Oenpelli python

Nyctophilopython oenpelliensis

Last updated: October 18, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Ken Griffiths

Oenpelli pythons are unusually thin for a python.


Oenpelli python Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Nyctophilopython oenpelliensis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Oenpelli python Conservation Status

Oenpelli python Locations

Oenpelli python Locations

Oenpelli python Facts

birds, and small mammals
Main Prey
Possibly birds
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Oenpelli pythons are unusually thin for a python.
Biggest Threat
Invasive animals
Other Name(s)
Oenpelli Rock Python, Oenpelli Python, Nawaran
Litter Size
  • Nocturnal
  • Crepuscular
Common Name
Oenpelli Rock Python
Number Of Species
Northern Territory, Australia

Oenpelli python Physical Characteristics

  • Grey
Skin Type

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The Oenpelli python is a long, thin snake that reaches 16 feet and can change color.

This species lives in a tiny region in Northern Territory, Australia. It is one of the rarest python species in the world.

Simalia oenpelliensis infographic

Amazing Facts About Oenpelli Pythons

  • Oenpelli pythons change color. During the day, they tend to be lighter in color, and at night their color darkens to help them camouflage.
  • It’s long and thin for a python and looks sort of like a very, very long tree snake.
  • This snake lays eggs that are unusually large for a snake of its size. Its eggs are almost double the size of its close cousin, the amethystine python.

Where to Find Them

Coiled Oenpelli python

Oenpelli pythons are rare, and scientists don’t know much about their behavior in the wild.

©iStock.com/Ken Griffiths

This species only lives in Northern Territory, Australia. It is most often found in the Arnhem Land and Kombalgie sandstone gorges. The Oenpelli python is nocturnal and spends most days in the shelter of tree hollows, caves, and rock crevices prevalent in its home range.

It is an ambush predator, so it waits for most of its food to come to it. Like other snakes, it is opportunistic and will take a meal where it can get it; however, its preferred foods are small animals like birds, flying foxes, possums, and rock wallabies. Some believe that it specializes in hunting birds – it climbs well and sometimes preys on birds up in the trees.

Scientific Name

The Oenpelli python’s scientific name is up for debate. In 1977, when it was first described, scientists classified it as Python oenpelliensis. Then, more researchers studied the snake; they came up with a few other ideas. At various times, this snake has been included with the Morelia and Simalia genera, and as a solo animal species in either Nawaran or Nyctophilopython. At present, it appears that scientists favor Nyctophilophython oenpelliensis, but Morelia oenpelliensis is probably just as accurate.

Scientific discussion aside, the snake’s specific name refers to the area where it lives, Oenpelli in Northern Territory, Australia. Some call it the Oenpelli rock python, and the traditional name given to it by the people of the Arnhem Land is Nawaran.

The name Nyctophilopython means – “night-loving big snake.” It’s Greek and breaks down like this: Nycto- translates as night, philo- is love, and python means big snake.

Population and Conservation Status

The Oenpelli python occurs in an area of approximately 1,240 square miles in the Northern Territory, Australia. This is the only place in the world where it lives, and its population and habitat are highly fragmented. Scientists estimate that less than 10,000 mature individuals remain in the wild in pockets within their native territory.

The biggest problem the species has is that cats and other invasive species eat the small animals that the Oenpelli python prefers. So, without a steady source of food, fewer snakes are born, and fewer still make it to adulthood to breed.

They live in a remote, isolated region of Australia. As a result, we don’t have a lot of information about its population, rate of decline, or how many actually live there. The estimate of fewer than 10,000 mature individuals isn’t based on observation. Rather, it’s inferred based on environmental factors such as the numbers of their preferred prey and their population in the region.

It’s also illegally collected for the pet trade, but no one knows how common this is, nor how much it affects the Oenpelli python population.

In 2012, biologists brought several into captivity in order to breed them. The agreement is that after the captive population reaches a certain point, they will begin releasing them into the wild, thereby having a backup – just in case the wild population needs help.

Appearance and Description

This is one of the exceptions to the idea that pythons are big, bulky snakes. It’s long and thin and may reach 16 feet long as an adult. The Oenpelli python has a triangular-shaped head and elliptical pupils and eyes that seem a bit large for its head. Its body is pale brownish to olive in color, with rows of large dark blotches down the length of its body. This snake has smooth scales, and it has over 400 belly or ventral scales – the only python species to have so many.

Oenpelli pythons have iridescent scales, and the Bininj Aboriginal people have historically viewed it as a totemic animal. This snake also changes color – lighter during the day and darker at night. It also seems to lay large eggs – really big in comparison to other related snakes and almost twice the size of its close cousin, the amethystine python (Morellia amethystina).

Scientists don’t know much about its mating habits in the wild, or any of its habits really, but in captivity, these snakes have mated in July and laid eggs in November. The clutch size was small, and only 6-9 eggs were deposited.

Oenpelli pythons are rare, and scientists don’t know much about their behavior in the wild.

©iStock.com/Ken Griffiths

Pictures and Videos of Oenpelli Pythons

reticulated python

A reticulated python is thick and muscular, unlike the Oenpelli python, which is nearly as long but thin as a tree snake.


This may be the rarest of all pythons in the world.
This snake changes color from dark to light depending on whether it’s night or day.

How Dangerous are Oenpelli Pythons?

This might be one of the least dangerous python species. Oenpelli pythons are nonvenomous, so there’s nothing to fear from that bite (other than razor-sharp teeth). They’re not usually inclined to bite, but any animal will bite, given the right set of circumstances. Aside from that, their sheer rarity makes even a brief encounter highly unlikely.

Behavior and Humans

As remote as their home range is, we don’t have a lot of information on how they interact with humans in the wild. However, a few videos have shown an Oenpelli python just cruising past the videographer as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Ironically, the remote nature of their home that makes surveying them difficult might be something that helps preserve the species.

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

Oenpelli python FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do Oenpelli pythons live?

Only in a small region in Northern Australia. They have been called the rarest python in the world.

How do Oenpelli rock pythons hunt?

These snakes hunt by waiting to ambush their prey. They have heat-sensing pits that help them locate it in the dark and a fantastic sense of smell.

What do Oenpelli rock pythons eat?

This species eats a variety of local animals including birds, bats, possums, and rodents.

Are Oenpelli pythons dangerous?

No, they’re not venomous and help keep the balance where they live. These snakes lack the body mass of other species, like reticulated pythons, to do real damage to a person.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. Oenpelli Rock Python | Reptile Database / Accessed May 28, 2022
  2. Oenpelli Rock Python | The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species / Published June 14, 2017 / Accessed May 28, 2022

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