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The Real Story About Snake’s Jaws And How They Can Consume Such Large Meals
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2011 by eNature
Corn Snake eating mouse
Corn Snake eating mouse
© Allen Blake Sheldon

Never eat anything bigger than your head.

That’s just good advice. Unless you are a snake, of course.

It’s said that a snake can eat an item so large in relation to its own head that it would be the equivalent of a human swallowing a watermelon whole—and without using his hands. Anacondas, among the world’s largest snakes (a record-breaker was 28 feet long and 44 inches around), are said to be able to consume an adult human being!

Even if some ot these stories are a bit of stretch (sorry about that!), it’s clear that snakes can cnsume large objects quite regularly.  So how do they do it?

Just about everybody on this planet seems to believe that snakes can unhinge their top and bottom jaws—this is not true. The remarkable thing about the snake jaw is that the two halves of the lower jaw are not connected at the front. This allows them to swing away from one another and to work independently to pull food into the muscular throat.

Besides their wide-opening jaws, snakes have a hard-cased skull in order to prevent brain damage from large thrashing animals clasped in their jaws. And perhaps most importantly, considering how long it takes to swallow a huge, mouth-filling living thing, they are able to shunt their respiratory tube to the side so they can still breathe, even with a chicken egg lodged in their throat.

Just one more example of how creatures have evolved abilities that let them thrive in the wild….

Have you encountered any snakes this year?  There are often more around than you might think…..

As always, we love to hear your stories.

See snakes of North America. »

Use eNature's ZipGiudes to find out who else is living in your backyard »

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Comments

We have a small backyard goldfish pond busy with about 20 small frogs. last week we couldn’t understand why one of the frogs was sitting on his head and kicking his feet—until we saw the snake(a small garter snake) that had him in his grip.  The frog worked himself free!

Posted by Sandy Wiederhold on 7/23

Spirorbis borealis

I am a volunteer archeologist. Six years ago while doing fine soil analysis from shell middens I had been working on here in Maine, I began finding the coiled shells…Spirorbis borealis.

How were these tiny shells finding their way into these middens?

Last year, while conducting work on a thick shell midden on the Medomak River, I removed large quantities of soil for further studies. Once again I found these shells, along with beechnuts, and burnt unripened blackberries.

It finally dawned on me that the Native Americans were steaming the shellfish they had collected, using algae fronds, and branches of trees and branbles. Apparently this was a common practice.

I have an unpublished report available upon request.                  Alan Button

Posted by Alan Button on 7/25

The following write-up appeared in the San Mateo (County, CA) Peninsula Times Tribune on Friday, June 8, 1990.
JET CAPTAIN PUTS ON BRAKES FOR SNAKE
By Janet McGovern, Staff, San Francisco Airport

A near-miss Monday involving a 737 could have ended in disaster for a meandering stray, were it not for a United Airlines captain with a reverence for life.

In this case, lowlife.

Capt. Milt Jines had landed and was taxiing his plane toward the terminal at an Francisco International Airport on Monday when he spotted a 4-foot-long gopher snake directly in his path.
  So Jines came to a gentle stop and called the tower. He wouldn’t continue toward the gate until he was assured that the snake would be rescued. The snake was removed and subsequently turned over to Jines, so he can release it into the San Francisco watershed.
  “The snake’s got the right-of-way at the airport,” said Jines, a 23-year United veteran based at SFO. He figured any snake that had grown that big deserved to live.
  “We need someday to realize that we’ve just got to stop killing animals just because we don’t like the way they look,” he said.

  The following day, the wayward reptile was free again with several square miles of non-threatening wilderness to grow old in.

Posted by Milt Jines on 8/7

So cool! Thanks for sharing that story.

Posted by LeeAnne on 8/14

We live on a farm, and have chickens as pets. When I notice that eggs are scarce, I can pretty much assume we have a Black Snake visiting regularly, or living inside the hen house. Just yesterday, I found a five foot black snake, as beautiful as any I’ve ever seen! A quick grab, and I called my husband to drive me off a ways down the road to a wilder area, where we release them. They come back if we let them go on our own farm, just like a Homing Pigeon! Last summer we moved no less than eight big Black snakes. I’d be happy to let them stay around, and share the eggs, but they also have been known to kill setting hens that won’t move off of the clutch, and then, try to eat them. And even with those amazing jaws, they can’t swallow a hen. So, I end up with a dead chicken, and a hungry snake.

Posted by linda hartge on 7/27

I like that captain!  I grew up on a farm.  Mother was deathly afraid of snakes and once decimated an entire row of vegetables with her hoe in pursuit of a snake.  We had mostly bull snakes which are harmless to humans.  Daddy appreciated their rodent control and didn’t kill snakes.  Out of respect for Mother, he would kill any snake around the house, yard or chickens.

Posted by Theda (Georgia) on 7/28

For Linda Hartge ... great story.  My GranPa was a smart one. He kept one of those one-gallon glass jugs with the “finger hold” handles in the henhouse.  The jug was strategically located between two chicken setting nests, the Black Snake(s) would visit nest number one, swallow (whole) an egg then it would travel to nest number two, THROUGH the jug finger handle (hole) and swallow a second egg from the next nest.  The eggs were too large to fit through the finger hole so the snake found himself “trapped” with an egg on either side of the jug handle!  GranPa had to check the jug often because the snake was smart enough to coil (constrict) around the jug handle breaking the eggs in his stomach thus releasing himself from GranPa’s “trap.”  I know, this sounds like a tall tale but it is true.  I saw it work many times.  GranPa assigned me the “detail” of removing the snakes to a place far enough away.

Posted by Capt. Milt Jines, UAL (Ret) on 7/28

Where my great-grandparents homesteaded along the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska bull snakes were never hared- they ate the weasles that would eat the chickens if they could. The chicken coop was the only building on the place that had a cement floor, to prevent the weasles from burrowing under and coming into the han house.

Posted by Carol on 7/29
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