The Pythonidae are distinguished from the family Boidae (boas) by the fact that they have teeth on the premaxilla: a small bone at the very front and center of the upper jaw. Most species have rows of heat-sensing organs between the sublabial scales: labial pits. Although not as well developed as the loreal pits of the subfamily Crotalinae (pitvipers), these organs enable the snakes to detect objects that are hotter than the surrounding environment, and enable hunting to take place in total darkness, such as inside caves.
Some species exhibit vestigial bones of the pelvis and rear legs, which are externally apparent in the form of a pair of anal spurs on each side of the cloaca. These spurs are larger in males than females, and are used by the male to grip and/or stimulate the female during copulation. Males of certain species occasionally cause spur related injuries to each other during territorial combat, and though more likely to be incidental than intentional, some captured specimens have shown multiple episodes of scarring from such injuries.
Color patterns vary from striking to nondescript brown or green. It usually reflects appropriate camouflage for the native habitat. Even within a given species, there may be enormous differences in coloration and pattern in different parts of the geographic range.
In the United States, a population of Burmese pythons, Python molurus bivittatus, has existed as an invasive species in the Everglades National Park since the late 1990s, which has damaged the local ecosystem. More than 300 have been removed. They are not native to the south Floridian marshlands, but have been deposited there by pet owners who no longer wished to care for them and also did not want to euthanize them. Scientists believe that the snakes are a grave threat to nearly every species of animal in the Everglades, including alligators. There have been several accounts of python versus alligator encounters there, including one in autumn 2005 between a 13-foot (4 m) python and a six-foot (1.8 m) alligator that proved fatal for both. The two were found with the alligator's body protruding from a tear in the snake's body.
Larger specimens usually eat animals about the size of a house cat, but larger food items are not unknown: some large Asian species have been known to take down adult deer, and the African rock python, Python sebae, has been known to eat gazelle. Prey is swallowed whole, and may take anywhere from several days or even weeks to fully digest. Despite their intimidating size and muscular power, they are generally not dangerous to humans.
Contrary to popular belief, even the larger species, such as the reticulated python, P. reticulatus, do not crush their prey to death; in fact, prey is not even noticeably deformed before it is swallowed. The speed with which the coils are applied is impressive and the force they exert may be significant, but death is caused by suffocation, with the victim not being able to move its ribs in order to breathe while it is being constricted.
|Genus||Taxon author||Species||Subsp.*||Common name||Geographic range|
|Antaresia||Wells & Wellington, 1984||4||0||Australia in arid and tropical regions.|
|Apodora||Kluge, 1993||1||0||Papuan python||Most of New Guinea, from Misool to Fergusson Island.|
|Aspidites||Peters, 1877||2||0||Australia except in the south of the country.|
|Bothrochilus||Fitzinger, 1843||1||0||Bismark ringed python||The islands of the Bismark Archipelago, including Umboi, New Britain, Gasmata (off the southern coast), Duke of York and nearby Mioko, New Ireland and nearby Tatau (off the east coast), the New Hanover Islands and Nissan Island.|
|Leiopython||Hubrecht, 1879||1||0||D'Albert's water python||Most of New Guinea (below 1200 m), including the islands of Salawati and Biak, Normanby, Mussau, as well as a few islands in the Torres Strait.|
|Liasis||Gray, 1842||3||2||Indonesia in the Lesser Sunda Islands, east through New Guinea and in northern and western Australia.|
|Morelia||Gray, 1842||7||5||From Indonesia in the Maluku Islands, east through New Guinea, including the Bismark Archipelago and in Australia.|
|PythonT||Daudin, 1803||7||4||Pythons||Africa in the tropics south of the Sahara (not including southern and extreme southwestern Madagascar), Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Nicobar Islands, Myanmar, Indochina, southern China, Hong Kong, Hainan, the Malayan region of Indonesia and the Philippines.|