How do snakes swallow large animals whole?

Snakes are animals with a very interesting feature. They swallow their prey whole.  In fact, they are unable to chew them.  Often, these prey are much bigger than their mouths and even themselves, yet they manage to do so. Read this article to find out how they do it.


Articulated Bits


The prey is caught by the snake with its fang-like teeth, which sometimes are venomous and paralyze the victim before killing it.  At other times, the snake's coils choke the animal now trapped to death. Related Site is important if you want to have more information about snakes.  The jaws of snakes have elastic muscles and a wide opening. In fact, the bones of the jaw are not linked together and can be very far apart and deformed, until the mouth assumes a 180° opening.


The Python and the Gazelle


Take a practical example, with a python as protagonist and a gazelle.  A python eating a gazelle starts with the snout. To facilitate swallowing, the prey is lubricated by the reptile's saliva.  Once in the mouth, the gazelle's legs fold on themselves forming a compact mass, i.e. a "bolus". This bolus can take several minutes to pass from the mouth to the throat and even weeks to finally reach the intestine.  

The latter can expand as needed: the python has ribs, but no rib cage. Moreover, the snake can breathe thanks to an always open connection with the trachea, which allows it to swallow, to make pauses and to return to swallow without choking. It can take more than a week for a snake to digest such a meal.  During this time, its metabolism (i.e. its vital functions) is slowed down and the python falls into a state of numbness and immobility.