Monthly Archives: July 2015

Boa Constrictors Kill By Stopping Blood Circulation

The popular belief that boas and other constricting snakes deal death by suffocation seems to be a flawed assumption

Boa constrictors seem to deliver death not through suffocation, but by cutting off blood flow to the heart and brain image

Snakes aren’t kind killers, often pumping prey full of toxins or swallowing still-living victims whole. Boas and other constrictors, however, prefer a more intimate approach: They lock their victims in a deadly embrace, crushing the life out of them before feeding. Popular lore says that constrictor victims succumb to death by suffocation, but while this theory has been questioned as far back as the 1920s, the assumption hasn’t been verified in scientific tests.

Now, lab experiments reveal that constrictors most likely dole out death by stopping their prey’s blood flow, depriving the heart and brain of that vital fluid. Animals trapped in such a death grip would pass out and die within minutes, according to a study published this week in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

The death-by-suffocation hypothesis probably stems from the fact that a rat or rabbit caught in a constrictor’s coils looks as if it is gasping for air. But the speed at which its life is snuffed out tells a different story, says lead author Scott Boback, a herpetologist at Dickinson College.

Boback and his colleagues anesthetized 24 rats, which they offered up to 9 boa constrictors—some wild-caught in Belize, and others captive-bred. Before sacrificing the rodents, the researchers inserted ECG electrodes and catheters into the animals’ bodies so they could monitor heart rate and blood pressure data throughout the crushing process.

The researchers were surprised to observe that blood circulation dropped by half within six seconds of the snakes wrapping their coils around the rats. Over the next minute, the rats’ hearts began beating erratically, causing “severe impacts on cardiovascular function,” the researchers write.

By the end of a six-minute period, more than 90 percent of the rats suffered likely irreversible heart damage and died. The rats, however, would not have known this. Had they been conscious, Boback thinks they would have passed out moments after the squeezing began due to lack of blood flow to the heart and brain.

The results show that constrictors’ prey die much too quickly for suffocation—which likely takes minutes, not seconds, to be the culprit. “The interesting thing about our findings is that there were a number of physiological failures that were all occurring simultaneously in constricted rats,” Boback says in an email. These include decreasing pressure in the animals’ arteries, increasing pressure in their veins and blood that was high in potassium and acidity. “Each one of these failures could have caused death in the animals,” he continues. “The fact that all of them were occurring at the same time is pretty remarkable and significant for the rats.”

Still, if your fate is to be a snake’s dinner, the relatively quick death delivered by constriction seems almost preferable to being swallowed alive or injected with lethal venom, which starts digesting an animal’s tissues before it is dead, or else causes uncontrolled internal bleeding or clotting. As Boback says in a statement: “By understanding the mechanisms of how constriction kills, we gain a greater appreciation for the efficiency of this behavior.”


Henry Sapiecha

This Plant Murders Bugs and Decorates Itself With Their Dead Bodies

serpentinecolumbine_bug killing plant image

In the grand scheme of strategies to deter predators, sticky columbine takes a rather medieval approach, Sandhya Sekar reports for Science — researchers think it lures innocent bugs to their deaths, then decorates itself with their bodies as “payment” for spiders who attack the plant’s would-be predators.

New research suggests that the sticky leaves and stems of Aquilegia eximia bring a slow death to harmless bugs like beetles and dragonflies, Sekar explains. The dead bodies then serve to attract spiders, which eat the adolescent moth caterpillars (Heliothis phloxiphaga) that threaten the plants’ buds and flowers. The spiders have evolved resistance to the sticky stems and indirectly protect the plant from one of its main predators, writes Sekar.

Plenty of plants, like columbine, have hairy stems covered with sticky droplets of goo where bugs gets stuck and die. Entomologists call them “tourist traps,” notes Elizabeth Preston for Discover. But it’s always been unclear whether the presence of all those bugs is part of the plants’ master plan or more of a coincidence.

To settle the debate, a team of biologists set up some traps with serpentine columbine stalks and some without. Traps with columbine bait snared 21 percent more beetles, dragonflies and other insects. The team also played around with removing the dead bodies from plants in a California reserve. Plants with lower dead body counts had fewer spiders and twice as much caterpillar damage. The team’s results were published in the July issue of Ecology.

The work provides strong evidence that the plants kill the bugs as a kind of payment to spiders, which then serve as their anti-predator muscle. It’s a roundabout system, but it seems to work — and given the prevalence of plants with sticky stems, it might even be pretty common. Just think of it as the plant world’s version of The Bodyguard.



Python Eats Huge Porcupine, Suffers the Consequences big time

Porcupines are often attacked by other animals that are trying to cash in on a huge feast. However, it’s a decision that is usually regretted instantly.

Case in point: this African rock python made a meal out of a porcupine at a game reserve in South Africa, only to suffer the consequences a day later.

Once the snake was cut open, it was clear that the porcupine’s quills caused fatal internal injuries.

Photos below reveal the connection with a python & a porcupine

python death by porcupine image (3)


python death by porcupine image


python death by porcupine image (6)


python death by porcupine image (5)


python death by porcupine image (4)


python death by porcupine image (2)


Henry Sapiecha

Orangutan escapes at Melbourne Zoo in Australia.Very funny video report

Melbourne Zoo went into lockdown on Monday after an orangutan escaped its enclosure.

Visitors were whisked into secure buildings, while the 11-year-old orangutan was on the loose in public areas for about an hour.

The Sumatran orangutan, named Malu, was eventually sedated with a tranquiliser, a zoo spokeswoman said.

orangutan Malu.image

The orangutan Malu. Photo: Zoos Victoria

“Melbourne Zoo staff acted quickly to lock down the zoo and all visitors have been safely ushered into secure areas,” the spokeswoman said.

Bendigo woman Justine Cowling, who was at the zoo with her family as the drama unfolded, said the orangutan appeared to use a blanket to make his escape.

“It escaped by using the blanket as leverage to break the top wire of its enclosure,” Ms Cowling told the Bendigo Advertiser.

“It pulled itself up and out and walked along the roof of the enclosure.”

Melbourne Zoo said the orangutan was captured and secured shortly before 4.30pm.

“Malu has been secured in an undercover area of the zoo with keepers and vets on hand to assist,” the spokeswoman said.

The zoo later said, via Twitter, that Malu had been returned to his night quarters.


Henry Sapiecha






Henry Sapiecha