Python meat could be more sustainable meat alternative: Study

Given the same amount of food, they can grow faster than chickens, pigs and cows.

Zi Shan Kow | March 28, 2024, 04:20 PM



It could be better for the planet to farm pythons than any other animal species, according to a new study.

Said to taste like chicken meat, snake meat is high in protein and is eaten in parts of the world including Africa and Asia.

Snake stew is a well-known specialty in Hong Kong, where it is a popular Cantonese delicacy and health supplement.

Fast growers

In a study published this month, researchers found that pythons are extremely efficient at converting their food into body mass.

When compared to poultry, pork, beef, salmon, and even crickets, pythons grew the most for the same amount of food.

The main reason they are able to gain up to 46g a day is because they are cold-blooded.

Warm-blooded animals like mammals spend about 90 per cent of their energy maintaining a constant body temperature.

This means that pythons, which rely on sunbathing to keep warm, can save a lot of energy and can more efficiently convert food into body mass.

Less water needed, less waste produced

The study looked at the length and weight of more than 4,600 reticulated pythons and Burmese pythons from two farms in Thailand and Vietnam and found that the two species were well suited for commercial production.

They ate food that would have gone to waste, such as wild-caught rodents or rodent pests, and stillborn pigs, and required very little water.

“A python can live off the dew that forms on its scales. In the morning, it just drinks off its scales and that’s enough,” co-author Daniel Natusch told The Washington Post. Natusch, a herpetologist, chairs a group of snake specialists for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In addition to their fast growth rate, both species are able to reproduce rapidly. They can grow to more than 100kg, and produce up to 100 eggs per year for 20 years or more.

Due to their lack of limbs, very little is wasted in butchering, added Natusch.

Pythons also produce smaller amounts of waste as compared to conventional livestock, and the type of waste also leads to fewer greenhouse gases.

Possible solution to food insecurity

The researchers proposed python farming as a "efficient, safe, and flexible" protein alternative to combat growing food insecurity in the world, especially in countries where there is a precedent for consuming snakes.

Not only do they require less food, pythons are also able to fast for extended periods of time, without losing much weight or causing a decline in body condition.

This tolerance for fasting is good news for python farms, as it would mean that they are more resilient to disruptions in supply chains, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Additionally, they are mostly sedentary when they are not hunting, they can tolerate small, confined spaces, and they do not fall sick often to viruses that affect livestock and poultry, reported the Smithsonian Magazine.

Snakes are also able to get along with each other, and display “few of the complex animal welfare issues commonly seen in caged birds and mammals", said the study.

“As long as [farmers are] happy to catch a few pest rodents in their corn or their maize, and feed them to a python every now and again, you’ve got some high-quality, resilient protein right there,” Natusch said.

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Top images via Canva.