Snakes Got Feet!

by Tina Blue
December 20, 2000

          Once when my then eight-year-old daughter mentioned in school that she had actually seen and touched the legs and feet on a snake, a couple of her classmates called her a liar and a dummy and began to tease her all the time. This went on for several days before she told me and asked if we could maybe do something about it. She felt, rightly, I'm sure, that her reputation was a stake.

          Well, we sure could do something about it!

          I arranged to bring Ralph to visit my daughter's classroom the very next week. And just who, you might ask, was this Ralph? Ralph was the very boa constrictor whose legs Becky had seen and touched in the first place.

          An x-ray of a snake will show the vestigial skeletal remnants of its ancestral hind legs, feet and claws. But on a male boa, the feet and claws are actually on the outside. You can see them and touch them. They're tucked flat against his belly, but they are unmistakably feet and claws.

          So we took Ralph to visit Becky's class. We even invited her nine-year-old brother's class in to take a look. Ralph made quite an impression, I must say. He was nine feet long and somewhat thicker than the wide end of a baseball bat. Since he'd been handled by humans for all of his ten years, he was also quite docile. (Boas usually are--pythons, I've heard, are often more temperamental.) The kids at the school were fascinated by Ralph. The teachers, though, planted themselves near the door on the opposite side of the room.

          Becky wanted the honor of holding Ralph, but he was a heavy son of a gun, so Randy, our herpetologist friend and Ralph's "roommate," held most of him, and she held only the front part of his body. Each child came up and looked at Ralph's feet and touched his claws, verifying beyond question that snakes do too have feet and claws.

          None of her classmates ever again suggested that Becky was lying or that she didn't know what she was talking about.
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