Snakes Are NOT Slimey!!

I don’t know why this fallacy upsets me so much, but it does.  Now, I am not a huge fan of snakes – or reptiles in general, for that matter.  But I need to take a moment to step back in time to explain.

When I was 14 or 15 years old – and being the huge animal lover I am – I decided it would be a great thing for me to begin volunteering at my local zoo.  I applied, was accepted and then “assigned” to the reptile keeper.  I need to stress that working with reptiles was not what I had wanted and even had second thoughts about the whole volunteering idea.  I much would have preferred to work with felids (cats) and preferably neonates (babies).  But, alas, no.  So I spent the next four years working with reptiles.  Not exclusively, after a while I was able to help other keepers – or even the reptile keeper, when he  had swing duties.  (Swing duties refers to helping cover other departments when that keeper was sick or on vacation.  If you ever see a job advertising a Swing Keeper you’ll know what they are referring to.)

Anyway, back to the reptiles.  I worked with all the snakes (all non-venomous) as well as various lizards, turtles and alligators and crocodiles.  I have personally handled all these animals.  (Yes, all.)  And I can tell you from experience that snakes (or any of the other reptile species I worked with) are not slimey!  Snakes are actually dry and soft.  I have never seen or heard of a slimey snake – unless it was sleeping in the water bowl.  Their scales are quite shiny and when the sun hits them just right, can appear iridescent.  And I think this is where the notion of “slimey” comes from.

Photo by Damien Farrell

There are some species that are quite beautiful.  For example, I worked with a Rainbow Boa (also called a Slender Boa) named Baby.  She was the most beautiful and docile snake in the zoo.  She is the only snake I would not hesitate to pick up even today.  As you may have guessed, the Rainbow Boa gets its names from the amazing colors in sunlight – producing a rainbow-type coloration.  The photo to the left is one of the best photos I could find to illustrate this point.

Fast forward to the present.

Since it has been so many years since I have worked with reptiles I am quite hesitant around them again.  Most reptiles give very little indication when they are distressed.  So one minute everything seems fine, then next you are  trying to disengage their mouth from your person.  Reptiles tend to have very small brains compared to their weight and strength.  For example, an alligator has a brain that weighs 8.4 grams, where even a squirrel’s brain weighs 7.6 grams.  I find it terrifying that these animals can be so large and massively strong and yet so stupid.  (For anyone interested a viper has a brain weight of 0.1 grams)  I bring up the issue of brain weight because many scientists believe that the brain-to-body mass ratio will give you a rough estimate of intelligence.

So now, I am happy to watch these animals but much prefer a barrier between us.  Working with them, I think, has offered me an insight that I can’t quite explain.  I seem to observe them on a different level.  Maybe one day I will understand it and be able to articulate it better.

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