Pythons and Boas—Big, Bad, … and Blessed

Big, Bad, … and Blessed

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Have you ever thought about how God blessed snakes? “Wait a minute,” you may respond, “God cursed the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Snakes are slimy, scary—evil!”

We don't necessarily know the serpent's specific identity in the garden (see p. 68). But if you take a closer look at pythons and boa constrictors, two of the largest snakes, you’ll see that God blessed them, as He did all the land animals (Genesis 8:17), with unique designs to prosper even in a cursed world.

We know from the earliest pages of Scripture that God created all creeping things, and that a serpent of some kind tempted Eve. The rest of the tragic account is all too familiar—Eve was deceived, and she and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, bringing about the Fall of man and God’s curse on His creation (Genesis 3:6–17).

So what happened to snakes after that? Far from shunning them, God designed some of the most marvelous adaptations in nature into snakes’ DNA.

Sneak Attack

In this fallen world, pythons and boa constrictors have become adept at the ambush attack.
In this fallen world, pythons and boa constrictors have become adept at the ambush attack. Modern species of pythons, found in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia, and modern boa constrictors, found only in the Americas, use similar tactics to track down and catch their prey. Their strong similarities indicate that they are variations that descended from the same pair on the Ark.

First, their skin is beautifully patterned with multi-colored scales, specially designed for camouflage. While boas spend more time on the ground, pythons often hang out in trees, both ready to spring or drop on an unsuspecting meal. Second, their highly flexible backbone and muscle design allows fluid, silent movement. But the most striking feature of these largest of snakes is their unique method of overcoming prey.

Contents Under Pressure

Like all creatures, snakes originally ate only plants (Genesis 1:30). But Adam’s sin changed that. Whether the changes took place at the Curse or developed afterward, today all snakes eat the flesh of other animals. Snakes have different ways of catching and dispatching prey. Some use poison, and nearly all have camouflage, but large snakes like boas and pythons have a unique ability. They can wrap their bodies around their prey and smother it.

When the hapless animal caught in a squeeze exhales, the snake craftily takes the opportunity to squeeze tighter, making it impossible for the prey to draw the next breath. Eventually the prey will have to exhale again, then—another squeeze. After a time, it simply suffocates.

Even small boas, 3 feet (1 m) long, can exert enough pressure to shut off the blood supply in a captured mouse. Green anacondas, which exceed 18 feet (6 m) in length, can break the necks of deer and capybaras. It takes four grown men, exerting all their muscles, to handle one of these monsters safely.

Researchers are still trying to figure out how the muscles on a legless, armless creature can exert such killing pressure. Since a snake has only a spine and ribs for attachments, the muscles connect to each other to increase the force. This complex mesh is uniquely designed so the muscles don’t cancel each other out.

Snake Jaw

Courtesy of Bonhams

Burmese Python, Python bivittatus

Quadrate Bone: The bone at the back of each jaw is loosely attached so that the jaws can swing downward and outward.

Lower Jaws: The lower jaws consist of two bones that separate at a gap at the front so that they can move separately.

Open Wide

After subduing its prey, the snake has another problem. It has to swallow the animal—which can be up to five times the size of its head—whole! Many people think snakes unhinge their jaws, but that’s not quite accurate. The lower jaw is actually two bones that separate at a gap in their bottom row of teeth, right at the front. When the snake is swallowing large prey, a fold of skin under its chin expands, sort of like a pelican’s beak, to make room. But that’s not all. The bone at the back of each jaw, called the quadrate bone, is loosely attached so that the jaws can swing downward and outward.

It takes time to swallow something five times the size of your head. Why doesn’t the snake suffocate while its mouth and throat are stuffed with its latest meal? God provided the solution in His design. A python or boa can extend its trachea like a straw and breathe comfortably throughout the swallowing ordeal.

Perhaps snakes had this design from the beginning to swallow huge fruit, or maybe God implemented changes at the time of the Curse or sovereignly designed them into the snake’s genes to be expressed later.

Evidence of God’s Ultimate Design

When Adam sinned, God didn’t abandon His fallen creation. Despite the Curse, God provided for even the lowliest of His creatures (see Matthew 6:26). Fantastically strong, silent, and suited to their environment, pythons and boa constrictors are especially powerful reminders of God’s greater purposes in this world. On the one hand, we see the deadly consequences of sin, which separated us from God and brought judgment upon the “very good” creation. But we also see the provision—even in judgment—of that same God, who promised and delivered a Savior (Luke 2:11) and promises ultimately to restore the creation to its “very good” state (Revelation 21:1–4; 22:3).

Did You Know?

  • Pythons and boas will eat anything living that they can catch, such as birds, monkeys, wild pigs, etc.
  • Pythons can stay underwater for 30 minutes at a time.
  • Pythons and boas, like all other snakes, are ectothermic, meaning they rely on the heat from their environment to survive, unlike warmblooded animals that regulate their body heat.
  • Large pythons need to eat only four or five times a year.
  • When sensing the environment with their tongues, snakes often actually take in dust particles. This may give a little more understanding to “eating dust all the days of your life” in Genesis 3:14, and “licking the dust” in Micah 7:17.
  • Boa constrictor eggs hatch internally so that they give birth to live young (ovoviviparous), while pythons lay eggs (oviparous). After the juveniles hatch or are born, they are left to fend for themselves.
  • The natural enemies of pythons and boas—crocodiles and related species—can also become their prey, depending on size.
  • Pet Burmese pythons released into the wild have become an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, decimating populations of indigenous wildlife.
  • Pythons and boas shed their skin starting at the mouth and peeling back, like peeling off your socks at the end of the day. If the snake is healthy, the skin peels off all in one piece.

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Pythonidae (pythons) Boidae (boa constrictors)
Size: Boas typically grow up to 13 feet (4 m) long and weigh as much as 100 pounds (45 kg). Pythons are the longest snakes in the world and can grow up to 20 feet (6 m) or longer. They can weigh up to 200 pounds (90 kg).

Dan Breeding is the founder of Creatures of Creation and Wild Animal Encounters. Dan has a degree in wildlife education and animal training and has made numerous appearances with his animals on television and at the White House.

Answers Magazine

July – September 2013

To say that the human brain is more amazing than a computer misses the point. We now know that it’s nothing like a computer— and far more powerful! In this issue of Answers you’ll learn why a computer will never match the human brain. Also, discover why the big bang is a theory in crisis, what the Bible says about women in combat, and much more!

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