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Boa Constrictors Breathe while Killing Prey

It’s incredible to see a Boa Constrictors catch and eat its victim. The snake uses its jaws to strike and grasp onto the victim, then coils its body tightly around the unlucky thing and slowly squeezes the life out of it. Blood flow to the heart and brain is cut off by the constrictor. The boa’s jaw is then unhinged, and the prey is swallowed whole. The boa moves its prey down the length of its body to the stomach, where it is digested over the next four to six days.

Boa Constrictors eat a variety of medium-sized rodents, lizards, and birds, among other things. Even larger prey, such as monkeys, wild pigs, and ocelots, have been observed to eat them. How can the snakes manage to breathe while crushing an animal to death, regardless of what’s on the menu, when the constriction also squeezes the boas’ own ribs? Boa Constrictors, unlike mammals (including humans), do not have a distinct diaphragm. To breathe, they rely solely on the action of their ribcage.

Brown University and Dickinson College biologists undertook a series of experiments to learn more, and their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. They observed that during constriction, Boa Constrictors have a unique capacity to selectively employ different portions of their rib cage for breathing. When the ribs closer to the head are obstructed, the reptiles use the far end of their lungs as a bellows to pull in air.

In order to collect vital data on airflow, muscle activation, and rib motion in vivo, the team used a mix of approaches. Except for one, all of the snakes used in the studies were produced in captivity from wild Boa Constrictors acquired in Belize. According to the authors, the single outlier was obtained from a reputable reptile breeder.

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