Scientists say snake could be a sustainable meat alternative

Published 13 June 2024
- By Editorial Staff
The reticulated python is one of the species considered a "sustainable protein source".

Snakes could be a viable option as a source of protein to help meet climate change goals, according to university researchers. They point to the ability of snakes to fast for long periods of time without affecting body weight or health.

In Asia, it is not uncommon to breed snakes for food, and there is a well-established culture of snake farming in many countries.

A study published in Scientific Reports examined the Burmese python and reticulated python species as a resource for food production. Researchers from institutions including Macquarie University in Australia, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology studied more than 4,600 snakes on farms in Thailand and Vietnam.

The results show that snakes grow rapidly over a twelve month period, with females growing particularly fast. While the Burmese python can reach a length of nearly four meters, the reticulated python can grow to seven meters and is considered the world’s longest snake. In addition, snakes require less food compared to traditional protein sources such as chicken, beef, pork and salmon.

More research needed

The most remarkable finding of the study, however, was the snakes’ ability to fast for long periods of time. The researchers discovered that snakes can fast for up to 127 days without significant loss of body weight or health. This could contribute to a more climate-sustainable food supply,

“The ability of fasting pythons to regulate metabolic processes and maintain body condition enhances food security in volatile environments, suggesting that python farming may offer a flexible and efficient response to global food insecurity”, the researchers wrote in the study.

While the researchers say this is especially true in countries where reptiles are already part of the food culture, they note that snakes could be more effective in the mass animal protein industry.

“To exploit that potential, we urgently need more research into the agricultural potential of reptiles, and the most effective and humane ways to produce this novel group of livestock animals.”, they write.

Facts: Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus) and Burmese Python (Python bivittatus)

Both species are native to Southeast Asia, but the Burmese python has established itself in Florida, USA after escaping from captivity.

The species are not venomous, but are "huggers" that suffocate their prey by wrapping their bodies around it. They feed primarily on birds and mammals of various sizes, including rodents, primates, and pigs. Among the largest documented prey of the reticulated python is a starving 23 kilogram Malayan bear. Burmese pythons have been documented eating alligators in Florida.

Both species have been known to kill humans, but usually in captivity when the animals were pets.

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