Earth Science Tidbit of the Day

Earth Science Tidbit of the Day

For animals that breathe and eat through the same passage, humans included, choking can be a serious problem. Swallow something so big, or awkward, that it gets stuck in your trachea and your empty lungs will quickly become a much more serious concern than your empty stomach. Most animals get around this pesky issue by restricting their diets to those items that can either be safely swallowed whole, or masticated into suitable chunks. Snakes, on the other hand, were apparently far too wedded to the joys of forcing unchewed prey down their gullets, so they adapted a rather unique solution.

 

Eating and breathing are better when accomplished together.
Eating and breathing are better when accomplished together.

 

When a snake isn’t actively swallowing a meal, its windpipe fits securely into the back of it’s nasal passages, allowing it to breathe through it’s nostrils. Before it settles its maw around a fresh kill, however, it extracts its windpipe from the nasal passage, allowing it to rest on the floor of its lower jaws. As the snake’s mouth stretches around its prey, the windpipe extends beneath it, allowing the snake to breathe with its nasal passages and throat completely blocked. It is still technically possible for a snake to choke… but it would take a heck of a lot more than a piece of hot dog.

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