• Carrie Gardner

The Myths and Mysteries of Snakes (part one)

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

Common red-tail boa constrictor.

Recently I saw a video on Facebook. It was of a large python and a girl around five. The snake had places to investigate and he went up and over the girl, gliding over her knees. She was laughing, and gently placed her hands out palms down where she was touching the snake, but not grabbing. Yes, as with any animal, snakes can be dangerous. However, I more strongly believe that children need to be educated about them if they are kept as pets in their homes. Parents need to demonstrate responsibility for ensuring a safe home. Their enclosure needs to be kept locked, a proper diet fed, all the lights, heating, substrate and cage furniture, socialization, and finally a vet that is certified to treat reptiles. It seems as if all this was done. The video makes it clear to me that the snake was comfortable with her and was very calm. It was also very clear to me that the girl had been taught what to do around that snake. As for the snake himself, I’m not sure if he’s a Burmese python or a reticulated python because of the color patterns. He is a beautiful morph and had obviously been the product of years and years of breeding to get that way. It also tells me that this family probably did not take his purchase lightly (I’m assuming “he”), and cost hundreds, if not thousands, depending on how rare this morph is - and I’m not including enclosures, supplies, or food. He obviously is well socialized. My overall conclusion is that these parents are very responsible and if their house was to be inspected, they would find an enclosure big enough for the snake, that is escape proof and locked.

This is THE video in question

What amazed me was the comments. Really, it shouldn't have, right? I saw a lot of things that are considered myths or urban legends, and things that made my jaw drop. I had another topic planned, but after reading those comments, I thought that myths and facts needed to be put up first. It will fit nicely at the end.

This wild reticulated python would not make a good pet.

First, I’m going to start off with some facts. Reptiles ARE considered wild animals. “Exotic” animal means that there is a population of the same species in the wild. So no, they aren’t domesticated. That doesn’t mean they can’t become tame or comfortable with being around people. Domesticating and taming are two separate things. One takes thousands of years to achieve and the other, God willing, a short amount of time. There are wild caught animals in the pet industry. But more and more are bred and born in captivity since they are more expensive, and people are willing to pay it. They are also easier for owners to deal with. Wild caught animals, while cheaper, will probably cost more. With wild animals come parasites and stress of being caught and quite a few vet bills. Feeding can be difficult too. There is a big difference between wild-caught and captive bred and born snakes. Captive bred and born wouldn't survive now if put back in the wild. They are often the product of generations of being in captivity and selective breeding. It would be irresponsible on our part to think captive bred and born snakes are suitable for the wild. These are pets, manipulated by humans and we are responsible for them.

Snakes don’t eat children, normally and they are not unpredictable killing machines. Depending on the snake, captive snakes are usually fed once a week to even once a month. And they are fed a pretty boring diet of the same thing every week, which is what they like. They are sensitive to the scent of what their fed and their food response is when they smell a rat. The only way a snake would look at a human as maybe potential food is if that human had been cuddling with their food’s relatives. The worst bite I ever got was from my first ball python. I had brushed his mouse against my hand. He could pin the scent on my hand and saw that I was warmer (or fresher) with his infrared heat sensing pits, by-passed the mouse I was dangling and grabbed my hand. I only needed to do that once!

Albino Burmese python.

Statistics show that there have only been 17 deaths attributable to large pet constrictor snakes. Unfortunately, some children were victims. But all the deaths were because of ignorance, negligence and even abuse on the part of the owner, not the snake. Just as it is for any animal interacting with people. In contrast, 30 people are killed by dogs per year, and a whopping 4.5 million people are bitten. They are the oldest domestic animal we have. Part of the problem is lack of training or enrichment. Another is that they have been manipulated by us for as long as we brought those first wolves home. Dogs are selectively bred for herding, hunting, retrieving, protection, etc. More than half the victims that dogs have killed are children 12 and under. The leading cause of death of children under four is dog attacks. No matter how sweet, cuddly, and loving a dog may seem, just like a snake, they should not be left alone for a second with a kid. Reasons Why You Don't Leave Dogs Alone With Children Animals don’t attack unprovoked, and there is always a reason, whether or not people understand what it is. They don’t communicate the same way we do, and something we think is all right, they might perceive it to be a threat. The truth of it all is that whatever is lost in the translation can be deadly.

Body language says the dog is really stressed.

Yearly, the list of deadly animals places snakes very low on their list. The top killer is Bambi, coming in at 120. Then bees, hornets, and wasps at 58 deaths per year. Then the dog at 28-30 a year and round that off with horses and cows at 20 each. Venomous snakes are responsible for 10 or under...and it’s usually the under. These aren’t deaths caused by cars or a transmitted disease, these are caused by direct contact. So can snakes be pets or should they be banned? The definition of “pet” officially is an animal that is kept for companionship, interest, or amusement. However, society defines them as for companionship, friendship, and to be an entertainer. I’m sure we’ve all got different views on what would make a good pet, and what wouldn’t. No, snakes aren’t touchy-feely animals like cats and dogs. But they have their own specialness that permeates and reaches the hearts of those who love them. They do recognize their owners, probably by scent, they show curiosity in their surroundings and the way they feel - soft and cool on the skin. Their graceful movements are relaxing and the gentle pressure used to move their bodies really does feel good and loosens muscles. Between the two definitions, I would say that snakes fit all except friendship. At least on their part.

Snakes do make good pets for those who like them. Snake owners care about their animals just as much as they care for their dogs, or I for my cats. Most keep them in proper and properly secured enclosures at the right temperatures and humidity, provide fresh water, feed them the healthy diets that they require, clean up after them - and LOVE them. Sure, snakes don’t return the love or bond they receive. Neither is needed for owners to receive the full benefit of pet ownership. Snake owners should not be penalized for the act of a few careless, irresponsible individuals, or because of preconceived notions based on lies, urban legends, myths, and misinformation.

Don't worry, Harrison faked his fear of snakes when he played Indiana Jones.

This is a series so stay tuned

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