The boids are powerful serpends that include among their number the largest snakes on earth. They are constrictors, squeezing their prey until it suffocates. Not all boids are large, some species stay smaller than 30 cm all their lives. Those that are most interesting in a game, however, are the true giants - the immense anacondas lurking at the water's edge or thirty foot reticulated pythons hiding in the underbrush. Boids live on every continent except Antarctica and have crept into nearly every temperate and tropical habitat. However, the bulk of their numbers, including all the giant species, live in the tropics. They can be found in jungles, scrub, plains, savannas, rivers, ponds, and lakes.
Boids have thick, bulky bodies, usually beautifully patterned with blotches, saddles, or reticulations. When in motion, their patterns blur together, hiding their movement, and when still, they break up the serpent's outline, making it harder to see. They move with a sinuous grace through the grass, brush, and in the trees. As they move, a short but narrow and forked tongue flicks in and out of their mouth. The head is quite small for an animal of this size, but the skull bones are capable of distorting and disconnecting in order to accommodate the passage of very large, whole prey items. The jaws and the palate of the mouth are lined with rows of recurved, needle sharp teeth perfect for seizing and holding prey. Boids retain vestigal hind legs, reduced to small spurs near their vent and primarily used by the males during courtship.
The long, flexible bodies of boids make them good climbers. With their reach and distributed weight, they can climb rocks, trees, or nearly anything else as fast as they can slither on flat ground. They are also capable swimmers. The same undulatory motion used for slithering helps to propell them through the water. On land, they slither when speed is essential, but normally get about by doing a catterpillar walk using their ribs like tiny legs. This lets them push forward in a straight line without side to side motion.
A boid's primary sense is smell. They use it for identification, locating and tracking prey, and finding mates. The flicking tongue of the boid picks up these smells and takes them to a potent chemosensory organ on the roof of its mouth. By detecting on which of the two forks the odor is more concentrated, the boid can determine scent gradients. Compared to scent, the vision of boids is more limited. Boids have a very limited ability to discriminate between objects, their sight is mostly sensitive to movement and serves to warn them of predators or as a final targeting sense for a strike. In addition to sight, boids have a heat sense. They can detect the body heat of warm blooded prey through its infrared emissions. This allows boids to hunt in darkness and still strike unerringly. The hearing of snakes is poor. With no external ears, they mostly hear by picking up vibrations through the ground. While they can hear airborne sounds to some extent, this ability is nowhere near as good as that of a mammal and is limited to sounds of low frequency. On the other hand, they are quite sensitive to ground-borne sounds, such as the footsteps of approaching predators and prey.
The behavioral repertoire of boids is fairly limited. They can learn to some extent, but this is mostly limited to modifications of behaviors already present. Boids cannot be said to be truely stupid, they are graced with all the behavioral responses necessary for survival, but they certainly will never win a genius award! Like all reptiles, boids show no understanding of emotions. It often seems they do not even recognize others of their own species outside of the mating season as something other than an obstacle or something to rest on, but whether this is lack of intelectual awareness, mere indiference, or if there are subtle interactions going on which we cannot percieve is difficult for us humans to say.
The giant constrictors are ambush predators. When prey comes by, the snake may slowly edge forward or just sit in one spot until the prey gets too close. When in range, the snake strikes with blinding speed and, if it connects, quickly wraps its prey up in its coils. At this point, it does not crush its victim, as popular myth would have one believe; rather, the pressure from the coils interferes with rythmic body motions necessary for life - breathing and the beating of the heart. The victim may be a bit bruised and could suffer a nosebleed, but will not get broken ribs or crushed organs; death is mainly due to asphyxiation or cardiac arrest. The prey may struggle, but constrictors are immensely strong and built entirely for the purpose of grappling. Their jaws are almost impossible to detach; the teeth are long, thin, sharp on the ends to allow easy entry into the flesh but round in cross section so they hold rather than rip as the prey struggles, and backwards curving so the prey can slide backwards into the gullet with ease, but not forward to escape. Furthermore, each side of both upper and lower jaws can all move independently, and, on top of that, on the roof of the mouth are two plates with teeth that also grip the struggling victim and which can also move independently. This means to detach a snakes jaw requires that all six movable skull elements be lifted forward and up simultaneously. Generally, only one or two can be detached at a time, and in order to get another piece of the jaw free, one of the ones you are holding must be let go. That assumes, of course, that you have your arms free. The body of a constrictor is almost all muscle, and if it attacked to kill, chances are you are wrapped up with your arms pinned so tightly that there is no hope of escape. You are engulfed in the coils of the first half to third of the length of the snake, while the back half anchors the snake securely to a bush, tree, or rock. Then you only get one breath to scream, because the snake will not let you breathe again.
Although their mouths can distend to accomadate prey wider than the snake, boids cannot disassemble their prey into smaller peices. This limits the size of food a boid will be willing to take to generally no more that two or three times the thickness of the snake at its widest girth. After sensing that its prey is dead, a boid will release its hold and spend some time looking for the head. Starting at the head, it will slowly begin working its jaws over its meal. The process of swallowing can take up to an hour for large prey. The wide shoulders of humans often pose a particular problem for anthropophagous serpents - often a snake can kill a person but will be unable to swallow it.
When confronted by a potential threat, a boid will hiss open mouthed and may strike. It will not strike to grapple - that is reserved for its prey, but will deliver slashing bites with its teeth. However, for all their cranial flexibility, their jaws are weak and the teeth do not have the form to cause serious damage. While larger serpents can deliver nasty cuts, most are essentially harmless.
Boids spend the bulk of their time waiting, but do move from sunlight to shade and from warm to cool spots to regulate their body temperatures. If a boid gets too cold, it will not be able to digest any food it may have caught and the food will rot in the boid's stomach, poisoning it if it does regurgitate. When not active, they prefer the security of a tight crevice, burrow, or tree hollow. In inclement weather, boids find shelter and go dormant, waiting for the return of their prey or warmth. With their low metabolisms, boids can go long periods without eating, and will often wait months between meals. This is especially true if the boid had just consumed a large prey item, comparable to the size of the boid itself. When they are active, they do most of their moving and hunting at twilight or night where their heat vision is most effective. Daytime finds them basking more often than hunting.
Boids are solitary animals. They generally ignore each other if they meet, and each is content to go its own way. The exception is during the mating season, when members of the opposite sex get together for reproduction. Boas give birth to live young, which immediately disperse. Pythons lay clutches of dozens of white, leathery eggs. The mother python will gather the eggs into a pile and coil about them. She will actually raise her body temperature well above the ambient temperature in order to keep her brood warm. Once the eggs hatch, the mother python crawls off, leaving the hatchlings to themselves. Young boids are capable of fending for themselves from the moment they first enter the world, and will start looking for rodents, birds, and lizards to help them grow and repeat the cycle.
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