People: How pythons kill

UC biologist explains how big snakes sometimes can be deadly

People magazine turned to a University of Cincinnati biologist to help explain the threat posed by large constricting snakes like the 22-foot-long reticulated python that killed and consumed a woman in Indonesia in October.

A search team found the woman's remains inside a snake on a rubber plantation where she worked.

Snake expert Bruce Jayne, a professor of biological sciences in UC's College of Arts and Sciences, told People magazine that big constricting snakes rarely prey on people, particularly adults.

Bruce Jayne holds up a Burmese python with a cylinder in its mouth depicting its enormous dinner-plate sized gape.

UC professor Bruce Jayne demonstrates how wide a Burmese python can open its mouth to swallow prey. Jayne studied wild specimens captured and euthanized in Florida. Photo/Bruce Jayne

First, he said, few pythons and anacondas get big enough to pose that kind of deadly threat to an adult.

"It takes pythons a long time to attain these enormous sizes," Jayne told People. "As a result, there are actually very few of these really, really large pythons."

True to their name, Jayne said, constrictors bite their prey and wrap their large, powerful coils around it. The snake's coils constrict their prey's blood flow, causing cardiac arrest, Jayne said.

Jayne recently examined how Burmese pythons can swallow enormous prey such as full-grown deer. He discovered that they evolved super-stretchy skin between their lower jaws that allows them to consume prey up to six times larger than similarly sized snakes.

His study was published in September in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology.

Jayne said people should not fear snakes, which are unfairly maligned in many places they are found.

"People have terribly exaggerated fears of snakes that are not well-founded," he told People.

Read the People magazine story.

Featured image at top: Ian Bartoszek, right, science project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, captures a 215-pound Burmese python in Everglades National Park. Photo/ Conservancy of Southwest Florida

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