The Snake Keeper Chronicles

Given that ophidiophobia is the most commonly reported phobia in the United States, it’s unlikely that you’ve ever looked into the husbandry practices necessary to care for python regius, known by its more common names the royal python and the ball python. If you had, you would come across various warnings and reports that these snakes are “picky eaters” who are known for “refusing to eat for weeks at a time for seemingly no reason.” It’s generally considered not worth getting worked up about unless your python regius is going on six months without eating. That is a long time!

My ball python, Morrigan, is the second snake I’ve ever owned. My first snake was (and still is!) a corn snake named Maize. I named him thusly because I was about eleven years old when I acquired him and when you’re eleven years old you think that naming a corn snake Maize is the height of sophistication and wit. You may also be doing the mental arithmetic regarding how old I was when I acquired Maize and how old I am now. That is correct: Maize the corn snake is fifteen years old. It is entirely possible that he will live for another five more years: the given age range is fifteen to twenty years.

Sufficient to say, snakes live for a very, very long time. This is why there are only two kinds of snake owners: those who will only ever have one or two snakes in their entire life and those who end up owning about a thousand snakes and have a dedicated “snake room” filled with their pets.

While corn snakes live up to twenty years, ball pythons are supposed to live for about twenty years but have sometimes lived as long as forty years! I could very well be taking care of the snake pet until I am sixty. The mind boggles!

Corn snakes have a reputation for being easy to care for and this is accurate. Feeding Maize takes very little effort. Thaw the mouse, give the thawed mouse to the snake. He eats it. Repeat weekly. It doesn’t matter to a corn snake if the mouse is cold. It’s a goddamn mouse and he’s a goddamn snake and he knows how to conduct this business.

Morrigan, though.

Unlike a corn snake, a ball python cares very deeply how warm the mouse is. In fact, if the mouse is not the precise level of warm, she will ignore it. If it’s too warm, she will ignore it. If it’s the wrong time of the day, she’ll ignore it. If she just doesn’t feel like it, she’ll ignore it. If I did my laundry in the next room four hours earlier, she’ll ignore it. You get the idea.

Feeding a ball python is a careful process that requires patience. However, the feeling that you get when she does eat is very, very rewarding. Today, I tried a new method of thawing her mouse slowly in cool water first and then running it under hot water from the tap. This was a little more hydro-intensive than I would like but it did the trick perfectly. Not only did she eat, she snapped at the mouse almost as soon as I gave it to her. This is a far cry from the bored way she tends to poke at the mouse for up to an hour before eating it. I don’t even mind the fact that she almost got one of my fingers, even though I was being very careful to avoid that exact event.

If I had to sum it all up, I would describe my experience thus: the frustration of feeding a picky ball python is surpassed only by the relief and happiness when she finally does eat.

4 thoughts on “The Snake Keeper Chronicles”

  1. Now I’m wondering about the relative ratio of ophidiophobes and arachnophobes.

    Also, getting to hear about the details of feeding different species of snakes makes me happy. As does knowing the word “ophidiophobe,” actually. :-))

  2. The site I saw the statistic said about a third of adults (both men and women) are afraid of snakes to such an extent that they would be considered ophidiophobic. Arachnophobia is more lopsided: about half of adult women are arachnophobic but only about 1 in 10 men are, which brings arachnophobia down to number two.

    For the record, I’m a bit arachnophobic.

    I’m glad you enjoyed my snake care story! I’m sure I’ll have more to write about as I learn more about how different ball pythons are from corn snakes.

    1. The genderedness of arachnophobia has had me wondering for a while whether there’s something different about how that phobia is acquired than how others are.

      It also, unrelatededly, has me speaking up in defense of spider loving girls (being one myself) whenever someone refers to spiders as a boy thing, even while acknnowledging that phobias are phobias–knowing heights won’t kill me (probably) doesn’t make me less scared of them, either.

      1. I think that makes a very strong argument that phobias are learned behavior and not innate to gender. I’m certain that my fear of spiders comes from the fact that my mother is afraid of spiders and passed that on to me. In the same vein, my lack of fear of snakes comes from her, too (she had a pet boa constrictor when she was younger).

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