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How Snakes Kill

Just thinking about snakes makes many people squirm. Is it because they move without legs, or we think they’ll feel slimy? Maybe it is that snakes eat other animals and their methods are not that attractive. Snakes procure their meals by smothering, injecting a toxin, or simply eating their prey alive. Whichever method is used, snakes are good at what they do.


Pythons and boas are the most well known of the snake species that use constriction as a method of immobilizing their prey. There are actually many different species that use this method. Constrictors typically prey on large animals that can cause serious injury to the snake if they are not first incapacitated. The method used by these snakes is to tighten their body around the prey, resulting in suffocation – they do not crush their prey. The snake typically bites the prey to hold on as he quickly wraps his body and tightly coils around the prey. Each time the victim exhales a breath; the snake tightens, preventing the animal from inhaling more air. Without an air supply, the prey rapidly becomes unconscious and usually dies. The snake then ingests the prey.


Similar to the constrictors, venomous snakes also initially bite their prey, although they do not wrap around the victim. These snakes typically prey on small, fast animals and need to be able to attack and immobilize their prey rapidly. Suffocation does not work too well on small animals that are able to twist around and bite the snake while they slowly suffocate.

Venomous snakes inject venom, which is a toxic substance of modified saliva. This venom is injected into the prey through fangs. After being bitten the animal is either immediately immobilized or slowly succumbs to the venom.

There are different types of venom. The neurotoxic venom rapidly paralyzes the victim, including paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Death is quick. Another type of venom is the hemotoxic venom. This type destroys tissue and causes internal bleeding. The victim is quickly incapacitated but does not die quickly. Some snakes have a combination of hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom. Regardless of the type, the result is similar. After biting the intended prey and injecting venom, the victim is soon immobilized and eaten by the snake.

Eating Alive

Some of the smaller snakes don’t need special techniques. They are quick and clever. These snakes slowly slither up to their intended meal and simply grab it in their mouth and swallow. This method is usually reserved for snakes that ingest other snakes, lizards, some birds, eggs and certain mammals.