How do snakes digest large meals?

28 November 2010

Question

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.

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