The Largest Meal Eaten by a Snake

Snakes cannot chew or tear their food, so they have no choice but to swallow it whole. They are superbly adapted to swallowing prey considerably larger in girth than themselves because, as the wider parts of the body enter the mouth, the bones of the lower jaw can be temporarly dislocated and certain bones in the skull are capable of pulling apart. Once the prey has been swallowed, the snake yawns a few times to return the various parts of the skull to their original postions. The largest prey item on record was a 59Kg (130lb) impala, which was removed from a 4.87m (16ft) African rock python (Python sabae). African rock pythons regularly take large prey but, when swollen with food, are vunerable to attack by wild dogs and hyenas and so prefer to eat more moderate meals at shorter intervals.

There are many examples of snakes swallowing other snakes which are much longer than themselves. In 1955 a captive cottonmouth moccaain (Ancistrodon piscivorous), which was 35.5cm (14in) long, swallowed a very slender 73.6cm (29in) ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) sharing the same cage. The stomach of a 1.51m (59.5in) file snake (Mehelya capensis) killed in Kruger National Park, South Africa, contained a 1.09m (47.2in) olive grass snake (Psammophis sibilans), an 85cm (33.5in) African rock python (Python sabae), a 54cm (21.3in) brown water snake (Lycodonomorphis rufulus) and a 49cm (19.3in) ring-necked spitting cobra (Hemachatus haemachatus).

A king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) was once placed by a mis-guided keeper in a cage with six Asiatic cobras (Naja naja); by the following morning, the king cobra had eaten all its room-mates.