Monday, December 2, 2013

The Mistress of Misfit Pets, Part 5: Snakes

A new fad in jewelry?

I've always been fascinated by snakes, but my mother has a STRONG phobia, so it was the only critter she wouldn't let me keep as a kid.

*Ahem*  That didn't stop me from catching them.

One day I found a particularly nice garter snake and put it in the only large container I could find—my baby sister's old diaper pail.  For some reason I put the pail (with the snake hidden under a pile of grass) on the hearth in the living room, and since my Mom was cleaning for company that evening she tossed the pail out in the backyard.  I didn't find it there until the next morning, and of course woke up Mom to ask where she'd put my snake.  She woke up instantly.

"WHAT snake?"

"The snake in the diaper pail."

"You had a SNAKE in my house?"

Needless to say, that was the last snake I had until my oldest son was eight years old.  I found a checkered garter snake in our vegetable garden, but he eluded capture for a while.  One day I grabbed his tail before he could slip into his hole, and it was a tug-of-war before I had him.  We put him in a 10 gallon aquarium and bought a screened lid to keep him contained.  My son named him Arthur ("because you like knights and stuff, Mom," he said) and we kept that snake for several years. 
Checkered garter snake
Arthur was the best and easiest pet we ever had.  He would eat fish and tadpoles but preferred earthworms.  (My son made a sign for his habitat that read "Arthur's House: Worms Welcome.")  Arthur liked to curl up inside his water dish after eating, and sometimes we'd put 2-3 inches of water in the bathtub and watch him swim.

We might still have Arthur except one day the lid of his cage was not securely latched, and he escaped.  I turned the house upside-down but never found him.  I called the city water company and asked if it was possible for a water-loving snake to get into the pipes if he crawled into the toilet, and was told it was highly possible.  So poor Arthur probably ended his days in the city sewer system.

The next garter snake we had escaped the same way.  This one was beautifully colored and preferred to eat fish.  I wasn't as attached to this one, especially since it preferred fish.  (One of the "rescued" feeder fish eventually became Goldie, who was memorialized in a previous post.)
Me holding our colorful garter snake
After "snake sitting" for a boy's boa constrictor, I decided I preferred garter snakes because they have friendlier eyes with round pupils (boa constrictors and other snakes such as vipers have slit pupils so they look more "sinister") and I didn't mind feeding our snakes earthworms and tadpoles and fish, but I did have a problem watching the constrictor eat a white rat.
Close up of its friendly eye
Even though snakes do a lot of lying around, it was fascinating to watch the skin shedding process.  A day or two before it happened our snakes would become more aggressive, probably because they felt insecure.  Their eyes would cloud over as the old skin prepared to break away, and then they'd rub their snouts against the branch in the cage, catch the edge onto a sharp edge, and pull out of it, just like you would take off a sock, leaving it inside-out.  We kept all the skins until they eventually crumbled.

I highly recommend garter snakes as pets, even if just temporarily.  Just make sure you securely latch the lid.

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