How does digestion work in snakes?
November 24, 2015

Snakes can fast for a number of months after consuming a large meal. Recent research looking at physiological effects of feeding in Indian Pythons (Python molorus) shows the snakes organs undergo substantial changes that remain for the entire digestive process – in this case up to 8 days. These included up to a 30% increase in the diameter of the intestines including thickening of the mucus membranes and an increase of up to two thirds of the circumference of the liver. Once digestion is complete however the organs immediately begin to shrink back to their original size. It is still unclear at this time by what means these changes take place; through increased blood-flow, through bloating, or actual cellular modification.

Actual digestion occurs in the stomach and small intestine. The cells in the stomach wall and small intestine produce strong digestive juices to dissolve the prey item. The liver produces bile and the pancreas produces digestive secretions which are sent to the small intestine to help bolster the work of its own digestive juices. The only thing a snake can’t manage to absorb are the claws and/or hair of the animal.

Speed and efficiency of digestion is further influenced by other factors such as temperature, the regularity of feeding events and the body size of the snake.

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