From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

How do boa constrictors eat and breathe at the same time?

New study reveals how these heavy-bodied snakes consume prey while inhaling and exhaling.

Boa constrictor feeding on lizard, Tijuca Forest National Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © Vitor Marigo/Aurora Photos/Getty
Published: April 28, 2022 at 10:05 am
Try 6 issues of BBC Wildlife Magazine for just £9.99

It’s all very well squeezing the living breath out of your victims before swallowing them whole, but how does a boa or python avoid asphyxiating itself in the process?

Advertisement

New research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology shows that boa constrictors can use certain sections of their rib cage to inflate their lungs while simultaneously using other sections to squeeze their prey to death.

Meanwhile, the deepest sections of their long, thin lungs, though not good at absorbing oxygen, work like bellows to pull air through the constricted regions.

This ability to control ribs independently is so essential to boas that it might have been in place before constriction could evolve as a predatory strategy.

Advertisement

“It could have been in response to the ability to breathe in confined spaces,” says John Capano of Brown University, USA, who led the research. “Or it could have evolved from fine rib control in snakes, that could have arisen to help them move with more control.”

Authors

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content