Here's How a Python Can Swallow a Man Whole

Attacks on humans are extremely rare, proven swallowing almost unheard of
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2017 8:33 AM CDT
Here's How a Python Can Swallow a Man Whole
The body of the python was recovered with a body inside.   (West Sulawesi Police)

How is it possible for a man to end up in the belly of a snake? That's the question many were asking after the body of 25-year-old Akbar Salubiro was found intact inside a 23-foot reticulated python Sunday in Indonesia. (A highly graphic video shows the body's recovery.) Here's a look at the science: First comes death. Though python attacks on humans are extremely rare, it's not difficult for a reticulated python, the world's longest snake, to kill a man. Pythons wrap themselves around their victims, crushing them. Constricting snakes like pythons don't actually suffocate their victims but kill by cutting off blood flow, which is a quicker death, reports National Geographic. "The heart literally doesn't have enough strength to push against the pressure," vertebrate ecologist Scott Boback tells the magazine.

But the BBC explains experts previously thought doing anything more than killing a man might be too difficult. Rather than chew, the snakes' flexible jaw ligaments allow them to swallow prey whole. But when it comes to humans, "the restricting factor is ... shoulder blades because they are not collapsible," says one expert. Indeed, the BBC points out size was a problem in a slightly different case, in 2005, when a Burmese python tried to ingest an alligator; the snake burst. The BBC notes stories of man-eating pythons aren't new, but the tales typically come from remote areas short on a witness as trustworthy as the one present in this case—a cell phone. A local agricultural lecturer shares his theory with the Jakarta Post: that the attack was likely a result of deforestation due to palm-oil harvesting, which imperils the snakes' "natural food sources." Read more on the attack here. (More python stories.)

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