The Woma Python

The Woma (Aspidites ramsayi), also known as sand python or Ramsay’s python has been listed as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1996.

Averaging a length of 1.5 metres, the Woma can grow to a length of 2.7 metres.

The Woma has a cream to yellow belly with a grey, olive, golden brown or rich red-brown back, ringed with darker bands. The body is broad and flat in profile, tapering to a small, thin tail.

The head of a Woma.
Photo © Alison Wright

Unlike most Australian pythons, the Woma does not have the characteristic broad head. The Woma has a narrow pointed head and does not have the heat sensory pits along the lips and the front of the head. For this reason the Woma is often mistaken for a venomous snake, however, despite its lack of venom, the Woma is harmless to humans.

Habitat

The Woma is a true desert species with their habitat ranging across the Australian interior from from northern Western Australia into the south-western edge of Queensland, and into northern South Australia. There are also declining populations in a separate region of Western Australia south of Shark Bay and east to the goldfields.

Behaviour

To escape the heat of their desert environment during the day, Womas shelter in old reptile or mammal burrows, hollow logs or in thick vegetation, emerging in the cool of night to hunt. Womas do not create their own burrows, but will use their head like a shovel to dig and enlarge old burrows.

Womas breed between May and August, with females laying a clutch of 5-19 eggs in September through to October. Females incubate the eggs for two months by coiling around the clutch.  If the clutch becomes cold, the female will ‘shiver’ to generate heat from muscular activity to warm the clutch.  When the eggs hatch, the juvenile Womas are independent.

The Woma (also known as Sand Python or Ramsay’s Python)Photo © Alison Wright 

Diet

Womas hunt at night on sandy plains for other snakes, small mammals and birds.  It was once thought that Womas were immune to the bites of venomous snakes, now studies have found that this is not always the case with some wild individuals falling victim to the Mulga or King Brown snake. Womas will lure their prey to a close striking distance by wiggling the end its tail.  The Woma will then kill its prey by constricting it in the coils of it’s body or by squashing it against the walls of its burrow.

Threats

Woma populations have been in severe decline since the 1950′s in wheat belt areas in the south-western region of Western Australia. Clearing of land for Agriculture destroys shelter sites and significantly reduces available food. The introduction of feral species such as cats and foxes has also contributed greatly to the decline in the species population as they not only compete for prey, they will also prey on the Womas themselves.

Conservation

Not only is the Woma listed as Endangered by the IUCN, the species receives special protection under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act. The Australian Protected Areas Programme has established 132,566 hectare area in Western Australia to protect the Woma other native wildlife.  Adelaide Zoo have also been breeding Woma Pythons and the offspring raised are being released back into the Arid Recovery Reserve near Roxby Downs in northern South Australia.

Project Eden, a local conservation project in Shark Bay Western Australia, has run a comprehensive program tracking and studying Woma pythons in the wild.  Womas have been fitted with radio transmitters to collect information about home range, habitat, shelter and nesting sites.  The knowledge obtained from this program will guide future conservation activities for the Woma Python.

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