After posting about the Portuguese word jiboiar, I was intrigued to run across an article explaining what happens to a python’s organs when it has eaten a huge meal.
They get bigger.
Pythons can swallow extremely large prey like pigs or deer, and they remodel their organs to cope with their meals. Their intestines and liver nearly double in size and their hearts become 40 percent bigger in just two to three days. For comparison, most mammal hearts only become 10 to 20 percent bigger after months of exercise.
The python’s swollen heart is proportionately mighty. Its vigorous pumping sends oxygen coursing through the snake’s bloodstream, allowing it to up its metabolism by 44 times. Its cells produce more proteins that strip electrons from food molecules and shunt them onto oxygen, producing water and liberating energy. Its blood vessels fill with 52 times the usual level of triglycerides, substances found in fats and oils. Such levels would clog mammal hearts with fat, but the pythons seem immune. These changes turn the snake into a long, supercharged energy-extracting machine.
To see a photo of a python heart before and after a meal, and to learn how researchers are hoping the python’s magic might help humans, check out Ed Yong’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Snakes are even cooler than I thought.
(Edited to fix link.)