TechPythons: The Future of Sustainable Protein?

Pythons: The Future of Sustainable Protein?

Python on the plate?
Python on the plate?
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | Goalsurfer
3:55 PM EDT, March 20, 2024

Pythons have been identified as a potential ecological source of protein. Researchers argue that they convert feed into protein more efficiently than chickens or cattle.

Scientists from Macquarie University suggest that pythons could serve as a sustainable food source for humanity. Thanks to their high efficiency, they might provide food security in an ecological way.

Research on commercial python farms indicates these animals convert feed into body weight at an exceptionally high rate when compared to traditional livestock. Dr. Dan Natusch points out that pythons outperform all major agricultural species in food and protein conversion rates. Additionally, their white meat is protein-rich.

Python cutlet – who's eager to try?

A team of scientists from Macquarie University, Oxford University, University of Adelaide, University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi conducted this research. They compared reticulated and Burmese pythons raised on commercial farms in Thailand and Vietnam under various feeding regimes.

According to Dan Natusch, the search for alternative food sources is driven by climate issues and problems related to conventional agriculture. Ectotherm snakes, more efficient at converting feed to meat than ant warm-blooded animals, could offer a solution. Snake farming and consumption, already popular in Asia, could complement existing food systems and enhance food security, he suggests.

"Snakes require minimal water, absorbing dew that settles on their scales in the morning. They consume a small amount of food, mainly rodents and other pests that threaten crops. Historically, in many cultures, they have been regarded as delicacies," explains the scientist.

Rick Shine, a co-author of the study, notes that farmers who switch from raising pigs to pythons enjoy economic benefits. This research, he believes, is the first to accurately weigh the costs and benefits of snake farming. Since birds and mammals expend about 90% of their dietary energy maintaining their body temperature, the energy efficiency of snakes, which sunbathe for warmth, is significantly higher.

Herbivorous pythons

While wild pythons exclusively consume meat, they can digest plant proteins such as soy. The study suggests that feeding them a blend of protein waste and plant matter could be economically viable. This approach yields about 82% of a python's weight in useful products, including their high-protein meat, skin, fat, and gallbladder for medicinal uses. Environmentally, it is beneficial too, as snakes produce fewer greenhouse gases than mammals.

Pythons can survive up to four months without food without significant weight loss, rapidly regaining weight when feeding resumes. This resilience facilitates farming continuity during food shortages. Additionally, their ability to hunt rodents is advantageous.

Farming is worthwhile, but there's a catch

Despite the promising data, one question remains – who would be willing to eat snake meat? The scientists behind the study are aware of the limited appeal. Professor Shine thinks it unlikely that Europe or Australia would adopt python farming for meat. Thus, for now, our diets will continue to include mammal and bird meat.

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