The School Snake

Her name was Kali.  She joined my second grade classroom when she was only about as long as my forearm, a gift from a student.  His father raised Colombian rosy boas in their basement.  The dad must have done it well, since a full-grown pair had been happy enough to mate and start a family.

Unlike some, I don’t have problems with (non-venomous) snakes.  I’ve always enjoyed the feel of them.  Their bodies are so smooth and cool.  The patterns on snake’s skins are often beautiful. I like the pressure of the constrictor’s body as it glides along my arm.  So I was delighted to have Kali.

Kali ate mice.  Live mice.  In order to feed her, I kept a cage of mice in the classroom.  Be assured, I never dropped a mouse in her tank when the students were in school.  Even so, it was with a combination of horror and fascination that I watched Kali zero in on her meal, snatch it, and squeeze. Then began the slow process of swallowing the mouse headfirst. 

All of us in my class enjoyed the snake.  Those at home–not so much.  My family tolerated Kali when I had to bring her home during vacations.  The mouse cage stayed in the downstairs half-bath, on top of the toilet tank.  They smelled. 

Once, when I had stayed home sick, my substitute teacher, Mrs. D., called me.  Mrs. D. was one of the most competent substitutes in the district.  She was tough, and no student behavior was known to faze her.  However, the day she called, Mrs. D. was freaking out—and not because of the snake. The mother mouse had eaten her babies.   I was stuck at home with a cold–there wasn’t much I could do.  Either the mother mouse had felt her family was threatened, or the babies weren’t healthy.  Poor Mrs. D.! I imagine she thought twice about accepting a sub day in my classroom after that.

Kali got one mouse a week.  And Kali grew.  She’d reached about three feet in length when our relationship came to an abrupt end.  One morning before the kids arrived, I fed her a mouse.  Then I refreshed the water in her dish.  As I returned the dish to her tank, Kali struck at my hand.  Rosy boas don’t have fangs, but they do have rows of needle-sharp backward-pointing teeth.  Both snake and I recoiled with surprise. 

When I spoke about this with a knowledgeable snake person, I learned that Kali was now a two-mouse snake.  I had been feeding her too often. She was bigger and hungrier.  My hand must have smelled like the mouse I had held, so she went after it.  The bite wasn’t big or serious, but I had to reconsider:  How important was it to have a rather large snake in the classroom? It was time to part ways.

Kali’s robust health and size brought a good price when I traded her in at the pet shop.  In her place, I got some fish, colorful gravel, and a filter for the tank.  The fish were soothing to watch.  The gurgle of the filter was also a pleasant noise.  Best of all, I didn’t need to keep a cage of smelly mice.

That was my last pet snake.

Here’s an interesting article about why animals sometimes kill their babies.