Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why? For the Love of God Amanda, Why Snakes?

Good question :)  TL;DR version located below at the quadruple asterisk mark.  For the full version, read on.

Like most of us, I didn't grow up keeping reptiles.  I did, however, grow up being fascinated by them.  My grandmother completely aided and abetted me in this.  She actually loved lizards most, and in fact built up an entire outside world on her patio called "Lizardsville" which was populated by little rubber lizards, spiders, frogs, and (you guessed it) snakes.

As I grew older I came to understand that Lizardsville didn't exist while we were gone, but was instead carefully reconstructed each time we came to visit my grandmother.  It didn't take away the magic of her creation.  The woman crocheted a spider web for Lizardsville's resident rubber arachnid for Pete's sake.  I mean, talk about dedication.

But my grandmother wasn't only a fan of rubber reptiles and frogs; she loved the real thing.  Snakes also fascinated her, although only the smaller ones, and I believe she took more of a guilty pleasure in them than anything.  She hated how they ate (one poor blacksnake lost its life at the hands of her mother due to it having the bad taste to dine upon a giant toad they'd befriended), but even so she thought they were just the most interesting and compelling animals.  I remember several occasions when she'd quietly summon me, "Amanda, come here!  Shhhh!!!" and she'd show me a garter snake lazing in the hibiscus bush.  She'd point out how it balanced itself, how it used its body to hold on to the branches, and how its little tongue would flick out to see what we were.

As a small child, it was simply amazing to me.

We were never without some sort of household animal at any time throughout my growing-up years:  a dog, a fish tank full of black mollies and guppies, numerous hamsters, another dog, more hamsters.  There were no cats, because my father was allergic.  No birds, because they were messy and loud (although we did babysit a parakeet for some friends of the family when they'd go on vacation).  No snakes, because my mother had pet mice and rats as a child and the mere thought of feeding one to a snake filled her with horror.*

And you know, that was okay.  I don't feel like I suffered as a child because I couldn't have a snake.  I went on to grow up just fine with the fish and otherwise strictly fuzzy pets.

Any time I had a chance to touch or hold a snake, though, I would.

Flash forward about thirty years or so, and I'd managed to produce my own children (and also to populate my house with a dog and three -- yes three -- cats).  My older son was happy with this arrangement.  My younger son, known in the blog world as The Gum Zombie, was not.  About six months ago, he started lobbying for a snake.



"Because they're cool, and I like them."

Hmmmph.  "I don't think we need a snake, sweetie.  Snakes are happier outside."

"Actually, if they're bred in captivity they don't know what outside is.**  So really, we'd be doing the snake a favor.  I can give it a good home!  I can be a good snake daddy!"  And then the lip trembling commenced.


Still, I wasn't sold.  I mean, if I gave in every time that child's lip trembled I'd have an entire house full of Legos, herps, stuffed animals, and... oh never mind.  The point is, I didn't just cave immediately.  Then a local business associate came into the office and was chatting with everyone (folks here have known this guy over 40 years) when he mentioned he was trying to find a home for some snakes.  It seems his college-aged daughter's corn snakes had managed to produce at least two generations of offspring and he and his wife were starting to think that perhaps 30+ snakes were a bit much to continue to house.  Believe me, this man was selling the idea of taking home a snake, but I resisted.

That said, he also made an impression.

Add to him my co-worker who owns a ball python and a red-tailed boa, and who also started casually mentioning how great his snakes were, how much his kids loved them, all that stuff.  Oh, and his snakes didn't eat live, perish the thought!  They ate frozen/ thawed mice.  It was safer overall, and he wouldn't have a snake that insisted on eating live.


Bear in mind, I'd told none of these people about the Gum Zombie's newest preoccupation.  It was just that the world had decided to inundate me with snakes.  Fine.  Fine!!  So when that same co-worker sent me an email alerting me to a big reptile show down here, I started researching snakes as pets in earnest.  Not because we were absolutely going to get one, oh dear no (oh dear yes, because my fascination had been well and truly piqued again), but because I needed to at least be fair to the child and consider his current passion.

So off we went to visit all the scaly creatures, and what an experience it was.  Now before we went I'd pretty much decided on a king snake of some sort.  From what I'd read they were voracious eaters, had zero problems converting to frozen/ thawed food, and their housing requirements weren't too stressful (room temperature, no problem!), so to me they seemed ideal outside of a nasty little escape artist tendency.  But on the plus side they'd be too small to eat the cats even if they did get out so I figured we were set.

In we walked, and the first table we hit was the sand boa table.  The boy was hooked.  I didn't even have time to guide him to my snake of choice; he wanted a little anery sand boa.  When the lady at the table first put The Snake That Would Be Slither into his hand he jumped and it's only because I was on point that I managed to scoop the little creature out of his hands and hold it in mine. Needless to say, we came home with him, and once the Gum Zombie got over his jumpiness (which took all of 30 seconds), he totally hogged that little snake.  So when we went back the next day, ostensibly to see all of the exhibits we missed on our first visit due to someone's desire to get home with his precious cargo (and with my husband's blessing saying "Knock yourself out, baby -- but no birds")*, I ended up with Sarah.

For the record, sand boas are totally a "gateway snake". Shortly after we had them established, we started wanting something with a little more heft to it.  My initial plan was to hold off for at least a year.  Obviously that didn't work out so well; witness the soon-to-be entrance of Scales and Lucy.

I think I'm going to have to wait a little on that Dumeril's boa I want, if only for my husband's sake...

Because some folks have asked me, a large part of the appeal lies in the fact that snakes are very basic animals.  They want nothing from you, literally, other than food and somewhere warm to hang out.  That warm place can be their habitat, or around your arm, but they couldn't possibly care less which it is.

They're not needy.  They won't sit at your feet and meow at you imperiously when they've got a clean litter box, fresh food and water, and have already been petted for 15 minutes straight causing a sneezing fit of epic proportions (guess who inherited her father's cat allergy?).  They won't bark at you incessantly because a squirrel has invaded the back yard and they must go guard the trees at all costs.  They don't ask you for more Legos (or Pokemon cards -- gah!!!!).  They just... are.  There's no hidden meaning to a snake's actions.  If they bite you it's either a feeding response (hungry snake!  careless keeper!) or they're defending themselves (threatened snake!  careless keeper!).  It's nothing personal, they're just snakes.

Simple is good.  And snakes, for me, are fantastic.

*I can't say I blame her -- we feed the Kenyan sand boas frozen/ thawed mice, and my intent is to do the same with the ball pythons.  Tiny poo-filled chickens are awesome (okay, and disgusting, but still).  The only potential issue is that ball pythons can be picky eaters and transitioning them from live to frozen/ thawed could be... erm... problematic.  Sigh.  But overall it's considered safer to feed frozen/ thawed (or freshly humanely euthanized) because a dead meal doesn't bite back, so we're going to do our best.  Do! Not! Want! To! Feed! Live!!!!

**This is a child who does his homework and will research things in the library so he has his point-by-point refutations ready.  He's nine.  Yes, I'm scared too. 

***The bird prohibition was for the same reason as my parents:  too loud and messy.  Fortunately I agree with all of them.  Even I have my limits (I'm sure Brent will be grateful to note that!).

****And now, at last, the TL;DR Version: 
I think snakes are cool. My younger son thinks snakes are cool.  This gave me an excuse to get a snake.  Or four.  Maybe five someday.  So I did :P


  1. I loved this entire post. Your Grandma sounds wonderful. And I can't tell you how many times I have told people why I love snakes or reptiles in general. They are basic, if you meet their needs, they live. They don't love you; they tolerate you. They just ARE. And I love that about them. I feel privileged to care for them.

  2. Thanks Sarah -- and my grandmother was indeed wonderful :)

    I agree with you completely on the reptiles. I love having them in my home. They're simply amazing.