Pythons don't rely on the standard three square meals a day: in an eating regime that would finish off most animals, they go for weeks or months on end without eating, and then gorge themselves on a huge meal before their next fast. Burmese pythons cope with this cycle of extreme feeding and fasting by increasing their metabolism and their intestines' ability to absorb food after meals, shutting down the gut when it's not needed during fasting.

To find out if other species of python can do the same, Brian Ott and Stephen Secor from the University of Alabama measured metabolic rate, nutrient absorption, intestine morphology and enzyme activity in five python species,ranging in size from short and stout to long and slender(p. 340). Using the pythons' oxygen consumption to measure metabolic rate, the team found that metabolic rates peaked to between 10-15 times normal levels 1.5 days after eating a delicious rodent meal, returning to normal 6-8 days later.

Interested to know what changes were happening in the gut during digestion,they found that the meal increased activity in the aminopeptidase-N enzyme,which breaks down proteins, and triggered faster absorption of animo acids and glucose by the gut. The mass of the intestine also doubled, because the membranes and cells involved in absorbing food increased in mass and volume. The results show that different species of python share the ability to make the most of their enormous, yet infrequent meals, soaking up nutrients to see them through leaner times.

Ott, B. D. and Secor, S. M. (
). Adaptive regulation of digestive performance in the genus Python.
J. Exp. Biol.