Pythons have an extreme metabolic system. If a python swallows a quarter of its body weight, its metabolic rate increases to 1000%. If it swallows a diet equivalent to its entire body weight, the metabolic rate can soar to 4400%. In contrast, horses can have a metabolic rate of 3500% when running at full speed, but horses can only last a few minutes, while pythons can last two weeks.
The python significantly increased its metabolic rate primarily to make stomach acid. Humans add acid to their stomachs several times a day to process food. The python, on the other hand, has no acid in its stomach on an empty stomach, and its PH and water are the same.
When a python eats food for a few hours, it produces large amounts of acid to break down its prey, which stays in the stomach for several days. At the same time, the snake’s intestines undergo a significant growth. Snake inner cells have finger-like protrusions to absorb sugar and other nutrients. Its finger protrusions stretch five times longer. A python’s small intestine triples its weight overnight, and the digestive tract is able to handle the influx of food. As food circulates through the blood, the snake’s other organs also grow to treat it, doubling the weight of its liver and kidneys and 40 percent more heart. When food is digested, the organs return to their original size.
The researchers’ tracking of the python’s genetic activity found that within 12 hours of swallowing the prey, it activated a large number of genes in different parts. Some genes are involved in growth, and some genes respond to stress and repair damaged DNA. Scientists have never seen such a strange combination in other animals before. Scientists admit that much work remains to be done to truly understand how snakes digest food.