Scientists were surprised to find out that snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors do not actually kill their prey by suffocation, but rather by causing them a heart attack by interfering with the proper function of their circulatory system.
For many years now, it was common knowledge that such snakes as the Boa constrictor utilize suffocation for killing their prey. However, a team of researchers led by Dr. Scott Boback, of the Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, have proven that snakes actually utilize the pressure that they apply to their prey to disrupt blood circulation, thus eventually causing them a hart attack.
The team used mouse subjects that were anesthetized so that they do not feel any pain in the process of the experiment. They added vascular catheters so that they could measure local pressure in veins and arteries, and also specialized electrodes into their chest cavities, so that they could measure the electrical activity of their hearts.
Then, the fed the mice to boa constrictors and closely analyzed the snakes’ tactics, in accordance to the data provided by the tracking gear installed in the mice. The experiment revealed that once the snake began to squeeze the mice, the pressure in their arteries got lower and lower, and the pressure in their veins got higher and higher, due to the pressure.
“We could see the arterial pressure go down, the venous pressure go up and we could see this right when the snake was doing it (the squeezing)” explained Dr. Boback.
The cumulative effect of this practice is ischemic shock, which in this case means that the vital organs do not receive any more blood, while the extremities become flooded with it. Thus, death occurs through heart attack, and not suffocation.
“The heart literally doesn’t have enough strength to push against the pressure,” further pointed out Dr. Boback.
Another interesting aspect is the manner in which the snake applies the pressure to the body of its prey, so that it manages to cause such a disrupting effect to its circulatory system. For the mice for instance, the scientists have revealed that it only took about the level of pressure needed to stop the local blood flow of a human arm.
The entire technique is extremely interesting, as the snake needs to employ a specific pressure and cover specific parts of the body, so that death can come to its prey in as little time as possible. If mice cannot do significant damage to the snake, other bigger and stronger animals that the snake preys upon could injure it quite badly if the squeezing process is not carried out perfectly, as the snake’s head is completely exposed at this time.
It remains to be seen what future research will reveal further regarding their technique, as further data is needed to fully grasp the extent of their mastery.
Image Source: telegraph.co.uk