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Can Snakes Choke When Eating?

No, snakes do not choke when they swallow large animals. Unlike humans and other animals, snakes have a glottis. It is a tube by which they can breathe, and they push this tube out while they are swallowing, so they will not choke.

can snakes choke

Snakes, however, can bite more than they can chew. If they swallow an animal bigger than them, things can get ugly. Most snakes that make this mistake are juveniles. If this happens, the snake can either spit the prey or die.

What Happens when a Snake Eats a Big Animal?

Two things can happen, and these are:

  • Regurgitation
  • Bursting

When the meal is too big, a snake will know. What the snake typically does is regurgitate the animal and then simply look for another meal.

Regurgitation is a process by which a snake spits the food out. It is the equivalent of vomiting to humans.

 In the worst of conditions, a snake can burst.

There is an instance where people found a dead python in the Florida Everglades. The python had an alligator sticking out its belly. It’s shown in the video below:

The theory is that the python’s belly burst because of the gator’s size that it swallowed. The alligator was six feet long. When people saw the python, the alligator’s tail portruded from the python’s mid-section, indicating that the python had already swallowed it.

On some occasions, a snake may swallow prey that is still alive, which is also big enough to fight its way out. The best example of this is a case where a young snake swallowed a centipede.

Although the centipede was not bigger than the snake, the centipede was big enough to claw its way out. The snake burst because the centipede apparently chewed its way through the snake’s stomach.

Snakes know how to assess the size of prey. However, they can also make mistakes. They can misjudge the prey sometimes. For snake pet owners, the snakes have no choice but to eat what was offered to them.

Can Snakes Suffocate while Eating?

No, snakes cannot suffocate when eating. Suffocation happens when an organism is deprived of breathing. Humans and other animals have a nose by which they breathe, but there is a big difference.

In humans, there is a trachea or windpipe, and then there is the esophagus. The trachea closes when a human swallows food, and that food gets to the esophagus, then to the stomach.

Humans choke when this food goes to the wrong pipe or the trachea. It happens when a human is trying to swallow and breathe at the same time.

Ideally, the trachea is closed when a person is swallowing, but it will open if one attempts to talk. It is the reason why humans must not talk and chew at the same time.

It cannot happen with snakes. The tube for its breathing system has its own opening. It is called the glottis. While the snake is swallowing, the food will enter and block its esophagus.

Normally, the food would have blocked air from getting through the snake’s respiratory system. However, since it has a glottis, which looks like a tube, the snake ushes this glottis out of the food’s way.

It is from this glottis that the snake breathes while swallowing. There is no documented case where food entered the glottis and caused asphyxiation. It is the glottis that opens to the snake’s trachea, thereby giving it air and oxygen as it is swallowing.

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Can Snakes Hurt Themselves by Eating Something Big?

Yes, they can. They will die. Some of them will burst. One particular case is an x-ray showing a snake that ate a house gecko and died.

The incident happened in a research facility in Brazil. The researchers received the snake alive. They left it, and it ate a gecko while it was in its terrarium. The following day, the researchers found the snake dead.

Apparently, it tried to regurgitate its meal but failed. The snake had a burst on the side of its stomach. The researchers put the snake under an x-ray, and this is how they found out that what was inside its body was a gecko.

The meal was simply too large for the snake. The researchers indicated that it is well-known that some snakes die trying to eat a big meal.

They also said that it happens mostly to young ones that overestimated their capabilities. On some occasions, snakes are forced to eat bigger meals because they cannot find smaller ones.  

Pet owners also know that they are not supposed to feed snakes anything that is too big. Based on pet owners’ observations, snakes will regurgitate a meal if it is too big.

However, there are occasions when a mouse can get stuck in a snake’s throat because it is too big. If this happens, the snake is in trouble. Most snakes in captivity will eat anything the pet owner gives to it because it is hungry, so the owner has to e responsible.

Can a Snake Rip its Mouth while Swallowing?

No, it cannot happen. A snake has multi-jointed jaws that can expand. Contrary to popular belief, snakes cannot dislocate their jaws.

A snake will only swallow what its mouth can fit in. If a snake realizes that the prey is too big to fit in its mouth, it will spit the prey and then look for a smaller one.

Summary:  Can Snakes Choke When They Eat Large Animals?

Snakes do not choke when they eat large animals because they have glottis. A glottis is a tube that is connected to the snake’s trachea.

The snake pushes out this glottis while it is swallowing. As such, the snake’s esophagus may be blocked, but it still has an airway system. Snakes can miscalculate the size of their prey. When they eat something that is too big for them, they either regurgitate the food or die. Snakes can burst if the food is too big, and there are several documented cases of this.

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