The snake’s jaw muscles can manipulate each palate bar backward by itself, the recurved teeth dragging the prey backward into the throat. After the bar has pulled as far backward as it can go, the jaw muscles lift it up and forward, while disengaging the curved teeth from the prey, and move the bar forward to start another stroke. The lower jaws can also be retracted independently, one side at a time, to aid in dragging the monkey down its throat. (animatronic dinosaur suit)To get a mental picture of the process as it might work in our heads, imagine that your jaw could expand at chin and jaw joint; imagine that you had two short hands, each holding a fork, attached to the roof of your mouth. You have a big monkey on your plate. You wrap your expandable jaws around it and your palateforks stuff it down your throat in alternated strokes until the whole monkey carcass slides down. Finally, only the monkey’s tail can be seen disappearing into your mouth.
No other land vertebrate today swallows more elegantly than the snakes. (lifelike dinosaur costume)Serpent success—nearly three thousand living species— surely owes much to this sophisticated machinery for digestion, which allows snakes to exploit very large prey relative to their own body size. Human evolution produced a rather dull, simple jaw apparatus. Our brain size permitted us to compensate by inventing stone knives, steel carving sets, and Cuisinarts, so we can take a whole steer and swallow it, piece by piece. We should admire how evolution has solved this prey-bigger-than-your-head problem in snakes with entirely internal adaptations.