Credit: David Penning

Kingsnakes have superior crushing power, allowing them to squeeze bigger snakes to death, even when these snakes are also constrictors.

David Penning at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin and Brad Moon at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette studied 182 snakes from six species, measuring the cross-sectional area of the animals' muscles, and quantifying the pulling force that the snakes use to escape predators and the pressure used to constrict prey. Muscle area and pulling force increased with size for all snakes, but the three kingsnake (Lampropeltis) species had significantly higher constriction power per unit of body weight than three ratsnake (Pantherophis) species, which are larger constrictors preyed on by kingsnakes (pictured, Lampropeltis getula eating a Texas ratsnake, Pantherophis obsoletus).

This strong crushing ability may result from the snakes' distinctive posture during constriction — regularly aligned coils wrapped around the prey — that allows them to apply more pressure, the authors say.

J. Exp. Biol. 220, 1154–1161 (2017)