Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

Learning from snakes

Marty’s photo of the day #3184: This is Eve, my nineteen-year-old rainbow boa. I thought of her last night when I watched a BBC show about polar bears that have developed an unusual way to hunt beluga whales (they perch on big rocks at low tide and then wait for the whales to swim by at high tide). Why would polar bears make me think about my snake? Because animals of all types often surprise humans by doing what we didn’t think they could do. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from my three rainbow boas over the years:

1) Most natural history books say rainbow boas max-out at six feet in length. Eve is now seven-feet-long and Adam is about six inches shorter than she is.

2) Rainbow boas breed more easily in captivity than I was led to believe. Adam and Eve initially lived together in a large vivarium. Who knew they would have a sex party every chance they got? After multiple litters, resulting in over 100 babies, I had to separate the lovebirds into private snake-condos.

3) I sold all of the babies but one. The snake I kept, affectionately called “Little Snake,” is now eight-years-old. Despite his large parents, Little Snake is about four-and-a-half-feet long. We kept him because he was the runt of the litter. Who knew that snakes had runts? Or as I like to say, “In the wild, Little Snake would have served as predator food while the others got away.”

4) Years ago Marilyn vos Savant (the person with the world’s highest IQ) wrote in her column that “snakes can’t go backward.” She was wrong! My snakes go backward all the time, and I even filmed it. I wrote Marilyn to inform her of her error, but she never published a correction.

5) Snakes that give live birth (as rainbow boas do) aren’t supposed to do anything to help their babies once they are born. Eve proved that wrong. When boas are born live, they are still inside a thin sack that they have to break out of. Some babies, however, are unable to break out. I have watched and filmed Eve actively helping her babies escape by breaking open the sack with her snout.

6) Under ideal conditions, rainbow boas are supposed to live to be thirty-years-old. Time will tell whether mine adhere to that estimate, but Eve, being an old snake, has gone blind. Or at least I thought so. Her eyes have lost all their shine and are thickly clouded over. She does just fine without sight, and this morning, before I took this picture, she went into “anaconda mode” (sinking under the water) when I approached her glassed-in vivarium with my camera. Obviously, she can either see better than I thought or was able to sense my footsteps on the thick carpet. Hmm. . . . More learning is ahead!

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