As legless predators, snakes are unique in their ability to immobilize and kill their prey through the process of constriction, and yet how this pressure incapacitates and ultimately kills the prey remains unknown. In this study, we examined the cardiovascular function of anesthetized rats before, during and after being constricted by boas (Boa constrictor) to examine the effect of constriction on the prey's circulatory function. The results demonstrate that within 6 s of being constricted, peripheral arterial blood pressure (PBP) at the femoral artery dropped to 1/2 of baseline values while central venous pressure (CVP) increased 6-fold from baseline during the same time. Electrocardiographic recordings from the anesthetized rat's heart revealed profound bradycardia as heart rate (fH) dropped to nearly half of baseline within 60 s of being constricted, and QRS duration nearly doubled over the same time period. By the end of constriction (mean 6.5±1 min), rat PBP dropped 2.9-fold, fH dropped 3.9-fold, systemic perfusion pressure (SPP=PBP−CVP) dropped 5.7-fold, and 91% of rats (10 of 11) had evidence of cardiac electrical dysfunction. Blood drawn immediately after constriction revealed that, relative to baseline, rats were hyperkalemic (serum potassium levels nearly doubled) and acidotic (blood pH dropped from 7.4 to 7.0). These results are the first to document the physiological response of prey to constriction and support the hypothesis that snake constriction induces rapid prey death due to circulatory arrest.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
S.M.B., K.J.M., E.L.B.and C.F.Z. conceptualized and designed the study. S.M.B., K.J.M., K.A.W., P.M.M., E.L.B. and C.F.Z. performed experiments. S.M.B., K.J.M. and C.F.Z. analyzed the data and developed the manuscript. S.M.B. prepared the figures and tables.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Supplementary material available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1242/jeb.121384/-/DC1
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