Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cuddly coils

Stanley - Thursday

Michael and I are desperately trying to meet a February 28 deadline for our new thriller, DEAD OF NIGHT, which is due to be published in the UK in July.  Here's a sneak preview of the cover.

Deadlines are often accompanied by frequent distractions.  It is easier to read about the Pennsylvania special election or watch South Africa beat Australia in the second test (that took four days!) or do profound research on the internet, than it is to write the denouement of the book.

So, when I read Annamaria's Monday blog on Reptiles, I started wondering about motherhood.  Are snakes good mothers?  Do they look after their kids or do they just kick them out and let them fend for themselves?

Given the deadline, I couldn't go overboard on the research, but I did find one fascinating article about a snake that is common in South Africa - the southern African python.

Southern African python
The first tidbit that was new to me was that only 70% of the world's snakes are oviparous.  That is, they lay eggs.  The rest are viviparous, giving birth to live babies.  Oviparous snakes tend to live in warm climates because the warmth helps the snakes to incubate the eggs.

Needless to say, pythons lay eggs.

And what the female has to go through is remarkable.

Graham Alexander, a researcher at my alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, has spent years doing field studies on snakes at the Dinokeng Game Reserve just north of Pretoria.

He reports that the female pythons do not eat during the six-month breeding cycle and lose about 40% of their weight.  They also turn black, which helps them get hotter, which in turn, helps incubation.  Unlike other python species , which can raise their body temperature metabolically, the southern Africa python has to rely on the sun.

When the python basks in the sun, its body temperature rises about 5°C to about 40°C, which is close to being lethal.  It then wraps itself around the eggs to provide warmth.

When the babies hatch, they spend each night for about two weeks within their mother's warm coils.  This is the first time egg-laying snakes have been to show maternal care after giving birth.


Graham Alexander with baby pythons
Now I have to see if a python has a role in the last chapters of the thriller.


Thanks to all of you who sent good wishes for my quick recovery.  I am much better and sleeping through the night, but still have a tenacious sinus infection that keeps me pretty tired the whole time.

We had some light rain in Cape Town last evening.  Probably not enough to make a significant difference to the reservoirs, but what a pleasure!

(I found the information in this blog in Dave Chambers' article titled Coils and cuddles: python babies feel the love from mom in Times Select.)


  1. Stan, me and you and pythons and their mothers: Here is a bit of dialog from Idol of Mombasa, in a scene where Tolliver and Libazo are chasing a runaway villain.
    . “Young pythons,” Libazo said.
    “I hope we don’t run into their mother,” Tolliver replied.”

    Excerpt From
    The Idol of Mombasa
    Annamaria Alfieri

  2. I'm glad to hear you're getting better, Stan. But about that deadline... is that Feb 28 of 2019, or is there a time machine in your new novel???

    1. EvKA, I keep trying to fit myself into the sold limerick below in the hopes of ....

      There was a young man from Blight,
      Who travelled much faster than light.
      He set off one day
      In a relative way,
      And returned on the previous night.

      Unfortunately Feb 2018 is the deadline.

  3. Glad you’re feeling better...and that there’s no pythons in New Jersey.

  4. As Douglas Adams said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly past."