A new study shows that snakes can reduce the frequency of metabolism by as much as 70% when they lack food, which makes them not only avoid eating and drinking for a long time without dying, but also grow bigger. “These reptiles can reduce their energy consumption to an amazing level,” said Marshall McQuay, a biology graduate student at Arkansas State University and the lead author of the study.
The study, published in the journal zoology, is an extension of a series of biochemical studies conducted by makui on the Western Diamond rattlesnake in the past.
Mai Kui conducted a hunger strike test on a total of 62 snakes belonging to three major species, namely Rattus, Western Diamond rattlesnake and ball python. The test lasted for six weeks. During this period, Mai Kui measured and counted the metabolic frequency of each snake.
The test time is set at six weeks because six weeks is a typical time for snakes to lack food in the wild. It was found that during the period of lack of food, snakes reduced the frequency of metabolism, with a maximum reduction of 72%. “The energy consumption of snakes is already very low. We didn’t expect it to be so low,” McQuay said.
Even in the absence of food, these snakes can grow longer. “For me, this shows that snakes have a strong selective advantage to grow longer,” McQuay said. He believes that in the process of evolution, snakes have gradually developed the ability to make efficient use of the limited energy inside the body.
In the first stage of the snake hunger strike experiment, all snakes tend to consume body fat for energy; In the second stage of the hunger strike experiment, different kinds of snakes will choose to convert different substances into energy. Living in an environment that can capture a large number of rodent prey, ratchet snake will convert more protein into energy required by the body than rattlesnake and ball python snakes.
“Snakes that break down protein to provide energy for starvation may be less likely to adapt to hunger,” McQueen explained.
Understanding how snakes can survive without eating or drinking will help us to understand the whole process of snake evolution more comprehensively.