Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why would anyone want to keep a snake?

A recent news article published in Florida--and circulated on the web--quoted several keepers who attribute their fascination with snakes to a thrill that comes from owning "dangerous" animals. They say they get off on handling "something that could kill you." This, for the most part, is a load of manure. It's true that there will always be a narrow slice of the population who finds validation in owning a venomous snake just because it's venomous, or a giant constrictor just because it could get big enough to kill a human. It's the same as people who keep pit bulls because of their violent reputation.

So what do most snake lovers see in the scaly, cold-blooded creatures?

Speaking for myself, snakes, like all reptiles, are interesting on several levels. Even though we have a dog and some cats, I'm not big on the traditional slobbery, stinking, hairball pets. My preference is cool, smooth and hypo-allergenic. To me, watching and handling snakes is relaxing. A smooth-scaled snake, such as a kingsnake or ball python, feels like living glass as it glides through your hands and over your arms. Creeped out? Don't be. It's like a massage. In fact, some spas in foreign countries are using snakes in their massage treatments to great effect. Closer to home snakes are being used to encourage interaction among nursing home patients and to calm patients in psychiatric facilities.

Another turn-on for me is the variety of color. In Honduran milk snakes alone one can see a glossy riot of rings ranging in color from red to orange and white to yellow...all separated by jet black. And that doesn't even include the color-affecting morphs. Albinos, anerythristics, hypos and extreme hypos produce insanely bright oranges and whites, grays and silvers.

Corn snakes come in over one hundred color and pattern morphs, as do ball pythons. Reticulated pythons are catching up.

Even in wild-type (non-morph) specimens there is tremendous variety. One keeper, Thomas Davis, says. " baseball cards, but alive. How cool is that?"

I couldn't agree more.

As living creatures, consider how snakes thrive without limbs. How they survive on all continents except Antarctica. How they live from sea to mountain to desert. This interests many of us. As does the fact that species of boas and pythons contain the remnants of a pelvic girdle and tiny spurs...the last vestiges of legs. There is a certain fascination in watching a snake eat, unhinging the jaws and swallowing prey whole. And in realizing how efficient the snake's digestive tract is, breaking down even hair and bone. And did you know they smell with their tongues?

Then there is the satisfaction of caring for a living thing. Snakes, in general, are easy and rewarding to keep, making it easy to have several. And that's a good thing, because keeping snakes is addictive.

Finally, some people have an attraction for things outside the mainstream. We root for the underdog or revel in the music of an underground band. We enjoy trying to understand the misunderstood. Snakes have always been special to me. Even after dabbling in turtles, lizards and frogs I've always returned to the legless, the narrow fellows in the grass.

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