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Boas and pythons are known as constrictor snakes, which can kill their prey by coiling their long bodies around their target and suffocating them.
These types of snakes – which includes the infamous anaconda – can swallow large prey without choking.
Recently, scientists finally discovered that these reptiles can pull off such a feat by changing the way they breathe, NPR reported.
Boa constrictors have more than 200 pairs of ribs running down the length of their bodies and breathe by employing muscles to move their stiff rib bones and pump air in and out.
Their lungs also stretch down their bodies: One part of the lungs closest to the head involves gas exchange – because it’s rich in blood vessels – while the other near the tail is more of an empty bag.
For their study, researchers used inflated blood pressure cuffs on different parts of boas’ bodies to prevent their ribs from moving. They also used X-rays to watch how the bones moved and monitored the snakes’ nerve signals.
The team observed that boas would begin breathing with a set of ribs back toward the tail when the cuff was placed on the animal’s front section. Once the cuffs were removed, the breathing switched back to the front area.
The constrictors may readily switch to employing various sets of ribs to pull in the air like bellows, according to the researchers.
The authors added that their findings shed new light on how snakes – despite being limbless – evolved such extraordinary ways to kill relatively big animals and expand their menu.