Habitats in my Habitat

I’ve had some cool pets over the years. Not mine to start with but I often ended up with them for a while. I’ve been the co-human and temporary-human for snakes, spiders and a green iguana.

One of them is more than twenty years old now, a ball python was who only recently “sexed” and re-named Samira. Until last winter she was known to all and sundry as Mr. Slithers.

A ball Python — not Samira. She’s much larger

I had the pleasure of snake-sitting Samira for a while my friend returned to Europe for a long visit with his family. This meant I had to procure live meals for her. My little pit bull LOVED that show. When I came in the door with the rat, Persie could smell it. She would start jumping up with joy. (Terriers are terriers.) I would say, “You want to watch TV, Persie?” and she’d dance all around me. We’d go into the room where Samira (then Mr. Slithers) was living and I would drop the rat into the tank. Persie would sit, eyes rapt on Samira just like a kid from the 1950s watching Saturday morning cartoons. If Samira was hungry (and that was usually the case) she would employ her hunting stragedy. I know what Persie wanted was the rat, but, as long as she could watch the show, Persie honestly seemed happy to let Samira have it. Of course, if Samira didn’t want it (this happened maybe once) Persie got to hunt it in the backyard.

Besides Samira, in this menagerie were the green iguana (Wilma), the Nelson’s milk snake, Sydney, Ananda, the red-tail boa and the ill-fated rosy tarantula, Kinky Boots. There were more. There was a tarantula named, uh, Martha, and a nasty poisonous spider whose name I have forgotten but whose little tank I managed to clean.

Ananda — the snake around my neck in the featured photo — was a baby red-tail boa. These guys grow to be immense as you see below.

Alice Cooper and his Boa

But while Ananda lived with me he was a little guy and very “affectionate.”

If you’re going to have a snake, it’s important to handle them often so they are used to people otherwise, well, you might be using your imagination a lot reading this post anyway. Ananda hung out with/on me whenever I was home. He liked to make a hammock of my t-shirt, going in the left sleeve, across the back, and resting his head in the right sleeve. He was so tame that one day as I was grading papers, he decided to shed. To shed, a snake needs a certain texture that’s rough and resistant but not too rough (a nice rock, a log). He bumps his nose against the resistant surface then drags himself across the rough surface to take off the old skin, sort of like taking off panty-hose. I was sitting there, expressing dismay over comma splices and employing my red pen as needed. I felt Ananda on my head. It was a hot summer day and my hair was up in a twist, held by a barrette. Suddenly, there was a hard pull on my hair. OW!! I wondered what was going on up there. I got up, went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and saw Ananda was shedding. I know it sounds gross (and was in a way), but from a snake’s point of view it was kind of an honor to me. Snakes seek privacy and safety when they shed. It’s the time they are most vulnerable to predation. That Ananda felt safe shedding on his human was a huge compliment.

If you have animals like these in your life you have to adapt your own habitat to theirs, but you also have to make a good habitat for them.

We adopted Wilma, the green iguana, from a neighbor whose kids had HAD to have her and then didn’t care for her. She was pretty young, but not a baby. She had a giant tank with large branches to climb on. I found a towel made a good “substrate” because the texture was perfect for her, and it was easy for me to clean. True, it didn’t look like the forest or something and wasn’t all that scenic, but Wilma was happy. What she liked MOST was going outside with me. She loved — and needed — real sunshine and fresh air. I planted a hedge of red hibiscus for her because hibiscus flowers are one of the favorite foods of these animals. Feeding them can be the biggest challenge.

Wilma looked like this. ❤

They grow quite large, and anticipating that, my friend found her a home with someone who was able to give her a much better habitat than I/we ever would as she grew.

Sydney was a sweet young milk snake who really LOVED me. I won’t go into the details, but there was NOTHING he loved more than a nice warm bath/swim being dried by a towel. Milk snakes are a variety of king snakes. Sydney, and many other king snakes have the coloring of a coral snake, red, yellow and black, but the bands are in a different order and they are not venomous.

Nelson’s Milk snake like Sydney

One of the great benefits of having gotten to know Sydney was improved snake identification in the “wild.” Knowing all these creatures taught me a lot about the beings I was surrounded by on my hikes but seldom saw. I saw a lot of snakes on my rambles — most often rattlesnakes — but sometimes king snakes and rosy boas. One day I was hiking in the Laguna Mountains and had the privilege of seeing this beautiful, rare, very shy little guy:

San Diego Mountain Kingsnake (Laguna Mountain Kingsnake


I don’t know if we should make pets out of these wonderful animals, but since we do, the best we can do is make sure they have a good life. I do know that my life would have been less without having had the chance to live with them.

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14 thoughts on “Habitats in my Habitat

  1. I think snakes are very cool, but Kevin… well, let’s just say once we were loading up bricks from an old chimney when he screamed and jumped about 10 feet away. I looked down and saw the smallest snake I have ever seen slithering away. I laughed and laughed!

    • There’s a tiny little snake that lives in CA, hardly as big around as a good-sized earthworm. I had a couple guys building a fence in my back yard. They happened on one, freaked out and killed it with a shovel. I was really angry because the snake was beautiful and very benign. Some of his diet included black widows. California ring-necked snake.

  2. As a Vet Tech I’ve owned lots of animals and taken care of more than my share… I was always an animal lover . Had gerbils, cats, an alligator, a couple robins and a cecropia moth (which lived for a couple weeks and laid over 100 eggs which hatched and I raised the caterpillars) as a kid/teen. As an adult I’ve had 2 rats, 3 cats and 2 dogs… All my pets were long lived (except the rats who only made it 2 yrs but that is old for rats). Currently we are pet-less but Sparky is pushing for another dog. I’ve pet sit for a boa (Sly) who ate large (300g+) rats once a week. He was enormous and fairly friendly unless hungry. Then he’d strike at nearly anything… I think my favorite has been Gray’s tree frogs. Very cute but escape artists every one! Lucky that I’m faster than they are. The only thing I want NO part of is spiders of any type. You can keep Kinky Boots!

  3. WOW JUST wow! I’m not a snake person…and I have to applaud your fearlessness at having a snake around your neck. Holy cow! You’ve led an interesting life, for sure!

  4. What a privilege that must have been to hang out with those reptiles, Martha. I think I might have been a bit squeamish about the rat feeding ritual. A snake’s gotta eat I guess. Also, how fabulous to have to snake shed on you! Not gross at all (unlike the rat business). 🙂

  5. Interesting pets, but I really don’t like snakes! My first husband and I had a small alligator for a while. No matter what I did, its home stayed rather stinky. We had to give “Bogie” away because our first child was ready to be born and needed a stink-free environment! Luckily, we found someone who was interested in having him for a pet.

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