Dan and green python

Location: Bamaga, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland

Research Interests

My research interests are diverse, but are broadly centred on the ecology and evolution of reptiles. I am particularly interested in understanding the proximate and ultimate causes of phenotypic variation in morphology and life history traits, and how these influence the day-to-day lives of organisms. I am also passionate about using best science to inform decisions about wildlife resource management, and how this can be maximised to benefit people’s livelihoods and species conservation. There is probably no better place to begin answering these questions than the Shine Lab.

Current Research

Ecology of snakes in Cape York Peninsula

My current research focuses on better understanding the biology and ecology of several poorly known tropical species of snakes. A major aim of this project is to understand how snakes use resources that are readily and continually available to them (habitats, prey species, etc), and how this use changes when seasonal resources (prey aggregations) become available. At my study site large trees with nesting colonies of Metallic Starlings (Aplonis metallica) attract many snakes that feed on the birds. The Starlings appear to be selecting trees that are difficult for snakes to climb. I will clarify how snakes use this resource and how predation performance (e.g., ability to reach nests) is influenced by a snake’s sex, size and species.

starling tree

Another major theme of this research focuses on better understanding the ecology of Australia’s largest snake – the scrub python (Morelia amethistina). I will tease apart the population dynamics, growth and survival of this apex predator, and use radiotelemetry to delve into its habitat use and movements.

scrub python

Sustainability of reptile harvests

In addition to working on tropical snakes I remain involved in projects aimed at understanding the biology and population dynamics of Reticulated Pythons (Broghammerus reticulatus), Short-tailed Pythons (Python breitensteini, P. brongersmai, P. curtus) and Water Monitors (Varanus salvator) in Indonesia and Malaysia. Each of these species is collected in remarkable numbers to meet demands from the international skin trade. By better understanding how reptile populations change over time, and how harvesting influences body sizes and sexual maturity, we can more effectively manage and thus ensure the sustainability of these wildlife populations.

snake skins

Systematics of pythons

This is a side project I have been working on for some time. I have been lucky enough to spend much of my time in remote areas of northern Australia and New Guinea. Using morphological data collected from several species of Australo-Papuan pythons, and combining this with genetic information, we can paint a much clearer picture of the evolution and systematics of pythons in this region.

museum specimen

Past Research

Physiology of wildlife farming

Reptiles provide a thermo-fueled source of protein that can be produced far more efficiently than traditional livestock. I have researched how reptile-breeding farms operate in Southeast Asia. Using several species of python as models I have explored how management practices influence the growth and physiology of reptiles, and how this can be improved to optimise production capacity.

python farm

Ecology of New Guinean snakes

Many species of poorly known reptiles are collected for international trade. I capitalised on the large sample sizes gathered through the reptile trade to understand the basic biology (sexes, sizes, reproduction) and ecology (habitats, diets) of several species of New Guinean snakes.

New Guinea python

Wildlife trade

Wildlife is traded in large volumes to meet consumer demands for skins, meat, pets and more. I have completed several projects aimed at understanding the dynamics and drivers of the wildlife trade in New Guinea and Southeast Asia, and the effect that trade is having on wild populations of species. One of the biggest challenges in the reptile trade is differentiating between wild-caught and captive-bred specimens. My research has focused on methods used to differentiate between wild-caught and captive-bred specimens of turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards.

colourful lizards

Population dynamics, ecology and evolutionary biology of green pythons

I completed my Masters degree on green pythons. However, I was forced to keep studying them after graduating because I realised I didn’t understand them nearly as well as I wanted to! Green pythons are born either bright yellow or brick red and change colour to green at approximately 70 cm in length. Because of their bright colours they are highly sought after as pets and have been the target of illegal collection. Despite this, we knew little about their basic biology and ecology. I researched the distribution and populations dynamics of green pythons in Cape York Peninsula, Australia. I combined this with extensive ecological field studies and predation experiments in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya to tease apart geographic variations in ecology and to better understand the evolutionary significance of their remarkable colour change.

young green python

Memberships and Affiliations

Year Affiliation
2011- American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
2011- Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
2011- IUCN/SSC Boa and Python Specialist Group
2012- IUCN/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group
2007-2009 Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
2007-2009 Linnean Society of New South Wales
2006-2009 Australian Herpetological Society


Year Award
2013 Skyrail Rainforest Foundation – Effects of fire on tropical snakes
2013 Australian Postgraduate Award
2013 Sir Mark Mitchell Research Foundation – Resolution of the species status of heavily exploited Australasian pythons to assist wildlife enforcement across international boundaries
2008 University of New South Wales Faculty Research Scholarship – Ecological studies on green pythons (Morelia viridis)
2007 University of New South Wales Faculty Research Scholarship – Ecological studies on green pythons (Morelia viridis)
2007 University of New South Wales Distinguished Scholars Award for fastest beer-mile….
2007 Australian Geographic Society – Distribution of the green python (Morelia viridis) in Australia
2007 Linnean Society of NSW – Distribution of the green python (Morelia viridis) in Australia

Peer Reviewed Publications

# Publication
15. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2013). Assessing the role of breeding farms supplying the European high-end leather industry. Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 50. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
14. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2013). Geographic and sexual variations in body size, morphology and diet among five populations of green pythons (Morelia viridis). Journal of Herpetology: in press.
13. Lyons, J.A., and Natusch, D.J.D. (2013). Effects of consumer preferences for rarity on the harvest of wild populations within species. Ecological Economics 93:278-283.
12. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2012). Relationships between ontogenetic changes in prey selection, trophic structure, sexual maturity and colour in an Australasian python (Morelia viridis). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 107:269-276.
11. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A (2012). Exploited for pets: the harvest and trade of amphibians and reptiles from Indonesian New Guinea. Biodiversity and Conservation 21:2899-2911.
10. Kasterine, A., Arbeid, R., Caillabet, O., and Natusch, D.J.D. (2012). The Trade in Southeast Asian Python Skins. ITC/TRAFFIC/IUCN. Geneva, Switzerland.
9. Lyons, J.A., Natusch, D.J.D., and Shepherd, C.R. (2012). Australasian turtle trade: freshwater turtles harvested from Papua, Indonesia, for the international pet trade. Oryx 47:298-302.
8. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2012). Ecological attributes and trade of white-lipped pythons (Genus Leiopython) in Indonesian New Guinea. Australian Journal of Zoology 59:339-343.
7. Natusch, D.J.D., and Shine, R. (2012). Measuring body lengths of preserved snakes. Herpetologcial Review 43:34-35.
6. Lyons, J.A., and Natusch, D.J.D. (2012). Consumer driven conservation of green pythons is possible if the price is right: A reply to Pernetta (2012). Biological Conservation 147:2.
5. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2012). Distribution, ecological attributes and trade of the New Guinea carpet python (Morelia spilota) in Indonesia. Australian Journal of Zoology 59:236-241.
4. Lyons, J.A., and Natusch, D.J.D. (2012). Over-stepping the quota? The trade in Sugar Gliders Petaurus breviceps in West Papua, Indonesia. TRAFFIC Bulletin 24:5-6.


Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2011). The harvest of Antaresia maculosa (Pythonidae) from West Papua, Indonesia. Herpetological Review 42:509-511.
2. Lyons, J.A., and Natusch, D.J.D. (2011). Wildlife laundering through breeding farms: illegal harvest, population declines and a means of regulating the trade in green pythons (Morelia viridis) from Indonesia. Biological Conservation 144:3073-3081.
1. Natusch, D.J.D., and Natusch, D.F.S. (2011). Distribution, abundance and demography of the green python (Morelia viridis) in Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 53:145-155.

Popular Articles

# Article
1. Natusch, D.J.D., and Lyons, J.A. (2012). Trading black and gold: natural history and trade of the white-lipped pythons. Scales and Tails Magazine, Issue 25, September 2012.
Dan and Jess measuring python