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Planet Earth

Horrifying study suggests pythons kill their prey by squeezing until the brain becomes over-pressurized.

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceOctober 28, 2015 3:00 PM
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Image: Flickr/jinterwasWe all know that constrictor snakes, like pythons and boa constrictors, kill by squeezing their prey. But how does the prey actually die? Well, according to this study, it may not be by suffocation (which is what I had always naively assumed). Nope, it's much more grisly: "These and other constrictors can exert pressures dramatically higher than their prey's blood pressure, suggesting that constriction can stop circulatory function and perhaps kill prey rapidly by over-pressurizing the brain and disrupting neural function." Sweet dreams!The big squeeze: scaling of constriction pressure in two of the world's largest snakes, Python reticulatus and P. molurus bivittatus. "Snakes are important predators that have radiated throughout many ecosystems, and constriction was important in their radiation. Constrictors immobilize and kill prey by using body loops to exert pressure on their prey. Despite its importance, little is known about constriction performance or its full effects on prey. We studied the scaling of constriction performance in two species of giant pythons (Python reticulatus Schneider 1801 and Python molurus bivittatus Kuhl 1820) and propose a new mechanism of prey death by constriction. In both species, peak constriction pressure increased significantly with snake diameter. These and other constrictors can exert pressures dramatically higher than their prey's blood pressure, suggesting that constriction can stop circulatory function and perhaps kill prey rapidly by over-pressurizing the brain and disrupting neural function. We propose the latter “red-out effect” as another possible mechanism of prey death from constriction. These effects may be important to recognize and treat properly in rare cases when constrictors injure humans." Related content: Snakes are ‘righties’–with their penis, that is.Why do snakes flick their tongues? (Hint: it’s not just about smelling).A scientific use for… used tampons?!?

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