23 Jul 2014

But Chester Zoo’s JF the python is no ordinary patient, and as she measures around 23ft in length, the great snake required a team of zookeepers and vets to carry her in for her annual health check.

The reticulated python – the longest species of snake in the world – had her eyes covered to keep her calm as she was looked over. Indeed JF is thought to be one of the biggest snakes in Europe, weighing in at around 60kgs. 

As well as checks on her general health, JF met cardio experts – Eric Stohr and Aimee Drane from Cardiff Metropolitan University – who took the opportunity to perform an ultrasound scan on the giant snake’s heart. 

The zoo’s pythons are taking part in cardiological study as part of a joint research programme between the zoo and the university. It is hoped that looking at JF will also provide insight for people studying the human heart. 

The team of cardio experts have attempted similar tests on giraffes and sharks but say snake hearts are of particular interest because they have three chambers, unlike human hearts which have four.

Steve Unwin, from Chester Zoo’s vet team, said:

We’re pleased that we’ve been able to get some nice, clear ultrasound images of JF’s heart and it’s helped us to see that she’s healthy on the inside, as well as on the outside. That’s the primary reason we wanted to have a good look at JF today – to ensure she’s in tip top condition. 

But, adding to this, we’re also interested in anything that can help with the understanding of human heart health. It is already proven that a snake’s heart can expand and reduce in size in relation to eating a big meal and digesting it. But the only time the heart thickens or thins in humans is when there are real cardio problems. So if we can build up our knowledge of how snake hearts function, we could potentially learn a lot from this comparative data.

Reticulated pythons are native to south east Asia, a region in which Chester Zoo is involved in several conservation projects looking to protect animal and plant species in the wild.

The species’ large size and distinctive scale patterns have resulted in them being heavily exploited for skin to make popular leather products such as belts, wallets and boots. Habitat loss is another significant threat.

About reticulated pythons

  • The world’s longest species of snake
  • They are native to southeast Asia, a region in which Chester Zoo is involved in several key conservation projects looking to save animal and plant species from extinction
  • Live in forests woodlands, grasslands and often near waterways
  • At Chester Zoo the pythons are fed every six to eight weeks – a diet of whole turkeys, chickens or rabbits
  • They have sharp teeth which they use to hold their prey before crushing and suffocating them with their body
  • Female reticulated pythons are capable of laying between 60 and 100 eggs at a time, which take between 70-90 days to hatch