Saturday, June 13, 2015

Meet the Snakes!

There are seven members of our household that just don't seem to get enough credit - and I'm not just talking about their species as a whole!

Most people we meet are horrified when we tell them we own snakes: "IN YOUR HOUSE?" "DON'T YOU HAVE A CHILD??!!"

It always makes me laugh.

Some of our snakes have been with us for well over a decade, and if we are lucky, we will have them for several more.

They have been an indispensable source of education for countless people, especially children. They have traveled all over Tennessee visiting libraries, schools, festivals other educational events.

So today, to honor all their hard work, I thought I would make a post dedicated especially to them.

So without further ado, meet our snakes!

We'll begin with the smallest and work our way up....

First up is Obsidian.

He is a black Mexican Kingsnake we bought at Petco 5 years ago.

Native to southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, these beautiful kingsnakes only average 3-4 feet long. They are completely black, though they occasionally have white markings under their chin.

My favorite feature of these beauties, is their glassy, bluish underbelly.

Like all kingsnakes, Obsidian is powerful and stocky, built to overpower other snakes, including venomous ones.

Obsidian is our feistiest snake, and can be a booger to get out of his cage, especially when he's hungry. Mark and I have both been bitten by him a couple of times, but it was only because he thought our fingers were his dinner (he is always ready to eat!).

Kingsnakes always seem to have an angry expression
He has only bitten one other person, and that was a teacher at a school program this Spring. Oddly enough, he wasn't being defensive, he was actually trying to eat her. Weird.

Otherwise, he's a great little snake, and is usually the kids' favorite, for some reason.

Next we have Maizie the Cornsnake.

We also bought Maizie at Petco, as she was on clearance. Maybe 6 or 7 years ago?

Cornsnakes are pretty popular in the pet trade, and come in a broad range of color mutations.

They are native to the Southeast, and their color deepens the further south you travel.

You can occasionally find them in southern portions of TN. For that reason they are actually native, so in our state it is technically illegal to own them.

Maizie has always been a picky eater, sometimes going months without accepting food. For that reason, she has hardly grown during all the years we've had her.

Maizie has provided us with much gender confusion (not unusual for snakes).

At first I was convinced it was female, hence the name, Maizie. Then I began to lean more towards a male, and we changed the name to Maize. Then, she cleared up all the confusion by laying eggs out of the blue one day. Yep! She's Maizie again!

She has a gentle nature, but is very active and loves nothing more than to slip inside your shirt when you least expect it (much to the amusement of the audience).

Then there is Maya, also a Cornsnake.

She was actually the first Christmas present I bought for Mark, 8 years ago (I guess that says a lot about our relationship....)

She has since become our favorite snake to present with, as she is beautiful and friendly.

Maya as a headdress, and Maizie trying to get inside my shirt, as always.
Maya was actually named by a child in one of the first snake programs I brought her to.

Back when she was still a little thing (...and , er - me too)
She's a decent size, but would probably be larger if she would quit laying eggs every other year. 

For some reason, she just gets the urge every once in awhile, and I have to provide her with a nesting box (butter tub with a hole cut in the lid) full of damp moss. Much like a hen that's gone broody, she gets super protective, and if you remove the eggs she just keeps laying more. She eventually gets it out of her system, though, and we can take the eggs away.

Our third Cornsnake is Mandarin.

He is what's known as a Candy Corn color morph, or amelanistic, if you want to get technical.

I'm not 100% confident that he is actually male, since we've never had him sexed at the vet. But he's never laid eggs, and has more pairs of scales underneath his tail (one of the ways you can tell gender on cornsnakes).

He actually came to us from my cousin, who needed to find another home for him.

He grew very rapidly after we acquired him, and is now pushing 5 feet (cornsnakes can get up to 6ft).

He was getting ready to shed in this picture, so he wasn't as vibrant as usual
Mandarin is a little more nervous than the others, but his color is always a show-stopper.

Then there is Pearl, the albino California Kingsnake.

She was given to us by another state park a few years ago, which had already used her for programs for 11 years.

Pearl provides a great example of albinism for our presentations, and has always been gentle with us (although we heard that she had bitten a couple of other rangers prior).

It was a little difficult to pick up her color on camera, but she is actually a pale, pale lavender with faint yellow bands. And just look at those blue eyes....

If she were normal colored, she would be black with yellow or white bands.

Our last two snakes fall into the exotic category, but are also very fun to use in presentations.

This is Mekala, the Ball Python.

She is my baby. I have had her now for about 14 years.

I purchased her long before I knew she would become a star performer in our educational programs.

Helping me study
She is the gentlest snake I have ever encountered.

By now, she has been held, petted, poked, squeezed, stepped on (EEK!!) and pinched by thousands of kids.

When she was still small, I would carry her everywhere in my purse.

I even took her to the fair once where she rode the Ferris wheel.

She rode along for trips to Wal-mart, shoe stores and just about everywhere else.

Sometimes I took her to class with me when I was in college. A couple of times she gave herself away by stretching her head out and causing my purse expand or flop over. It would always get me perplexed glances from people, but I never got in trouble for it, especially when I would take her out to show everybody once class was over.

It was always fun to be talking to somebody and then casually say, "Hey, I have a snake in my purse." They would look at me really weird as if it was a euphemism for something. Then I would show them that it was true. Fun times.

My mom would always tell me, "One day somebody is going to open your purse, have a heart attack and sue you!" I would always respond, "Nobody should be looking into my purse, anyway!!" I considered her the ultimate anti-theft device.

Her only downfall has been the fact that she has always been a reluctant feeder, not uncommon with Ball Pythons.

Before I made a habit of killing her rats for her, she got bitten behind her head by one. It went deep and was obviously pretty painful by her reaction. I ended up taking her to the vet and having to give her injectable antibiotics for a week, to help prevent infection. I remember the vet telling me that they didn't have a lot of nerve endings in their skin, and she would barely flinch when I gave her the shot. However, I did not find that to be the case. She HATED those shots.

The experience really stuck with her, because she refused to eat rats for the next 3 years. I would have to buy up to 10 mice at a time and feed them one after the other (this was around the time we began raising our own mice, to save money).

She has helped countless people overcome their fear of snakes, and anytime somebody holds her for any length of time, they find themselves swaying her like a little baby! She just seems to have that effect, for some reason.

My niece, Mira, is one of Mekala's all-time biggest fans (she is 11, now)
I love wearing her around like an accessory. It's hilarious how often people don't even notice her, since she is so still. Most people just assume I'm wearing a scarf. Until she flicks her tongue.

I hope to have her for many more years. I never would have thought I could become so attached to a snake.

Lastly, there is Cortez, the Boa Constrictor.

He was given to us 5 years ago by a family that was camping. Like many large snakes, they bought him when he was little and then got scared when he started to grow big.

He was about 5 feet long when we first got him.

This is him today.....

Now he is a little over 7 feet long, weighing about 25 pounds.

That's pretty big, but female boas can double that. As a male, he won't get too much larger than he is now. But that's still a lot of snake!

He's as big a snake as I ever want to have, and even one his size can be dangerous if mishandled.

Luckily he's never shown aggression, but he is very active, which can make handling him a challenge.

Boa Constrictors can be found all of the way from Mexico to South America, and can adapt to a wide range of climates. That makes him an easy keeper.

I love how his pattern continues through his eye.

He really is a lovely, impressive animal, and makes a good finale for our snake programs.

So there you have it!

By now, you either think I'm really cool or certifiably insane.

Or, if you're like some people I know, you couldn't even scroll down as soon as you saw the word snakes in the title.

I have so much admiration for these creatures, and find them so unique and beautiful and mystifying.

I only wish I could help everybody else see them in that light.


  1. What a beautiful collection! I used to have a bunch of cornsnakes before I moved to Georgia, but sadly there are laws against them being kept here so I had to part with them before moving. I still have my Ball Pythons, a pair of Bredl's Carpet Pythons, and 1 big female striped Boa that has been driving me nuts with her picky eating lately. I've had her the least amount of time and she came with mites. I have been battling them for a year straight. I just did her huge cage with Black Knight yet again after the mites came back when Spring came. Fortunately, none of my others have them, but it bothers me so much. I used to do presentations at a natural history museum in Florida and my favorite that they had was an Eastern Indigo- such an awesome creature. I love your Kingsnakes, they are a close favorite to good ol' corns. I guess I've had snakes since I was 19 or so now that I am thinking about it. They are just always a part of my life- maybe that is just another aspect of our deep love for nature. :)

    1. Yay! A fellow snake enthusiast! They are so addictive, aren't they? Carpet Pythons are GORGEOUS!

      I hear you on the picky eater thing. My ball python has gone up to SIX MONTHS without eating! She just gets into a rut where she refuses to eat anything.

      That's interesting about the cornsnakes - is it because they're native? Like I mentioned in the post, it is TECHNICALLY against the law to own them in TN, being that they're native, but somehow it's just kind of overlooked. Kingsnakes are tricky too, because so many of them are Lampropeltis getula - their color and pattern just change depending on where they're found. But so many of these species have been bred in captivity for generations.

      I LOVE the Eastern Indigo snake! The wildlife presenter I used to work for is working on getting the necessary permits to acquire one.

      I would probably have more snakes, myself, but I make it a point to avoid any reptile expos. And we are just about out of space!!

  2. Beautiful snakes! We have just 1 snake ourselves, a normal Cal King Snake. We have had Brisingr for about 5 years now and he was fully grown when we got him so no idea how old he is.

    Brisingr also goes through bouts of not eating. He did not eat for at least 5 months after bringing him home - we were afraid he would die!