- Pets and Animals»
- Reptiles & Amphibians
Burmese Python Eats Wilbur, the Family Pussy.
Pythons. Better in their natural habitat. And WilburClick thumbnail to view full-size
Owning a python can prove fatal
"Red on yellow, kill this fellow!"
Many people, especially cat lovers, were shocked at the story in the British press about a 13-foot Burmese Python asphyxiating and eating poor Wilbur, a neighbour’s kittie recently. What was especially horrifying was the cat’s owner’s heard every moment of their pet’s demise, the agonized cries lasting for more than a minute. The more cynical amongst the readers perhaps saw some poetic justice here: what was meted out to wandering Wilbur - he was trespassing after all - is only what legions of domestic cats do to many thousands of garden birds, as well as small rodents, every year. And at least the python put paid to Wilbur as fast as it could and then ate him; cats, however, often play with their victims for hours and then stalk off, leaving the crushed and torn body for mum to pick up and throw down the toilet.
We don’t get many horror stories involving serpents in the UK. Of our native snakes, only one, the adder, is venomous. All the constricting snakes - the Pythons and Boas - are imported and their sale is fairly well controlled. So far, we don’t seems to have colonies of escaped snakes breeding in our forests…it may be too cold anyway for these cold blooded reptiles who all hail from sunnier climes. Not so in Florida, for example, where Burmese Pythons - like the one that got Wilbur - live in their thousands in the Everglades wilderness along with the venomous varieties like the Moccasin (Cottonmouth) and the alligators.
We all have our preferences regarding what type of pets to own. Mostly the debate is between cat and dog fanciers, with fish and birds thrown in for good measure. Snake owners are really a breed apart. A bit like blokes who insist on keeping a 200-pound Rottweiler in a flat barely big enough for a cocker spaniel.
Afraid my prejudices are showing here. Not because I don’t like snakes, I do, and find them fascinating if a little hard to love and cuddle. After all, I lived in Baja California for many years and often encountered snakes on my daily rambles around the desert. Some were venomous, like the ever-present rattlers. I have handled snakes and they have lovely, velvety skins, beautiful coloring and, on the whole, are patient and accommodating once they decide you are not going to hurt them. No, what I have against personally owning a snake is that I also rather like mice, guinea pigs and baby rabbits and I can’t see watching one get bitten and envenomated, or crushed and asphyxiated and slowly consumed, in the latter case, screaming like poor little Wilbur. There’s just got to be something uncaring about someone who can do this on a regular basis. (I have heard some snakes can be trained to accept already-dead meat of some sort and this would make a difference; heck, you could give it a can of tuna!). You also might consider that it isn’t easy to get a sitter for a curious, 12-foot python who just needs some love. (“Not up there!”).
Pythons are remarkable snakes. They occur in the wild in Africa, Asia and Australia. (Whereas Boa constrictors are mainly confined to Central America, South America and some of the Caribbean Islands). The Reticulated Python, the largest is found in Southeast Asia. This is the worlds longest snake at 28 feet, and possibly longer. The Green Anaconda can also grow to this size and has a thicker body, making it the world’s largest serpent. The Anaconda has a decidedly nasty temperament and rarely kept in captivity outside of animal collections.
Although non-venomous, a large python or boa is capable of a very nasty bite, perhaps requiring stitches and a course of antibiotics for other bite-induced infection. There have been reports of attacks, injuries and deaths, both in the wild, and with large pet pythons, (and, more rarely, the smaller, boas). It seems the break-even size from a constrictor being a cute pet, to becoming more dangerous and hard to handle is about 8 feet. One person can handle an 8-foor python, but it takes two or more as they pass the 12, 16 and over length. (The mantra is one person per foot of snake after 8 feet). If you have a 16-footer, plus, unrestricted in a private home, you better walk around with a knife, as an attack could prove fatal, a snake of this size is stronger than any human male - and it could easily kill and swallow a small child).
Constricting snakes don’t actually crush their prey, contrary to popular myth. They wrap a few coils around the rib cage area - very fast! squeeze, and prevent the victim breathing in until it suffocates. Then it is swallowed and digested, a process that can take weeks.
People have trouble distinguishing between venomous and non- venomous snakes in the wild. Firstly, any snake should be left alone unless you are an expert as so many have appearances that can fool you into thinking the venomous reptile is really harmless (and vice versa). There are several points which do give you a fairly good idea of the dangerous snakes.
1). A venomous snake is often heavier bodied and slower moving (but not striking) than a non-venomous species.
2). Venomous snakes of the viper family (rattlers, etc) have distinct pits between the eyes, which are “more predator-like,” angular eyes with vertical pupils. Harmless snakes have round eyes, slimmer heads and no pits between eyes.
3). You can normally see several, canine-like teeth on non-venomous snakes (although, why you are opening its mouth to check is anyone’s business!) Dangerous snakes have fangs which may be hidden on the roof of the mouth.
4). If you are still alive a couple hours after a king snake bit you, it really wasn’t a coral snake! Whew!
…because, coloration can fool you where identifying a snake is concerned.
For example, the deadly coral snake in the USA is often confused with the harmless and beneficial king snake. An old folk ditty goes like this:
“Red on black, pat the back,
Red on yellow, kill this fellow!”
Referring to the manner upon which the colored rings of yellow, black and red, are imposed, one on the others. The reality is that many harmless kings have been chopped in half with a spade, and many potentially deadly corals have been picked up, patted on the back, too surprised to bite their loving assailant. (or sent them to an early grave!).
My verse would run:
“They both can bite you to the bone,
leave the bleeding snake alone!”
“Here lies little Willie Smith
Told not to give the snake a kiss!”
So my advice in summary for all those considering adopting a snake as the family pet. Choose one of the small varieties, of which there are several. If you get a baby python or boa constrictor you are buying into future problems unless you are an expert. Snakes represent a huge commitment, because they can live for more than 40 years. And they are hard to find homes for if the need arises. Zoos, of course, will be happy to take a large python from you as they are worth a lot of money. (A zoo in New York has a standing offer of $50,000 for a python more than 30 feet long…I wonder if you can stretch them!?).