Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lucius the Lovely

"He needs to find someone else to bite!" read the ad on A picture of a beautiful sub-adult yellow rat snake accompanied the ad. The snake, named Gamma (because gamma radiation penetrates the skin), was a foul-tempered picky eater, and his owner was just tired of the abuse.

How could I resist? I contacted her, and before long, a small white box of snake was headed my way.

"Sometimes, when he's HANGING from my nose like some piece of malicious jewelry, it's all I can do to pry him off and put him back in his enclosure!" she wrote. I couldn't wait to meet him. I can't explain my attraction to the snappish ones. Gregor, whose story will come another time, was love at first bite. The nippy gopher snake in the herpetology lab at school was my favorite.

The box arrived while I was teaching a program at the museum. It almost killed me to keep teaching for another twenty minutes, but I managed. As soon as the kids filed out of the room, I used my keys to cut the tape on the box, opened it up, and pulled out a snake bag.

I carefully untied the bag and pulled out a pale yellow creature who was about three feet long. He curled around my hands, looked at me for a while, then settled down and stayed put. No musking, biting, or tail-buzzing. I figured that maybe he was just chilled, so I put him into a container and gave him a heat pad while I finished the rest of my work day.

I took him home, and over the next few days, he did not react with fear or aggression when I changed water, spot cleaned, or otherwise invaded his space. To this day, he has not bitten me or behaved aggressively. He was named Lucius, in keeping with my Roman Emperor rat snakes naming scheme (we have Julian, Marcus, Cornelia, and Claudia as well).

So what was Lucy's problem? Why was he so angry and ill-behaved for Ms. S.? Do I have some kind of magic snake-whisperer ability? I don't really think so. Prior to his life here, Lucius was kept in a sweater-box type enclosure. Many snake breeders use racks with translucent sweater-boxes as a matter of convenience. Usually, the snakes don't care.

Lucius, though, is different. We use glass enclosures here, because we like to watch our snakes. And, it seems, sometimes they like to watch us! Lucius spends a lot of time looking at the people in the room. He watches me most of the time, and he explores his enclosure, looking all around him. He's a very visual creature, and I think that he was possibly driven mad with boredom being stuck in a translucent enclosure.

He also has roommates here. He lives with Cornelia and Julian, and they spend a lot of time curled up together. Ms. S. had mentioned that he was less aggressive when housed with another snake, so perhaps he just needed some company.

Lucius is a beautiful, adorable creature, and he has the happiness he deserves now that he is with me.
Lucius is the one in the bowl; Julian's on the edge of it.

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