Thursday, November 15, 2007

What's that smell? It's the Stinking Goddess!

So, I had a new addition to our serpentine family this weekend, when my friend called me up to say that he needed to make room for his Woma python and a couple of other new additions (including some rare variant of tree boa or whatnot). Far be it from me to stand in the way of his $700 snake (boy, they've come down in price...I remember when they were 3x that), I agreed to take on a King rat, a pair of gorgeous snow bullsnakes, and a handful of corns and Jungle corns.

I'll post about the others later, but I wanted to talk about the King rat here, Elaphe carinata, AKA "Stinking Goddess" or "keeled rat snake".

First of all, I want to note that this is an absolutely gorgeous snake. Bright eyes, incredible yellow on black pattern, and strongly keeled scales combine to create a snake that my husband described thusly: "He looks like a toy!" Indeed, he has an almost plastic look about him, but he's a very quick, active creature who does not seem the least bit toy-like when in motion.

The other, very obvious quality of this creature is its odor. It is unlike any other snake I have ever smelled. Most snakes have musk glands by their vent, which they use to squirt foul-smelling stuff onto potential predators. If you're a fox, and you pick up a potentially tasty snake snack, your first instinct when it exudes foul-tasting and -smelling stuff in your mouth and/or on your face is to, of course, drop that sucker. I suppose this would be more useful against mammalian predators, which rely heavily on smell and taste, than on avian ones, who mostly do NOT have strong senses of smell.

Now, I have rat snakes, milk snakes, and a kingsnake, all of whom are capable of shitting and musking all over me when I startle them--or, in the case of a couple of particularly neurotic ones, whenever I pick them up at all. It's disgusting, and it smells pretty bad. It can be hard to wash off, but I manage. Garter snakes are worse, and catching them in the field during herpetology field labs was an unpleasant experience, especially since we had nowhere to wash our hands until we returned to the lab (woe unto us if we were expected to eat lunch in the field). So I'm accustomed to snake musk, and its lovely qualities.

This snake, however, was unlike any other in its strength and quality of stink. It is, indeed, the Goddess of Stinking. Or, in my King's case, the God of Stinking (he's a male; he was shipped to my friend with a female as part of a potential breeding pair, but he ate her, and this is why you keep potentially ophiophagus snakes singly, especially when young). The odor is something along the lines of rotting meat, combined with burning cabbage, with a hint of freshly cut grass, the latter of which does not, strangely enough, improve the smell, but instead serves as an awful reminder of just how bad the rest of it is. You pick up the grassy smell first, thinking, "Hmm, maybe it's not so bad," but before you can finish that thought, the rest of it hits your olfactory senses like a creeping miasma from a sewer in a town full of people with rotting colons and only cabbage to eat.

And then, when you try to wash it off, it doesn't go. It penetrates and sticks to your skin like a dye pack from a bank robbery. I scrubbed, scrubbed some more, and used stronger and stronger soaps. I finally lucked out by using my brand new Scrubbie from Mama V soap--it exfoliated the stink out, and replaced it with the Scrubbie's coconut/cocoa butter scent. But oh dear GOD did I want to cut my hands off at first.

He's just a yearling now--a big one, as snakes go, but he's still got a long ways to grow (no pun intended). He's calm, and fairly handleable, but even without musking me deliberately, he has the odor clinging to him at all times, ready to rub off onto my hands. I have to say, he's lucky he's cute!


Carol said...

Ummm....don't hand that one to me, ok?

RioIriri said...

No problem; I would have to pick him up to do that.

I think you'll really enjoy the snow bulls, though--they're absolutely beautiful, and very friendly.