According to centuries of collective snake-handling knowledge, the answer is no.
A snake’s jaw can unhinge, allowing it to open wide and eat large prey.
The bottom jaw has a series of bones connected by muscle tissue and ligaments, not bones fused like our jaws.
This means a snake can open its mouth wide enough to consume prey more significant than its diameter and even swallow an animal whole if it’s small enough.
Why Do We See Snakes with Their Mouths Clamped Shut on Their Prey?
The common garter snake, for example, will grab its prey with its teeth and then quickly coil its body around the struggling animal.
This immobilizes the prey and prevents it from escaping while the snake bites down hard on the back of the victim’s neck to ensure a good hold.
Once the prey is secure, the snake will unhinge its jaw and begin to swallow.
Some snakes will also constrict their prey. Constrictors like pythons and boas wrap their coils around an animal and then squeeze tightly until the game suffocates or breaks some of its bones—this makes it easier for the snake to swallow.
Do All Snakes Eat Their Prey Whole?
No, not all snakes eat their prey whole.
Some species, including vipers and certain types of individual cobras, will chew their food before swallowing it.
This is because these species have hollow and needle-like fangs, making it difficult for them to inject venom into large animals without first breaking them down into smaller pieces.
So there you have it! The next time you see a photo or video of a snake with its mouth clamped shut on its prey, remember that it’s most likely using its teeth to keep a good hold while it swallows its meal whole—no need to worry about losing a limb!