Science with Dr Karl: Mighty pythons!
All about pythons with Dr Karl…
Pythons, pythons, pythons! If you’re an animal, it’s easy to be a top predator! All you need is sharp eyes and ears, strong arms and legs and some scary weaponry such as big teeth, claws or talons. But what if you have no arms or legs, no ears, and no claws? How do you function as a predator? We only recently discovered how pythons do just that…
We mistakenly used to think that pythons suffocated their prey to kill them. We thought that a python would wrap its coils around their meal and each time their prey would exhale, the python would tighten up its grip a little more – and the prey would suffocate.
So, the theory was that the python did not squeeze the muscles of their prey to kill them. However, there were a few hints that this theory was wrong. For example, a Malaysian man was swallowed, head first, by a python. The locals managed to stop the python and pull out his body. The autopsy found broken bones in his ribs, neck and spinal cord. So, maybe pythons could squeeze hard after all!
TESTING AN IDEA
Dr. Scott M. Boback
and his colleagues decided to test this new theory. They anaesthetised a rat and put some measuring devices inside it. When their hungry boa constrictor (a type of python) coiled its body around the rat, they could see the rat’s blood pressure and heart rate data on their computer screen. They saw the boa constrictor easily squeezing with more than twice the pressure that the rat’s little heart could pump. If the rat had been conscious, it would have become unconscious from a lack of blood to the brain – and died from being squeezed!
DID YOU KNOW? Pythons can starve up to two years without a feed! How do they survive? They burn energy only when it’s absolutely essential. Unlike mammals, they don’t waste energy trying to keep their internal temperature constant. They get warm (and get active) in the daytime, and cool down (and lay low) at night. They also shrink their gut down to practically nothing. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a gut – with so many digestive chemicals and liquids for it to manufacture!
DID YOU KNOW? Pythons can eat an animal that actually weighs more than they do – up to one and a half times their own weight!