Hungry Snakes Have Huge Hearts

06 March 2005


To help snakes cope with enormous meals, scientists at the University of California have found that the heart of a python expands by 50%. And it's all thanks to a special protein that expands heart muscles. Snakes are well known for eating huge but irregular meals that keep them going for weeks. Scientists kept four Burmese pythons hungry for a month before giving them a tasty rat dinner that came to a quarter of their own body weight. They found that the snake's heart became flooded with a protein called heavy-chain myosin. This increases the size of the heart muscle and allows snakes to pump much more blood to the digestive system. They also get a 400 times increase in their metabolic rate while they break down the meal. Human hearts also have this protein, but it would take years of intense exercise to increase our heart size by that much. Snakes can do it in just two days.


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