Pythons sold as farm-bred are, in fact, wild-caught (Nijman and Shepherd 2009, Natusch and Lyons 2011).

In Australia, Aboriginal people have been documented to collect this species for food (Russell-Smith et al. 1997).

In Australia, it is commonly kept in the domestic pet trade; there is no export from Australia. The species is well-established in captivity in the Australian pet trade (Leseberg and Campbell 2015).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): It is unlikely that any major threats are impacting this species. Habitat loss has caused a localized decline in some subpopulations of this species; although this cannot be considered a major threat across the range as a whole it is recognized as a state-level threat to both Morelia spilota spilota (as a result of logging and other land clearance) and M. s. metcalfei (driven by agriculture) in Victoria, and has resulted in "clear decline" at the southern end of M. s. metcalfei's range (P. Robertson and N. Clemann pers. comm. 2017). Habitat loss prevents this species from finding suitable hiding places to ambush prey and suitable shelter to brood their eggs (Pearson et al. 2005). A recent study in disturbed and undisturbed sites in New South Wales found that, while the snake can make use of buildings in anthropogenic habitats, the species favours larger trees with hollows in natural woodland in areas with a high coverage of leaf litter, good understorey and fallen debris (Corey et al. 2016). While these authors caution that this study lacks replication and so should be treated as preliminary, it provides a mechanism to explain declines in arid areas of inland Australia, as much of the suitable habitat in this region has been reduced to patches smaller than the average home range of this species (Corey et al. 2016). Predation by foxes has been documented (Robertson and Hurley 2001).

Roads and development have caused a substantial decline in the subpopulation around Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Possible drivers of habitat loss include overgrazing by livestock and agricultural expansion (Cogger et al. 1993). This species is considered to "thrive" in areas modified for agriculture at least in temperate eastern Australia, but may be vulnerable to more intensive agricultural and pastoral development (Corey et al. 2016). This species is also part of the pet trade, but the impact of collection from the wild is not well documented.  Due to this species' large distribution, relatively high fecundity and adaptability, Natusch and Lyons (2011) suggest that the current harvest quota in Indonesia is most likely sustainable: however, these authors point out that their data is inadequate to assess sustainable harvest levels and that more data needs to be collected to enable a more thorough sustainability assessment. Native snake species have been documented to be susceptible to the cane toad toxins and as these species ranges' overlap, M. spilota will potentially be affected by the invasion of the cane toad (Phillips et al. 2003, Pearson et al. 2014). Nevertheless the species survives in areas where cane toads have been established for decades. Some degree of captive breeding and release of individuals outside of their area of origin is thought to be affecting the genetic purity of some subpopulations.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This species has protected status in Australia and Papua New Guinea but not in Indonesian New Guinea (Natusch and Lyons 2012). This species occurs in many protected areas in Australia, and Tonda protected area in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Further research on this species' harvest and trade levels is recommended to ensure that exploitation is sustainable in Indonesia. While the species is not at significant risk globally, management restoring or maintaining appropriate structural features is recommended in areas where the snake has declined (Corey et al. 2016).  This species is well established in captivity, reducing the need to collect snakes in the wild (Leseberg and Campbell 2015). It is considered to be Rare in South Australia and Least Concern in the Northern Territory (Atlas of Living Australia 2015). Both subspecies found in Victoria - Morelia spilota spilota and M. s. metcalfei - are listed as Endangered in this state. Subpopulations are present in several protected areas.

Citation: Tallowin, O., Parker, F., O'Shea, M., Vanderduys, E., Wilson, S., Shea, G. & Hobson, R. 2017. Morelia spilota. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T62232A21649539. . Downloaded on 15 August 2018.
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