It's not a terribly long distance to travel for a rat that's been eaten by a snake, but a lot certainly happens in the 132 hours it takes to go from one end to the other. Up until recently, in order for researchers to study how snakes digested their meals, it had been necessary to dissect the animal for a peek inside. But now, thanks to the latest in body-scanning technology, scientists can observe the process in a much more humane fashion -- a fact I'm sure the snake appreciatessss.
According to a report from the BBC, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark used computer tomography and magnetic resonance imaging to observe a ten pound Burmese python which had recently eaten a rat whole. What they got back were a series of incredible images that show the rodent slowly being digested over the course of five and a half days.
Through the use of body scanning technologies, the researchers were also able to monitor changes to the snake's internal organs. Among the discoveries, they found that while the snake is digesting a meal, its heart expands 25 percent and its gal bladder shrinks.
This latest research is just one of several which employs more humane, technological methods to study animals. Lizards, alligators, and turtles are just a few of the creatures that have benefited from the project, known as Locomorph, by getting to keep their lives.
But in addition to being more humane, using CT scans and MRI machines to see inside animals (as opposed to cutting them open) allows for better observations as well. Dr. Kasper Hansen, who worked on the snake project with a colleague, touts the superiority of using scanning technology, telling the BBC how dissection tends to muck up the results:
For example, after opening the dense bone of a turtle shell, the lungs will collapse due to the change in pressure. And to use these techniques you don't have to kill the animal. [With the scans] we can do this using live animals and revisit the results over and over again.
The only loser in this humane use of technology which allows science an unprecedented look inside living animals, it seems, is the rat. Don't feel too bad though; he's having one heck of a posthumous career.