Henrik Sorensen/DigitalVision/Getty Images
The boa constrictor may be non-venomous, but the 10-foot-long snake is known for its lethality in other ways.
Then, they swallow their prey whole — fur, skin, bones, and all — and let their digestive systems do the work.
But their ability to devour carcasses whole puts extreme strain on the snakes’ ability to breathe.
Their stomachs press against their lungs, making it difficult to expand their ribcages and suck in air after a big meal.
Researchers set out to answer the question of how boa constrictors can kill and eat without suffocating in a study published Thursday the Journal of Experimental Biology.
“When you kill something really big [and eat it], you fill yourself up in this immense way. You’re completely full to the gills, literally.”
The snakes were fitted with a blood pressure cuff around a section of their bodies to mimic the squeeze of a big meal or the act of constriction.
Fernando Trabanco Fotograf��a/Moment Open/Getty Images
The researchers learned that the snakes are able to alternate which part of the ribs they expand to breathe during different activities, an act known as modular ventilation.
Capano says it’s unclear when these traits evolved, but likely that they developed in tandem, building off of each other.
“I think that [these traits] all kind of evolved in concert. They were all probably extant in some form, and then just kind of kept growing over time.”
Read more about this study here.