A python swallows a deer

The title alone is your trigger warning.  This is another wonderful segment of Attenborough’s BBC Earth series, a show I’m sorry I missed.

The deer capturing-and swallowing segment begins at 4:00. I know snakes can swallow prey wider than themselves, but this is unbelievable. Note how the snake pushes its windpipe out of its mouth, allowing it to breathe while it’s swallowing. That last bit has some cool biological information, but I’ll let you find it out for yourselves.


  1. ploubere
    Posted July 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Actually the action begins around 1:20.

  2. Posted July 2, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I thought that steak I had the other day was big!

    How does the liver double in two days? How did evolution favor this feeding strategy?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      It’s not without … parallel. Though evolutionarily fairly distant from snakes, I recently heard some interesting titbits about migratory birds : during migration they too can shrink their digestive systems and even sex organs by factors of several. Why pay the metabolic cost of maintaining those organs when they’re just dead weight on migration.
      Snakes in particular, but many other “reptiles,” are ambush feeders, and maintaining a regular size of liver for periods when they’re not digesting anything, then being able to “pump it up” when digestion is required seems a sensible strategy. It certainly seems to work.
      It might be better to think of us (mammals) with our constant need to eat (and thus our constant need for a digestive system, as being the outliers in the Amniotes.
      Two questions come to mind :
      – do snakes such as this python convert muscle mass into liver tissue when they switch to “digestion mode”. They’re reputed to go into a prolonged “torpor” while digesting, and this might be an effect of reduced muscle mass.
      – how about other “ambush predators”? Do they change the masses of organs in response to food availability. And how does (for another can of pythons) the changes in body fat and digestive system mass in hibernating mammals relate to this?
      That last point – organ changes in mammals – makes me think more that this is more common than you seem to think. Just as another example, I’m told that human women’s breasts change appreciably in size, sensitivity and texture through their reproductive cycle. Is that not the same sort of process, written small?

  3. Ann German
    Posted July 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful! Thanks! (couldn’t help but think that this python has so much more grace and elegance than does pussygrabber . . . AND eating once a year, is much better at natural conservation than most humans!)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      I think you owe the snake an apology for comparing it favourably to Pussygrabber-in-Chief. It’s incomparably better!

  4. Gamall
    Posted July 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Impressive. I wonder is the blood visible during the swallowing was the deer’s or the python’s…

    Some pythons die during digestion, if they overestimate their capacity. Wasn’t there an instance on this very totally-not-a-blog a few months back?

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 2, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      I remember that…I think it was an Anaconda trying to ingest an alligator in Florida. Grisly photo, still in my memory banks. Thanks for the nightmare memory. Only kidding. 🙂

  5. rickflick
    Posted July 2, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    A fascinating process. I’ve been watching the garter snakes under my steps for a few weeks now and I’ve taken to feeding them worms in order to watch their hunting methods. The worms are dispatched within seconds and probably won’t keep them satisfied for very long.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 2, 2017 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      I have a morbid fascination watching my turtles feed. I’ll throw in live worms I find, a random grasshopper, slugs, snails, small frozen fish (silver sides) I buy, have in the past (not for years) fed them “feeder goldfish”. Poor goldfish! I think it’s a male thing. Though as a defense, I think it’s healthy to feed your pets a variety of proteins that fill nourishment niches.

  6. loren russell
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    I was about to comment, but then I realized that this is not another Trump “get the press” tweet!

  7. Diane G.
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    A few years ago I was privileged to watch a Northern Ribbon Snake eating a frog in our pond. If this works, and if you can enlarge by clicking, note the > 90 degrees angle of the jaw opening:

    Northern Ribbon Snake eating frog

    • rickflick
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think he/she’s got a lot of work yet to do. It always amazes me how they manage to swivel the prey head first down the gullet. I have the strongest urge to reach over and help, but they always get it done.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        My urge would usually be to help the frog; but snakes gotta eat, too. It’s just that the animal being swallowed seems to retain consciousness for such a long period during the process…macabre!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      There’s a popular mis-statement that snakes “dislocate” their jaws when swallowing large prey. In fact, their jaw articulation stays the same, but they have an additional bone in their jaw hinges which mammals have relocated – the quadrate bone. In snakes (and other reptiles) this has an upper articulation with the quadratojugal and squamosal bones of the cranium, and a lower articulation with the articular bone in the lower jaw (which is fused to the mandible). In the lineage which became the mammals, the articulation point gradually moved anteriorly (towards the nose), leaving the quadrate and articular posterior of the dentary (the bone in which the lower teeth are mounted. A third bone which supports dentary also migrates towards the posterior of the articulation point, the angular. Once removed from the structural requirements of articulating the jaw joint, these three bones then continued in their subsidiary role of transmitting vibrations into the ear, while the balance of vibration sources also changed from mostly ground vibrations (picked up by laying the lower jaw on the ground) to mostly airborne vibrations. In modern mammals, these three bones are now better known as the malleus, stapes and incus (“hammer”, “stirrup” and “anvil”) bones of the inner ear.
      It’s one of the less well-known but still classic sequences of evolution, and it’s as well established with fossils as, say, the return of mammals to the sea, or the dinosaurs taking flight.
      And now I realise that I don’t have a copy of WEIT in this country, and am not sure if it’s in there.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 2:08 am | Permalink

        Thanks for this, Aidan. I was inspired to look for visuals online, where in addition I learned that snakes “hear with their jaws” as well, albeit not very well.

        (And where I also ran into this W.C. Fields’ quote: “Always carry a large flagon of whisky in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”)

        I didn’t remember this from WEIT either, but it’s been a while, so I checked the index of my copy and no, this particular example is not mentioned.

  8. Posted July 4, 2017 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Trump’s Wall needs to go up along the Florida border. As sea levels rise, the pythons and boa conctrictors, which stupid humans released into the Florida wild, will gradually have to move inland or switch to a full-time life of swimming. They can’t be caught in sufficient numbers, now, and they can take down and eat a human (especially a child). Just wait until they migrate northward, though.

  9. Posted July 5, 2017 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Even with the Quadrate Bone and the intra and intermandibular Joints, its a helluva stretch.

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