The southern African rock python is a big snake. In fact, with a potential length of over six metres, it’s one of the largest snakes in the world. So just imagine the Earth Touch crew's reaction when they stumbled across not one, but two of these massive reptiles in just one day. And that’s not all folks: both snakes were very busy ingesting a rather large meal (there's a video clip of the python feast here)!
Although it’s not a pleasant sight if you happen to suffer from herpetophobia, it’s unlikely that these beautiful snakes would add humans to their menu (in recent history, there’s only been a handful of recorded incidents of python attacks on humans). Adult snakes prefer to feast on animals like gazelles (like the unfortunate impala above) or warthogs ... although they certainly have the girth to gobble up a person if so inclined.
Swallowing large prey like this antelope is no small feat. After literally squeezing the life out of its victim, the snake must dislocate its jaws to create a cavity that's large enough to swallow the impala whole.
The swallowing process can take some time as a series of slow and rhythmic muscular contractions pull the prey down the snake’s throat and into its stomach. A special opening at end of the windpipe is positioned to allow the snake to breathe during this leisurely ingestion.
But eating large prey has its dangers, especially if the python cannot find a safe place to reap the rewards of its hard-earned meal. After ingesting prey, pythons become very sluggish and vulnerable to attack from predators, including baboons and leopards. If they fail to find a secure spot to digest their meal, they may end up like the unfortunate reptile below.