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What Largely Overlooked Animal Could Be a Sustainable Protein Source?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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From cricket burgers to lab-grown steaks, news articles abound on the topic of alternative protein sources that use fewer resources and leave a smaller environmental footprint than traditional livestock farming. In a report published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, researchers zeroed in on the benefits of farming pythons for their meat.

The study authors outlined a compelling case for eating pythons, which they described as one of the most sustainable animals to farm. Of course, eating pythons (and other snakes) is far from revolutionary in many regions. In certain parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, pythons are already eaten in dishes like Hong Kong’s snake soup, leading to the establishment of numerous commercial python farms.

The researchers studied the feed conversion ratio (how much feed an animal requires to produce one pound of meat for human consumption) of 4,600 Burmese and reticulated pythons on commercial farms in Thailand and Vietnam, discovering that they are more efficient than cows, pigs, chickens, salmon, and even crickets. Not only are snakes able to forego food and water for extended periods of time while still remaining healthy, but they also grow rapidly in their first year of life and eat meat that would otherwise go to waste, such as rats caught in urban areas. They are sedentary, coexist with other snakes, and tolerate small living spaces and extreme weather conditions. They also appear far less vulnerable than poultry, pigs, and cattle to many fast-spreading viruses.

There are relatively low costs associated with snake farming, which doesn’t require complicated domestication or genetic modification efforts. The resiliency and adaptability of snakes appear to make python farming a safer bet than raising livestock that require greater inputs of food and water and depend on complex global supply chains, which have been increasingly disrupted by climate change and other global events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slithering onto a dinner table near you?

  • In terms of taste, texture, and nutritional content, many experts compare snake meat to chicken (though with a more gamy flavor). Both are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as barbecued, dried, sautéed, or cooked in soups or curries, among other methods. Snakes are considered easy to butcher, as they don’t have limbs (or feathers!)

  • The researchers don’t anticipate barbecued snake or snake curries replacing chicken and other popular meats on western dinner tables anytime soon. Despite the significant environmental impacts and precarious economics associated with livestock farming, it is highly entrenched and consumers have easy and relatively affordable access to familiar meat products on supermarket shelves. And, perhaps unfairly, many people are afraid of or repulsed by snakes, even nonvenomous ones like pythons. However, python farming could be a useful solution in places with growing food insecurity related to climate change.

  • Besides the question of whether people unfamiliar with snake meat would consider eating it, there are many other uncertainties associated with large-scale python farming. One potential issue is the possible ripple effects of sourcing food, even pest rodents, for such a large population of farmed reptiles.

  • In Florida, Burmese pythons are hunted to control their numbers, as they are an invasive species that has massively proliferated in places like the Everglades.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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