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You Try Constricting Your Prey and Breathing at the Same Time (theatlantic.com)
69 points by fortran77 on March 26, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments



a bit off topic, but my rss feed had this story from 3 different sources side-by-side -- all published within an hour of one another. All had early access to the paper[0] and were timed for when the embargo lifted? ... or everyone's just into snakes now

The Atlantic write up was the best of the three, including a lot more background (snakes have a vestigial lung!?). NPR had a disappointingly click-bait trope style headline.

  > This trick keeps snakes from suffocating as they squeeze and swallow their prey
  > NPR - 1 minute read 
  >
  > How Boa Constrictors Breathe While Squeezing the Life Out of Their Prey
  > NYT > Science - 1 minute read 
  >
  > You Try Constricting Your Prey and Breathing at the Same Time news
  > The Atlantic - 5 minutes read
[0] https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article-abstract/225/6/j...


And here I was, reading the headline and thinking this would be an article about the EU, sanctions and Russian gas.


I used to own a 2.3m Dumerils Boa from Madagascar. That thing was really damn strong. I chose to give it up for adoption after I broke both of my arms and no longer felt strong enough to handle it properly.


May I ask how exactly you broke both your arms? Do the snakes constrict until the bone snaps? That seems like a lot of force!


Generally constrictors will constrict to cut off blood flow by squeezing.

They're strong enough that their prey can't push out of the constriction, and they'll just sit and wait for them to die from lack of blood flow then start eating.

Crushing the air out of a mammal is a lot harder, first because it just takes more force to prevent the lungs from expanding, and second because mammals can typically thrash for longer without oxygen than without blood.

Breaking any bones would take (usually) considerably more force than even that, bones are pretty strong.

They'll wait for death before letting go because snakes are pretty defenseless while eating, since their main (sometimes only) defense is their bite, which they can't use while eating.

Constrictors are also pretty good at feeling their prey's pulse while constricting as well, so they're well aware of when it's safe to let go of their prey.

Edit: This is to say that it's unlikely that the snake broke GP's arms.


> Crushing the air out of a mammal is a lot harder

I thought the trick used by snakes is to prevent the victim from breathing in, not forcing them to breath out (i.e. they don’t need to actively push against the victim’s expanding lung, but just statically prevent it from expanding and then tighten their grip every time the victim breaths out a bit), but apparently I’m wrong. As you say, they put so much pressure on your veins and arteries that you can’t pump blood around anymore (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/150722-bo...)


Just to be explicit — I’m reading your words about “bones” as “human bones.” A medium constrictor, 1 to 2 meters long, is easily strong enough to crush the bones of its prey. A 2-meter boa can crush a rat’s ribcage so fast it sounds like popping bubble-wrap, and the rat dies nearly instantly.

That’s if you live-feed, which is generally considered unsafe. Larger snakes need larger food, and larger food tends to fight back. Yes, in the wild the snake wins almost all the time, but if the snake’s your pet you want it to win 100% of the time. Most responsible snake keepers will thaw frozen food, and most constrictor can be trained to eat dead rodents, as long as they’re warm enough.


I read it as he broke both his arms in a way unrelated to the snake?


That's how I read it too. To be fair, it is an unusual injury.


Bicycle accident.


Yeah, that’s near the limit. The rule of thumb is one grown man per 3 meters of snake for every operation — feeding, cleaning, vet care. A 3-meter constrictor, especially a fat-bodied one like a boa or python, is unbelievably strong. A 3-meter boa can wrap around your neck and cut off blood flow to your brain in seconds, and basically nobody is strong enough to prevent it once it starts.

I’ve had snakes up to 2 meters long, and even those when wrapped around my arm were not possible to force off without injuring them. I never had to do that, thankfully, just be patient (as my hand got tingly) and give them something more interesting to do.

The thing about snakes is — they’re really dumb. They have the bare minimum intelligence that a living stomach needs to crawl around and inhale things. They get food-fixated easily (and human fingers look just like mice to them) and they scare easily. Their reactions to both are the same — squeeze it until it stops moving.


Constructors block blood circulation same as the blood pressure cuff. For the prey animal it's like a massive stroke.


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Referring to the Russian government and military as "the Russians" isn't racist. I can't think of a more appropriate group to refer to as "the Russians."


Because it's the Atlantic. I was half expecting the same thing.




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