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Jailbreak Snake

Posted: July 22, 2013, 2:00 p.m. EDT


By Elizabeth Creith

I used to have a beautiful ball python, back in the days when the only ones you could get were wild-caught. The first day I took him home, he escaped from his terrarium three times. Of course I named him "Houdini”. Apparently that's the most popular name for ball pythons, because they are escape artists par excellence. We don’t have pythons in the store – they’re against the city bylaws – but we found out that other snakes can be just as dedicated at getting out and disappearing from view.

Corn Snake
When you can't find your lost pet snake in the warm spots of your house, try the cold spots. iStock/Thinkstock

A young woman came in last week to buy a corn snake because her own had disappeared. She'd just moved to a new place, and the snake had managed to wiggle out of its moving box.

"I've looked everywhere, just everywhere!” she said, almost in tears. "Behind the fridge, under the heater, all the warm spots in the house.”

"Did you try the cold spots?” I asked. She looked at me as though I'd just grown a second head and, paradoxically become dumber.

"No,” she said patiently, "Snakes like it warm.” The look on her face said I'm going to take advice from this woman? What is she thinking?

"Yes,” I said, "but if they get to a cool spot, they tend to slow down and stay there. I always found my ball python in the closet, next to the outside wall, in the coldest corner.”

"Oh!” I could see she'd just figured out exactly where her pet was, and indeed she came back the next day to tell me that her snake had been – no, really? – in the outside corner of the hall closet. Suddenly I was smart again. It was a great relief.

We've lost snakes in the pet store now and again, too. Mostly they turn out to have climbed up the glass side of the terrarium and wedged themselves in under the edge of the screen lid. But one fine Monday morning a banded California Kingsnake simply – vanished. The terrarium lid was clipped on, the doors closed, latched and locked.

David and Victoria looked up along the top edge of the terrarium and under the water bowl, and even sifted through the mulch bedding with their hands. Nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. The snake was gone – poof! – vanished. It had crawled into a hole and pulled the hole in after it. Of course, as advanced Murphology decrees, it was one we'd sold, and which was due to be picked up at the end of the week.

"Well, at least we can be sure Garm didn't eat it,” David said. Garm had eaten a bunny once, but he's not a fan of snakes. For the next two days, snake-hunting was the store hobby. If you didn't have anything particular to do, look for the snake, was the rule. I even checked inside the fridge. Twice. In retrospect, I think I was being a bit obsessive.

Forty-eight hours later, there it was, back in the terrarium, which was still closed, latched, locked and clipped.

Where had it gone? Nobody knows. I would like to be able to report that when it returned, it brought ballpoint pens, car keys and odd socks with it. I mean, it obviously disappeared somewhere, and the black hole that swallows socks and keys and pens seems the obvious choice. Alas, no pens. No socks. No keys.
 
But the snake came back, and that’s the main thing.
 
Its new owner picked it up the same day. We didn't say anything about its little trans-dimensional jaunt.

I rather wonder if he's named it Houdini.



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