Never Put a Dead Baby Snake in Your Backpack

Print Friendly

“Werd,” Says Your Editor. (Adding to the list of “Never…” articles, including “Never Give A Gun to Ducks,” “Never Speak in Absolutes,” and, of course, Get Lost Magazine’s own “Never Fuck with a Weasel.”)

It seemed like a great idea at the time, of course. Isn’t that the first thing anyone in their right mind thinks, upon spotting a small dead snake lying on the road: “Say…I’d like to add that skeleton to my collection! It’s likely to be a snap, given the hot, humid days and resultant high insect activity!”?

It was a rubber boa, one of two known species of boa in North America (the other being the rosy boa of extreme southern California). They are a constrictor, but because of their small size (up to 26 inches, but I found one a yard long [that’s almost a meter, y’all!] {time for my obligatory embedded parentheses} in the same general area several years ago) their usual prey are mice, and often baby mice at that.

So anyway, this particular rubber boa was lying in the middle of a road, near the Ingalls Creek trailhead, about a dozen miles outside of Leavenworth, Washington. Said critter was intact, without the usual obligatory tread marks of a road snake. It was only about nine or ten inches long, and not much bigger around than your little finger. It was, apparently (more on that later…) deceased. Not a mark on it. I picked it up and gently tossed it off the road, and resumed my walk (it was 8:30 in the morning, and I had two-and-a-half hours to cover the eight miles to the nearest bus stop, and I had to stop at at least one of the roadside fruit stands fronting the orchards along the road).

But I immediately began musing, ‘Gee… wouldn’t it be cool to have a constrictor skull in my collection! Gosh–maybe I’ll try for the whole skeleton, and see what happens…’ I quickly found myself turning back and retrieving the snake from the dry ditch where it still lay, just where I tossed it. I stuck it first inside an emptied dry food Zip-loc bag, in one of the outer pockets of my backpack. But I quickly realized I had to create a more secure place for it, as my pack would soon be tossed into the baggage compartment of a Greyhound. So I stuck the Zip-loc, padded with toilet paper, inside my coffee cup, and that, inside my cooking pot, and that inside a plastic bag, as I had pretty much carbonized the outside of the pot while boiling water in a campfire.

I promptly forgot all about the snake (other than for the occasional musing as to how best to rot out it’s little carcass: ‘Hmmm…flat can on my kitchen window ledge…’). Oh, and I eventually stuffed two or three of the season’s first peaches and the better part of a pound of Rainier cherries into my mouth with the same hands with which I handled my little buddy…

I was back in Seattle by five in the evening, and I stuck the snake-tomb assembly in the fridge until I got the rest of my unpacking taken care of.

Sometime before dark I finally got around to dealing with it. As I popped the lid and revealed the still Zip-loc-enclosed specimen, my first words were: “Dear God in Heaven,” followed immediately by, “Dumpster. Now.” The smell was so bad that words cannot begin to express it. This science project was immediately and almost without regret abandoned. Although there’s a whole lot of dumpster-diving in my neighborhood, mine seems to have developed a reputation, and doesn’t see a whole lot of action.

My biggest concern, regarding the boa, is that it wasn’t dead when I found it, but simply playing dead, as some other creatures with little or no defenses are known to do.
I read up on the rubber boa, and learned that its usual mode of ‘playing dead’ is somewhat exaggerated: it twists itself up in a knot and sticks its tongue out. They are also a very docile creature; they have been used to help people overcome their fear of snakes. They absolutely will not act aggressively towards humans. Their only response to bad handling is their exudation of “a very foul and pungent odor.” Mine was simply limp (and was still limp and motionless when I returned to it in the ditch several minutes later). Mine was dead. I hope.

Or, perhaps, the little boa came to inside the Zip-loc, realized its imminent demise, and leaked out its horror and revenge in the darkness in its final moments. I will never know. But I think I learned my lesson. But the dumpster-divers are still holding their breath

Boa Photo by William Bosworth
Photo Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.