Science Questions

How do snakes digest large meals?

Sun, 28th Nov 2010

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Why do Men's Bits Shrink in the Cold?

Question

Oney Pantoja asked:

I love your program.

Question

Some large snakes are able to swallow large animals. Is it true they could go months if not a year between meals?

 

Also if this is true why does the food not spoil and get the snake sick?

 

What happens to the bones of the food.

Answer

Diana -   Okay, interesting question.  First of all, as far as I know, snakes can go about a month between meals, or at least Burmese pythons tend to go about a month between meals.  Some might go for even longer.  They will eat a huge massive meal, maybe a rabbit, maybe something bigger – I think you've all seen the picture of a snake trying to eat the alligator – and they have special cells which can actually breakdown even the most complex parts of an animal, even their bone.  There’s a study a couple of years ago that found that snakes could actually digest bones of rabbits.  They have cells which are shaped like golf tees which do this, which seem to be singular only to snakes.  Also, there was some fantastic CT scan photography that was put on the website of the BBC quite recently which showed a rabbit, actually travelling through a snake and it took 130 hours for this rabbit to get digested.  But in between meals, there's nothing inside the snake, so there’s no food to go off.

Multimedia

Subscribe Free

Related Content

Comments

Make a comment

hounddogjr asked the Naked Scientists: I love your program. Question: Some large snakes are able to swallow large animals. Is it true they could go months if not a year between meals? Also if this is true why does the food not spoil and get the snake sick? What happens to the bones of the food? What do you think? hounddogjr, Tue, 23rd Nov 2010

SInce I still can't see posts by the doc I'll assume that what I am about to say does not contradict ..

Snakes intestines will produce more cells and mucosa rapidly after a feed, helping with digestion. During times of 'fasting' (whihc is not really fasting just a lack of need to feed) the small intestine almost dormatises itself. This helps both in using less energy the animal can utilise elsewhere and with weight.
Even so a large meal will mean not much movement for a while, if a snake is threatened and needs to move fast after a large meal it will regurgitate it.

Unlike the Komodo Lizard, who has no diaphragm, so will force large meals down its throat by ramming it into a tree (or similar).
JnA, Wed, 1st Dec 2010

Q. How do snakes digest large meals?
A. slowly ...


http://discovermagazine.com/1994/apr/diningwiththesna362



Sometimes that happens if the prey is large (in comparison with the snake)...


http://discovermagazine.com/1994/apr/diningwiththesna362
RD, Wed, 1st Dec 2010

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
EPSRC
Powered by UKfast
STFC
Genetics Society
ipDTL