Snakebite!

On today’s episode of Adventures in Amateur Herpetology, it was rather an exciting morning with Slither the Ball Python. He’s grown significantly during his first four months with us, and when I fed him on Friday I realized we need to start feeding him bigger rats – he was horking down the “juvenile” size like cocktail peanuts, GULP and done. So we got him a ten-pack of the “medium” size rats, which are waaaaay bigger – they’re literally four times the size of the juveniles, but that matches Slither’s body circumference these days. So this morning we got all set up to feed him, I opened the tank, and I foolishly ignored the way the bobbing/weaving motions of his head, at which point he went into his usual magnificent snappish python on the hunt mode and struck at me, resulting in a pair of superficial fang wounds on my right hand.

It was honestly more startling than painful – I’ve been genuinely bitten by dogs on two occasions, and both of those were much worse than this – but I’ve never been snakebitten before, and it IS a bit unsettling. It reinforced my conviction that we’ve been underfeeding him, however, and I also realized we haven’t been taking him out and handling him enough – that’s how you get them to associate opening the tank with being picked up and handled, instead of YEAH, CHOWTIME, I SHALL NOW KILL AND DEVOUR WHATEVER ENTERS THIS TANK. I thought about the mantra I hear from dog lovers about how the responsibility for a dog’s actions are with its owner, not the dog – a mantra I believe in 100%, for the record – and I realized it’s true with ball pythons too. You gotta understand the animal’s nature and needs, then care for it in a way that accommodates its nature and meets its needs. It seems we haven’t been doing that quite well enough with Slither.

Fortunately, I was able to gently nudge him a few times with the branch we keep in his tank, settle him down, and pick him up sans more biting, and he rewarded my understanding and patience by enthusiastically accepting his new, much larger portion size. It took him quite a while to get the logistics figured out, but once the dining process got truly underway it was even more fascinating than usual, if only because of how much more he had to STRETCH everything. Snake keeping! The thrill is not gone!

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