Python found to be the most efficient form of livestock ever studied
March 30, 2024 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Python found to be the most efficient form of livestock ever studied. Farmed pythons grow fast on a diet of waste and produce a sustainable meat that a researcher says tastes a bit like chicken. Dr Natusch, from Macquarie University's School of Natural Sciences, said the reptiles were an efficient source of protein because of the way they processed food. "Warm-blooded animals waste about 80 to 90 per cent of the energy they get from their food in heat production," he said. "Cold-blooded animals such as pythons don't have that constraint — they're able to allocate far more of the energy they get from their food into things like growth."
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (62 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
They’re wrecking Florida. Come get them please!
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:54 PM on March 30 [12 favorites]


As a regular Knowledge Fight listener, I can’t wait for Alex Jones to hear about this….
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:58 PM on March 30 [7 favorites]


"I thought you said we were having steak for dinner!"
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:00 PM on March 30 [18 favorites]


"How's it taste?" "More subtil than any beast of the field!"
posted by mittens at 7:06 PM on March 30 [17 favorites]


Snake on a Plate
posted by hortense at 7:10 PM on March 30 [33 favorites]


For the first years in my life I had trouble handling meat. My parents were just like, "well get over it." And I didn't. I would never buy meat for home cooking.

Eventually I recognized that it wasn't me being squicked out by the meat. It was me not appreciating the animal whose entire existence was probably garbage so that I could survive.

So now I try to thank and be grateful for every piece of meat that I handle in my home. I try to think of the shite conditions that it was likely begotten, born, and died. And that they lose any control they had in their existence so that I might more easily get to be for another day.

And it worked. I can handle meat of any of the animals that I have regular access to cook.

But this phrase, "efficient form of livestock" really challenges that thought. Efficiency does not come to me as a thing thankful. And it makes me need to ponder about all of this again.
posted by MonsieurPEB at 7:17 PM on March 30 [18 favorites]


I think all snakes must taste "a bit like chicken".

When I was in boy scouts and were out on our week long 50-miler while, we'd always take a day and spend it hunting rattlesnakes that were hanging out close to the trail and we'd have a snake-cook. And rattlesnake doesn't have much meat but had a lot of length and it does taste a bit like chicken.

The snake hunt night was often more successful than the troop fishing for trout night. Which is an interesting thing -- more snakes to be killed than fish. 45 years ago. in Southern NM.
posted by hippybear at 7:21 PM on March 30 [10 favorites]


Well I hunt (least efficient form of protein acquisition!) and have eaten rattlesnake before, I try to do my part to keep the bold and stupid ones away from the trail. "A bit like chicken" is what you tell people who's protein choices have been limited to shrinkwrap their whole lives lol. Not that they are bad or anything, just not sure my backcountry fire roast was the ideal cooking method.

I'm all for eating invasive species. I try to tell my west coast friends that bullfrogs are actually delicious, and you get to help mother nature in the process.... no takers yet... I've seen nutria traps at the wetlands I duck hunt at. I remember when they tried to make that a thing in NOLA back in the 90s...
posted by bradbane at 7:25 PM on March 30 [7 favorites]


Of course it is, you just do

import calories
posted by biogeo at 7:48 PM on March 30 [55 favorites]


One step closer to Fallout.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:09 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


I always wondered how pythons got around with a goat-sized bulge in their belly, but walking around with six feet of snake dangling from each end of your body sounds like a tapeworm nightmare.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:20 PM on March 30


It's my snake, I trained it, I'm going to eat it! I got a recipe for snake. Delicious. Fricassee of reptile.
- The Gyro Captain
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:21 PM on March 30 [4 favorites]


Snake. Snake?? SNAAAAAKE
posted by JHarris at 9:01 PM on March 30 [13 favorites]


I've eaten probably 2 feet of rattlesnake during my boy scout years. It isn't a meat you want a bunch of but when you're presented with it breaded and fried in the outback of the Gile Wilderness several days from the vehicles that brought you there and freeze-dried turkey tetrizini is next up on the backpack meal routine... you will eat rattlesnake.
posted by hippybear at 9:05 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]


"I thought you said we were having steak for dinner!"

I could go for a nice Philly cheese snake.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:18 PM on March 30 [43 favorites]


"They're able to allocate far more of the energy they get from their food into things like growth."

So do my stomach and buttocks. Not sure that my fat azz is a viable food resource, however.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:23 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]


"I thought you said we were having steak for dinner!"

Tube steak!

I'm all for eating invasive species.

Finding a market for a wild species has historically been an excellent way to convert it from abundant to endangered or extinct. But if the idea is that they would be farmed in big snake-barns, that's going to be a lot easier than hunting invasive pythons one by one, and also guaranteed to periodically lead to massive python escapes when someone leaves the door open.

I've eaten probably 2 feet of rattlesnake during my boy scout years. I

When I was about 4, I remember my parents and grandparents deciding to cook up a rattlesnake that had been killed in the yard. I am sure I ate some of it, but the part that I actually remember is me sitting there interacting with the snake's head, which was still alive and reactive despite being separated from the body, while the adults worked on the butchering and cooking. I thought that was the neatest thing ever, and thankfully didn't get bitten.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:24 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]


And they haven’t even got around to removing the GIL yet.
posted by dumbland at 10:34 PM on March 30 [8 favorites]


The study observed Burmese python snakes that were fed minced meat sausages consisting of stillborn piglets and chicken heads.
I'm wondering how big the supply of "waste meat" is, and what happens to the efficiency if you start feeding the pythons conventionally farmed meat once that supply is all being used.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:57 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


guaranteed to periodically lead to massive python escapes when someone leaves the door open

you will be reassured to know that most massive python escapes occur due to flooding
posted by ryanrs at 1:30 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


No livestock is as efficient as plants
posted by BinaryApe at 1:43 AM on March 31 [21 favorites]


Snakes suffer a lot when they are being killed. Its part of having a low metabolic rate.
Wouldn't it be better if everyone went vegan, if we're interested in degrowth?
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 2:31 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


We caught a rattlesnake.
Now we got something for dinner.
posted by Phanx at 3:38 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


Now I’m picturing that scene in the Matrix where Neo wakes up to discover he’s just a battery in a gel pod among ten billion others, except it’s all snakes.

The Snaketrix.
posted by chronkite at 3:39 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


While amusing, this is not good work. There's a good critique (r/science) here. Also, feeding meat to farm animals is a dangerous disease risk. Hunt and eat the invasives by all means, but don't farm predators.
posted by Rhedyn at 4:13 AM on March 31 [22 favorites]


@dumbland: I see what you did there.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 4:36 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Probably one of the few good things about having acquired anosmia is that meat of any kind tastes horrible.
posted by DJZouke at 5:00 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


But imagine after a century of domestication. Just these giant cold meat tubes.
posted by sixswitch at 5:03 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I think all snakes must taste "a bit like chicken".

Of course they do, the machines don't know what snakes taste like.
posted by Mitheral at 5:11 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


For the first years in my life I had trouble handling meat. My parents were just like, "well get over it." And I didn't. I would never buy meat for home cooking.

Eventually I recognized that it wasn't me being squicked out by the meat. It was me not appreciating the animal whose entire existence was probably garbage so that I could survive.

So now I try to thank and be grateful for every piece of meat that I handle in my home. I try to think of the shite conditions that it was likely begotten, born, and died. And that they lose any control they had in their existence so that I might more easily get to be for another day.

And it worked. I can handle meat of any of the animals that I have regular access to cook.


This is kind of an odd sentiment to me, as someone who became vegetarian and then vegan as a result of similar thought processes.

I can survive - not just survive but thrive, live and eat well, gain muscle mass - by eating only plants. That this is true also makes it a moral imperative for me. I suspect that survival represents only a tiny fraction of the impact of eating animal products for most people, and that pleasure and desire are truer drivers for the vast majority. I'm not a human supremacist, so why should I value my pleasure or desire more highly than the suffering and death of a sentient creature?

Reducing the market demand for animal products by a tiny fraction, while increasing the market demand for plant-based products by a tiny fraction, feels like doing something that might have an impact, however slight. And it sits much more comfortably, ethically and morally. And I no longer have to take prescription acid reflux medication, as an unexpected side benefit.

I'm struggling to understand extending gratitude to the animal before preparing and consuming its flesh as an act that has any impact on the system that causes such significant suffering to so many sentient creatures - surely the only animal that comes out doing better is the human who self-soothed those difficult feelings away with an expression of gratitude. For me at least, the difficult feelings were a motivator to do better through my actions, not inconvenient feelings to be ritualised away. Being grateful to the animal for suffering does nothing to mitigate the suffering, or to challenge the system that causes the suffering. Refusing to be complicit with that system via my dietary and spending habits might, even if only fractionally.
posted by terretu at 5:15 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


"The problem with electric cars is that they're still cars."

The "sustainable" language they use in this article makes it sound like they're proposing this as some kind of better-for-the-environment kind of thing. I'm not sure if coming up with new forms of animal exploitation when we have existing solutions is something I get excited over these days.

The people who balk at vegetarian and veganism aren't going to be swayed into eating bugs and snakes either.
posted by AlSweigart at 5:19 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


The people who balk at vegetarian and veganism aren't going to be swayed into eating bugs and snakes either.

Well, probably not if they're balking for animal welfare reasons, no. But if cricket flour was produced in volume at prices comparable to whey protein, I'd eat it quite happily. Nice cookie ingredient, honestly. It's not as if there isn't plenty of market for whey protein, too.

The trouble with snakes is the trophic cascade. There just isn't enough scrap meat, not with the pet food industry and livestock feed industry cheerfully hoovering up (and adding value) to anything that isn't safe for human consumption. (Yes, it's a bad idea to feed fucking catering leftovers directly to livestock, especially cattle, sheep, and goats; no, that doesn't mean that you can't make meat meal out of waste meat products that can be safely consumed by livestock—especially chicken and pigs, which are omnivores anyway.) There's also a booming trade in using certain kinds of animal byproducts for extracting medical compounds.

There is honestly very little that goes to waste in the modern agricultural supply chain. In terms of eating python, it would probably be more useful to develop effective and specific traps to capture invasive species with absolutely minimal native bycatch: traplines are usually more efficient than market hunting. The trouble is bycatch.

Anyway, now I want to know whether they directly compared feed efficiency to Cornish Cross chickens, because hot damn those are freaks of selective breeding. It's honestly hard to envision a significantly better meat species than a chicken, particularly given the volume of sheer knowledge we have about how to optimally feed one for maximum yield.
posted by sciatrix at 6:19 AM on March 31 [8 favorites]


I've never eaten python, but I've eaten rattlesnake and I can say that all other issues to the side, it's just not really great meat. It doesn't taste like chicken, it tastes like snake and it's not BAD but it's not actually all that good either.

There are, of course, plenty of other problems. But I think the flavor and texture means any proposal to use snakes for meat on a large scale is doomed regardless of anything else.

Cultivated meat or printed meat might make a difference, but switching animals probably won't.

Now what I'm really waiting for is transgenic applications. Why cultivate meat in a lab when you can just grow a steak on a plant?
posted by sotonohito at 6:37 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


There is honestly very little that goes to waste in the modern agricultural supply chain.

Now if we can just find an animal that can consume the nearly one trillion pounds of farm manure produced annually! (I mean, I know you're talking about waste in terms of animal protein. But it's so much poop!)
posted by mittens at 6:59 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Pull the spine out and stuff it with melted cheese and you’ve got kind of a ready-made kransky…
posted by MarchHare at 7:45 AM on March 31


Back when I worked in Napa, California, there was a small sandwich place in front of my office. The owner, who was a really nice guy, had all kinds of odd meats, including python.
Reader, it did, in fact, taste like chicken.
posted by signal at 8:17 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Pull the spine out and stuff it

I don't know if you've ever eaten snake, but they aren't an animal where you can pull the spine out. They're just basically a spine covered with a fine layer of meat. You can't spatchcock a snake.
posted by hippybear at 8:46 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]




We caught a rattlesnake.
Now we got something for dinner.


You've got it, you've got it...
posted by Zumbador at 8:52 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


The people who balk at vegetarian and veganism aren't going to be swayed into eating bugs and snakes either.

Yeah, I notice a lot of reactionary/ conservative types are pretty riled up against the eating bugs thing in a way that is very reminiscent of their complaints about vegetarianism in previous decades.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:13 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Now if we can just find an animal that can consume the nearly one trillion pounds of farm manure produced annually!

I mean, at small enough scales the answer is obviously to compost it. The also-obvious problem then is commercial large scale operations where large quantities of animals are kept in high volumes are not necessarily near enough farmland to actually process the level of manure they have... and, er, it turns out that farmers in those areas may also be purchasing chemical fertilizer on top of the manure...

The biggest trouble there is that manure is real heavy and a pain in the ass to transport, AND that it's not necessarily well tested or balanced for nutrient levels so farmers focusing on other crops may or may not know how much phosphorus vs nitrogen is contributed by various fertilizers. Drying manure helps a lot because it makes storage and transport easier while also helping you standardize content, so it's a much more valuable product than manure with a lot of water content. But it's also an expensive process to buy machinery to do and it's harder to do in winter, plus again, volume can make it impossible. It might be worth collectively restructuring some of the economic incentives to make drying manure easier, and then I think it would be easier to turn it into a less problematic substance.
posted by sciatrix at 9:23 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I'd eat it.
Caveat: Provided it was fed the clean waste products from other meat and organic materials, not sawdust and other crap.

It's honestly hard to envision a significantly better meat species than a chicken, particularly given the volume of sheer knowledge we have about how to optimally feed one for maximum yield.

Sciatrix, I think that's true, but there are still a lot of problems with chicken meat production. Right now commercial chickens are fed a lot of things we really don't want to think about, they have a poor quality of life before being slaughtered, and the slaughtering process is inhumane and carried out under filthy circumstances. Because of the living conditions, there's a lot of disease and antibiotic use, and the amount of cancer in forced growth chickens is extremely high. And the waste produced and pollution--SO. MUCH. CHICKEN SHIT. Chickens are just nasty birds, unless they're raised right.

Agreed that all these factors can be controlled; feed good quality feeds, raise them in clean and humane conditions, immediately cull sick and disease prone animals, provide stringent oversight of slaughterhouses. Chicken manure is really, really rich. If processed correctly, we could cut down immensely on artificial fertilizers. Stop using antibiotics, which would be possible with good feed and better living conditions and proactive culling.

The cancer issue is something I don't know anything about. My guess would be looking at breeding cancer resistance, better food and care that provides fresh air and exercise, as well as allowing a more normal, slightly slower growth might mitigate a lot of it?

Feeding animal waste products doesn't have to be a disease risk, provided the animal waste being fed comes from healthy animals raised in a healthful environment and is quality tested to be disease free and of good quality.

No livestock is as efficient as plants.

Quoted and emphasized for truth.
Plants are good for us. Our diets should be 85-95% plants, and we should have healthy INEXPENSIVE vegetables available everywhere for everyone, and everyone should have the means to be able to prepare them. But we evolved to use meat in our diet. We enjoy eating meat, and it's a guaranteed immediate, fantastic and enjoyable protein source, which is why we originally started eating it.

I grew up eating a meat, starch, and side vegetable diet, and I crave meat a couple times a week. Maybe a different generation that doesn't eat as much meat would want it less. In a generation or two it might not be an issue at all, the way things are going. The rich will still have their wagyu beef, and the rest of us will be lucky if we can find bugs or catch a wild snake once in a while.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:33 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Now I'm wondering what cold blooded things are raised for meat. All birds are warm blooded, so none of those. Obviously mammals. I guess that leaves fish? Is fish farming particularly efficient because they don't use the energy for staying warm?
posted by Nelson at 9:47 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Sciatrix, I think that's true, but there are still a lot of problems with chicken meat production.

Oh, absolutely! I wasn't meaning to say that modernly intensively managed chicken farming is the ideal state of things or even necessarily to be pro-CAFO; there's a shit ton of problematic aspects of our meat industry as it's currently implemented, from welfare to (as mittens correctly pointed out) manure. I just meant that the species we're farming is not the locus of the problem.

(I have actually been toddling off to show my roommate the link I found, because agricultural efficiency given the systems everyone has to work with is pretty much the subject of her PhD, and have been having an engaging conversation about manure management and details. As always, the root of the problem is less about technology and more about people and systems...)
posted by sciatrix at 9:49 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I'm baffled by the claim about efficiency here -- pythons are carnivores, right? So if we're feeding them meat we have to include the efficiency of whatever the thing they're eating ate.

Plenty of people like to eat green iguanas already, and iguanas are herbivores. If we want to farm a reptile for food that seems like a more realistic choice.
posted by eraserbones at 9:58 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Also, the word efficiency sounds a lot more intelligent than it is (as is usually the case).

Start with the problem you're trying to solve. Let's talk about two countries. In the US, people are eating way more protein than they need to, so generally speaking we need to reduce protein consumption. But this doesn't mean people aren't malnourished in the US! Food deserts and poverty mean that poor people eat a nearly 100% ultraprocessed diet that they struggle to afford, and are malnourished owing to both low quantity and low quality of food. In India, the average person is eating less protein than they need - but again, is that really a protein production problem or an inequality problem? Who is this "average person" and what is going on? The upper class - Brahmins and the business class - are eating a rich, varied, lacto-vegetarian diet and thriving on it as long as they don't overindulge on carbs and processed food. Meanwhile the lower three quarters of the country - who are much likelier to eat meat - are getting less protein than they need, and this is because they are malnourished all round, including getting not only too little meat but also far less lentils and vegetables than a healthy vegetarian diet would provide. The lower half of India has incredibly bad malnutrition rates by global standards, even though national food production far exceeds the country's needs.

What we need is solving inequality, not optimizing an arbitrarily created protein-to-investment ratio.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:12 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


I already breed a few kinds of darkling beetles. The larvae are incredible at turning any kind of kitchen and garden waste into compost and edible protein and fat. Not many people are fond of eating beetle larvae, but dehydrated and ground into flour they make for a fine protein and fat booster.

I also keep snakes that turn about 80% of what they eat into body weight. Incredible efficient in that sense, but they eat warm blooded pray, which is wasteful as discussed above.

I need to get an insectivore snake and see how the math adds up. The snakes I have eating have all been good, ranging from almost fish to almost chicken. I almost got a “grillera” (cricket eating) snake a couple years ago but I did not have the proper setup.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:48 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


I feel like there's environmental efficiency but also moral efficiency and they can be at odds. Like someone raised above the issue of animals and the shitty lives they lead. Well if I eat chicken as my primary protein then maybe 75-100 animals a year suffer and die to feed me. If I eat cow exclusively then maybe one cow suffers and dies per year to feed me. (I don't really believe in torturing vegetables)/
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:02 PM on March 31


Black-headed pythons eat other reptiles, sometimes other black-headed pythons.

I've been a vegan and a vegetarian and a plant-heavy omnivore in the past, but now my entire body rebels at almost every kind of non-animal protein available except for mushrooms (legumes, seeds, grains). I'd try cricket protein but it is not very affordable. So I'm cautiously celebratory at things like this. As noted, the people who must denigrate vegans at every opportunity are only going to eat snake for bragging rights. There's something about doubling down on what you are doing so that you don't have to think you are the bad guy that is the absolute worst when it comes to stubbornness.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:22 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


From the paper, pythons consumed an average of 4.1 g of food for every 1 g of dressed carcass produced. So still a 75% loss, not even counting the energy, water, and carbon inputs.

But yeah, whole farms of ravenous, giant predatory snakes. What could possibly go wrong? Has anyone looked into the efficiency of tiger farming?
posted by meehawl at 2:22 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


No, we need mongoose farms to keep the snakes in check first, then tiger farms to keep the mongooses (mongeese?) in check, etc.
posted by signal at 2:48 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Don’t farm predators.

This has got to be one of the top five smartest things I’ve ever read.
posted by chronkite at 3:01 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]


"Warm-blooded animals waste about 80 to 90 per cent of the energy they get from their food in heat production," he said. "Cold-blooded animals such as pythons don't have that constraint — they're able to allocate far more of the energy they get from their food into things like growth."

But also, warm-blooded animals keep themselves warm when the weather gets cold. Cold-blooded animals like snakes go into a state of torpor -- so, not really eating or growing, which you want livestock to do -- unless you use an artificial heat source to keep them warm. In which case, they're not so energy-efficient after all.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:47 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


unless you use an artificial heat source to keep them warm.

My solar panels on the roof (both photovoltaic and thermal) produce abundant energy that can be easily turned into heat on demand, but to turn electricity into protein and fat to feed animals is a huge leap of technology we don't have yet...
posted by xdvesper at 5:25 PM on March 31


A big part of factory chicken farming is getting rid of waste heat… so maybe put some pythons… no, this sounds like a terrible place. Just gimme some catfish.
posted by credulous at 9:11 PM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Metailter: these giant cold meat tubes.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:22 AM on April 1


I'd suggest they explore farming western/inland taipans, black mamba, or maybe saw-scaled vipers, probably much better tasting. Also maybe try golden dart frogs?

Anyways, there is kinda never any reasons to cook meat in your own home. If you want meat then in western life you'll easily encounter situations where you're away from home, must eat something, and nobody provides good vegetarian options.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:28 AM on April 1


jeffburdges, your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by Selena777 at 10:00 AM on April 1


The newsletter is also made of meat.
posted by mittens at 10:18 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


Amusingly folks do 3d print vegan meat for improved texture, so they could 3d print strange vegan meat shapes too. You could ultrasound/xray guests to 3d print them their own heart or brain, or whatever.

Atually even better, you could let Hollywood celebrities like Swift eat the faces of other Hollywood celebrities with whom they have feudes.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:33 AM on April 1


The newsletter is also made of meat.

T-Rex: "Your whole family is made out of meat."
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:39 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Creativity in fake meat, previously on metafilter
posted by moonmilk at 11:46 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


We caught a rattlesnake.
Now we got something for dinner.

You've got it, you've got it...


I can't get used to this lifestyle ♫𝅘𝅥𝅰
posted by wkearney99 at 9:40 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


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