Just How Much Can a Python Eat?

From long fasting to wrong prey

By on August 11th, 2007 10:59 GMT
How much can you eat after a prolonged fasting? 2 or 3 lamb cutlets? Or maybe more, as in many primitive tribes still living in Neolithic (like in the Amazon or New Guinea), people binge themselves during periods of plenty, accumulating a round belly, and after that pass the time fasting during the season of scarcity.

Big carnivores can do it to. Lions and tigers can engulf up to 40 kg of meat at once (which represents up to 15 % of their weight. Could you eat 10 kg of meat for one lunch?) and after that they can fast up to two weeks...They will eat the lamb and the sheep in one dinner.

But big snakes, like pythons, will eat the ewe without chewing and fast much longer, as their metabolism is much slower than that of the warm blooded mammals. And they can eat even more seldom by taking full advantage of their prey, including the bones, being able to stop feeding for several months under certain circumstances, even if normally adult pythons eat once a month.

A month if it's a rabbit, because in nature, a bigger prey (let's say a small antelope, a gazelle or a deer) can ensure them a fasting period of many months, up to a year.

Pythons have a rare ability: they can digest even bones, rich in proteins and minerals, not to mention the fat rich marrow (bones are extremely hard to digest).

For digesting bones, pythons have a specific cell type that breaks down bony bits from the prey for digestion. These cells are specialized in degrading the particles before releasing the bones' nutritional chemicals into the bloodstream.

The biggest current snake is the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) from northern South America, a type of boa snake. The largest individuals can reach 9 m (27 feet) and 220 kg (550 pounds). Some say it could reach 11 m (33 feet), but this has not been proven yet. Anaconda is a type of huge aquatic snake and can swell even pigs and caymans (a type of alligators). Many cases of humans swallowed by anacondas have been reported.

The tiger pythons (Python molurus) from southeastern Asia almost equals anacondas: they are confirmed to reach 8.22 m (25 feet) but are slightly "slimmer" than anacondas: 182 kg (455 pounds).

The reticulated python (P reticulatus) from the same area can be even a little longer, till 9,15 m (28 feet) but is slimmer than the tiger python, with 145 kg (363 pounds) at this length.

Pythons and boas are totally devoid of venom; they kill by the power of their grip. The python's jaws can open 180 degrees and the teeth are backward, needle-sharp and long (the front ones being larger), meant to grab the prey and to hold it for the snake's body to apply the deadly embrace.

Pythons are not usually aggressive towards humans unless provoked, but females protecting their eggs can be ferocious. A python over 8-9 feet (2,5- 3m) can kill a human and the largest can even swallow an adult! Children can easily become a 'tasty' prey and be swallowed whole after being suffocated.

Python attacks on human beings were common in South and Southeast Asia, but now they are rare as the pythons have been aggressively poached, and some species (like the Indian one) are on the brink of extinction and today extremely large individuals are extremely rare.

Sometimes, the pythons do not appreciate correctly the size of their prey and can get immobile or even die while tackling with too large prey. In 2005, the carcasses of a 13-foot pet escaped tiger python (4,3 m) and a 6-foot (2 m) alligator were found floating in a marsh, the gator's tail and hind legs protruding from the split-open gut of the python.

In 2006, firefighters in the Malaysian village of Kampung Jabor were called in to remove a bloated snake from a roadway. The 18 ft (5.5 m) long python had swallowed an entire pregnant sheep and was too full to slither away and digest its supersize meal. The capture stress triggered the python to regurgitate the dead ewe.

Pythons and boas gave an array of small pits on their upper lips than sense warmth (thermosensitive). This way, the snakes detect in the darkness, during night hunting, their unaware warm blooded prey (mammals and birds, many while sleeping).

That's why in 2006, a 12-foot (3.5-meter) and 60-pound (27-kilogram) pet Burmese python in Idaho swallowed a queen-size electric blanket: the sensors indicated warm prey. Or probably the blanket got tangled up with the snake's rabbit dinner.

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