Javascript is either disabled or not supported by this browser. This page may not appear properly.
My Snake Ate My Other Snake

by Tina Blue
December 25, 2000

          A lot of people hate and fear snakes. Not me. I think they're incredibly cool animals.

          A good friend of mine is a herpetologist. As a consequence of his many snake-collecting expeditions, I came into possession of four exquisitely beautiful milk snakes.

          Milk snakes are an endangered species, so only a licensed collector can take them from the wild. They are extremely pretty snakes, with alternating red, cream, and black bands running the entire length of their bodies. The width and the shade of these rings, as well as the clarity of the borders between them, can vary considerably from snake to snake, so milk snakes look quite different, even though the same colors appear on each snake, and always in the same order.

          The oldest of my snakes, Wraith, is close to four feet long now, and about as thick as four of my fingers together. His red and cream-colored bands predominate, separated by thin black lines, rather than thick black bands. It was seven years ago that Wraith, then only about two years old, about one and a half feet long, and no thicker than my thumb, swallowed Knot, a baby milk snake who was only a few months old.

          I called that one "Knot" because every time I picked him up he would tie his body into a knot--literally. He was predominantly a glossy black, with a black head. His cream and red bands were fairly thin, but of particularly pure shades, and perfectly even. He was a gorgeous snake, actually much more beautiful than Wraith, so I was really upset when Wraith ate him.

          It shouldn't have happened. Milk snakes are a type of king snake, and king snakes have that appellation precisely because they eat other snakes. But milk snakes' preferred food is the five-line skink, a tiny, beautiful iridescent blue lizard. It's hard to find and catch five-line skinks, so my milk snakes were trained to eat pinkies and fuzzies--newborn mice which were bought frozen, and thawed and warmed before being fed to the snakes.

          Milk snakes don't normally eat other snakes, especially other milk snakes, unless they are quite hungry and don't have anything better to eat. I had not wanted to house Knot in the same aquarium with Wraith, Scarlett, and Lilith (my other two milk snakes), because he was so much smaller than any of them, but Randy (the herpetologist) assured me that none of the others would eat him, since I kept them all so well-fed.

          Even herpetologists make mistakes. I should have followed my instincts after all. Not only did Wraith eat Knot, he did so after I'd already let him pig out on pinkies! That was the problem. He was on a roll, and everything smelled like pinkies to him--including Knot, who'd eaten a pinkie himself.

          I didn't see the evil deed done. I inferred it the next day when I went in to check on the snakes and found Knot missing--and Wraith plumped up even more with a Knot-length bulge in his body.

          That day I moved Wraith into his own private aquarium. I worried that he might have developed a taste for his own species, and I didn't want him helping himself to Scarlett and Lilith. They were both much larger than Knot had been, but still smaller and thinner than Wraith.

          I should have figured Wraith for a potential cannibal, if only because he was always a glutton (except for a brief period when I first got him, when he didn't want to eat at all). He would eat as many pinkies as I would give him--even more than was healthy for him to eat at one time. I found this out when I complained to Randy that Wraith had eaten sixteen pinkies at one feeding, and said that at a dollar per pinkie, I couldn't afford to feed him like that.

     Randy was horrified. I should only give him one to four pinkies at a time, he told me, and even four should be fairly rare.

          I think about those stories you read in the paper, where somebody with a really big python ends up getting constricted to death by his pet. How does it happen? Well, snakes don't know from what. If you go into your hungry python pal having recently handled the rat you were planning to feed him, you're going to smell like a rat to him. And a python knows just what to do to a rat--squeeze it till its eyes pop out.

          The pythons that squeeze their owners to death don't eat them. The squeezing is instinctive. When a constrictor smells prey, he constricts it. So it's best never to approach a python smelling like python food. You would think that a person would learn about such predictable python behavior if he were going to keep a python as a pet--especially a big

          Wraith ate Knot for the same reason pythons sometimes constrict their people. Knot smelled like the pinkies Wraith had been eating, so he ate him.

          I'm just glad I don't need to worry that some day I will discover that one of my cats has swallowed one of my other cats.