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Cold-blooded? Study finds female pythons care for their young

From Reuters - March 14, 2018

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Shedding their cold-blooded image, snakes emerge from a recent study as more caring creatures that protect their nests and remain with their young for a brief period after hatching.

The study of the nesting behavior of the southern African python, published this month in the London-based Journal of Zoology, is the first-ever report of maternal care of babies in an egg-laying snake.

Based on seven years fieldwork, Graham Alexander of Johannesburgs University of the Witwatersrand found female pythons went around seven months without eating, from the time they mated until after the hatching of their clutch.

Being reptiles, snakes are ectothermic in biological parlance - cold-blooded in laymans terms - meaning their bodies rely on external heating. Unlike mammals, which have an internal furnace that requires constant fuel, reptiles can go long periods without eating.

There must be an evolutionary advantage, because if the mother is forgoing feeding all that time its obviously a big cost to her, so there must be some benefit that outweighs that cost, Alexander told Reuters. The females can lose 40 percent of their body weight during this period.

Still, there are limits: the females spend only two weeks with the young, which typically number in the dozens, after they hatch, and they dont provide them with food or instruct them in the ways of the wild.

But during that time the babies are wrapped at night in the protective embrace of their mothers coils, which Alexander said helped to keep the hatchlings warm - and presumably bolster their chances of surviving.

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