A study at Dickinson College has made the surprising discovery that boa snakes do not kill by suffocation, but by cutting off the blood circulation in its victim. Which is actually worse and creepier than we initially thought because it labels them as even more efficient and clever killers.
Some things always seemed carved in stone when it came to snakes. Venomous species are quick and agile, able to take prey down with one quick bite before it waits for it to die slowly so it could eat, and the constrictor species slowly suffocate its prey until it dies of asphyxiation.
However, a new study throws half those assumptions to the wind and confirmed the theorized concept that boa constrictors actually cut off the blood circulation and renders its prey useless while its organs fail, one at a time. A scary thought for more than just one reason.
It means that at some point during its evolution, the snake was able to adapt by cleverly understanding that while most of its prey is able to struggle and live for at least a couple of minutes without air, most will not survive its strong grasp for more than 60 seconds without a heartbeat.
And, most importantly, suffocation does not instantly result in death as the victim still has an, albeit slow, heartbeat after it passes out. It might cause unexpected escapes, which the boa constrictor seems to avoid.
It is a particularly successful change in tactic for animals such as rats or raccoons, who will scratch and claw until the very end, taking bits of the snake and tearing at the scales as it viciously tries to stay alive. A lack of blood flow for a long enough period of time will cause damage to the heart, brain and liver, causing high levels of potassium in the body that is ultimately lethal.
Researchers were prompted to the study while observing that the boa constrictors killed its prey much, much too quickly and conducted the experiment by feeding them mice. The rodents were sedated and implanted with ECG electrodes and catheters meant to measure blood pressure.
As the boa constrictor wrapped around them, the data streamed in and showed that the snake effectively shut down all circulation within a matter of seconds. It offers way more credit than ever before to the boa, who proved to be adapting accordingly and does not resort to its greatest strength by using it to in the most basic way possible, to crush and suffocate.
Image source: panteres.com