Turns Out Boa Constrictors Might Not Actually Suffocate Their Prey

The prey dies from a loss of circulation, new research suggests.

If you have recurring nightmares about being eaten by a boa constrictor, you may have to slightly alter the details.

Boa constrictors, known for tightly wrapping their bodies around their prey, have long been thought to kill the animals via suffocation. New research from Dickinson College, however, suggests that death may actually be occurring because the snakes are cutting off the blood supply to their prey’s vital organs.

When a boa constrictor kills its prey, “it looks like the [prey] animals are gasping for air,” Scott Boback, who led the study, said in a news release. However, back in 1994, Boback’s colleague Dave Hardy noticed that it appears the animals were dying much more quickly than one would expect if they were suffocating.

“He suspected that it was circulatory or cardiac arrest because of the speed at which death was occurring,” Boback said.

New research by Boback and his team, published Wednesday in The Journal Of Experimental Biology, appears to back that theory up. The scientists monitored the blood pressure of rats being squeezed by the constrictors, and found that after the snake took hold, the rodent’s circulation totally shut down in only a few seconds.

The study suggests that death occurs after the rat passes out from a loss of blood to the brain and the rodent’s critical organs fail.

Boback noted in the press release that the rats were anesthetized before the experiments. “It was not something that we took lightly and we wanted to make sure that the animals did not experience pain or suffer,” he said.