According to a study, python meat should be seen as an alternative to chicken and beef because of its environmental benefits.

Academics say these non-venomous snakes require less food than traditional livestock and can grow at a faster rate during farming.

Dr Daniel Natusch, an honorary research fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney, has suggested python meat should be introduced to restaurant menus.

He said: “At the risk of repeating a cliché, it tastes a lot like chicken.

“You run the knife along the back of the snake and you almost get a four-metre-long filleted steak.

“Firm white meat, no bones. I’ve had it barbecued, in curries, as biltong and, yeah, it’s great.”

His study looked at the growth rates and diets of over 4,000 reticulated and Burmese pythons at two large farms in Thailand and Vietnam.

Dr Natusch found that a well-fed baby python can double in size in a matter of weeks, and can put on more than 45 grams of body weight a day, reaching up to four metres long after a year.

Once fully grown, a large python can go for almost a year without food.

He continued: “If you don’t feed a chicken for three to five days, it dies.

“This is why they are such an amazing animal for a future where climatic volatility, economic volatility, resource volatility will be increasing.

“They are the most efficient and resilient source of protein known to date.”

Snake meat is becoming more popular in Asian countries but Dr Natusch says other countries should consider making the switch.

He said: “This is an alternative livestock system that needs to be taken seriously.

“We’re not necessarily saying everyone should stop eating beef and turn to pythons, but there needs to be a conversation about them having a more prominent place in the agricultural mix.”

Dr Natusch said the new diet would be suited to parts of southern Africa where droughts have made it tougher to keep traditional livestock.

He said snakes required up to 90% less energy than warm-blooded mammals and can be fed with waste protein that might otherwise be discarded.

He said:

“The bigger farms [in Vietnam and Thailand] feed them sausages, typically.”

“They have access to abattoirs and pig farms, so those farms are feeding them on things like chicken heads that are discarded from poultry abattoirs and would otherwise be incinerated.”

Studies are also being carried out into whether pythons can survive on a more plant-based diet.

Dr Natusch said: “We want to look at the long-term health implications, but preliminary results suggest that some proportion of a python’s diet can be plant-based.”

He added that pythons are only distantly related to humans, so pathogens that affect them are less likely to be transferred in the eating process.