How Do Snakes Swallow Large Animals? [LiveScience 2007-01-05]
Super-sized meals do not intimidate snakes. Cats, pigs, and antelope are regular fare for pythons; rarer treats have included a 14-year-old boy, a Burmese jewelry salesman, and an alligator.
Unlike a mammalian jaw that is built for brute force, a snake's is rigged with tendons, muscles, and ligaments that give the jaw a gymnast's flexibility. The jaws do not dislocate, however.
"One of the enduring myths about snake feeding mechanisms is the idea that the jaws detach," explained Patrick T. Gregory, a biology professor at the University of Victoria. "In fact, they stay connected all the time."
The two lower jaws move independently of one another (see image), Gregory said. The quadrate bone is not rigidly attached to the skull, but articulates with the skull at one end and is therefore freely moving.
"The two mandibles are not joined at the front by a rigid symphysis, as ours are, but by an elastic ligament that allows them to spread apart," Gregory said.
Flaunting proper table manners, a snake takes its time muscling food down its throat, walking its skull over dinner and slathering it with saliva sauce.