Feeding Behavior in Boa Constrictors

Ingrid Schoonover

Once a boa constrictor locates its prey the snake pulls its head into an S-shaped curve and rapidly extends its body to strike. Upon contact, the prey is grasped by the snake’s jaws and the boa will begin to coil. Whenever the animal breathes in the coils will tighten. Eventually, the animal is killed by suffocation or inadequate blood flow to the brain.

Lacking hands and feet, snakes require a great deal of skull and jaw mobility to manipulate and swallow prey. Through loose articulation between the lower jaw and quadrate bone allows it to move forward and backward. Additionally, loss of the upper and lower temporal fenestrae lighten the weight of the skull and allows for swinging of the quadrate bone. The jaw and skull bones on each side of the head operate independently providing further mobility.

As snakes are infrequent feeders they are able to swallow food much larger than the girth of their mouth. This is a result of the unique structure of their jaws and the elasticity of their skin. Through a ratcheting movement, that is alternatively moving the upper and lower jaw to advance over the prey. The curvature of their long maxillary teeth allows the snake to grasp their prey and guide it while the food is “walked” into the snake’s throat.

Boa constrictor imperator consuming a rat.

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