More myth than fact

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2006, 12:00am

Tales of huge Burmese pythons swallowing cows and even sleeping children abound - but in most cases the stories turn out to be a myth or exaggeration rather than fact.

According to experts, the python usually limits its diet to small mammals such as frogs, birds or cats. In Hong Kong, although the species is relatively common, chances of it attacking anything the size of a dog are extremely low, and there have never been any known fatal attacks on humans.

However, that is not to say a fully grown python is not capable of attacking anything bigger, and they have been known to kill deer, calves and dogs - and even humans elsewhere in the world. In a well-documented and much photographed case in October, a 4-metre python exploded after trying to eat an alligator in the Miami Everglades.

Growing up to 6-metres long and weighing up to 90kg, the Burmese python is easily recognised by its pattern of beige blotches on dark brown and its large head with hinged jaws.

It is reckoned to eat its own bodyweight in food a year. It is a good swimmer and climber, and will often ambush prey by hanging from branches, or lie in wait by a water source or in bushes.

In Hong Kong, its favourite habitat is the dense countryside. Occasionally, snake-catchers are called in to remove them when they have strayed to more urban areas in search of food.

A two-metre python was discovered bloated and sleepy after having swallowed a large tomcat in a Sai Kung Country Park village in 2004, not far from the most recent python sighting.

In 1974, a 70-year-old Yuen Long farmer and his wife wrestled a 4.5-metre Burmese python in a desperate effort to prevent it eating their chickens.

Hong Kong's most unusual python tale dates back to colonial times when - as the story goes - a group of villagers reported seeing an angry horned dragon by a stream. When police investigated, the beast turned out to be a huge python attempting to make a meal out of cow and with its horns sticking out of its body.