Unpleasant surprises

The female Baird’s rat snake, about which much concern and a trip to the vet this week, has died. This we did not expect; in fact, we thought she’d be on the upswing soon.

Also, one of the baby corn snakes we put into hibernation has died — the kinked anerythristic one that never once ate in its five months of existence. We thought that hibernation would reset its internal clock and make it want to eat in the spring, but it was apparently too far gone. The other one, however, is still fine, and we’ve just put the third baby into hibernation today — it’s had a few meals, mostly live, but has also stopped.

It’s never comfortable to report on snake fatalities. On the one hand, it’s an unfortunate and inevitable aspect of working with delicate animals. Sometimes, like the baby corn, which suffered from a major birth defect, they’re essentially doomed from birth. And sometimes, as in the case of the Baird’s, they’re acquired already sick and the symptoms aren’t necessarily conclusive. The Baird’s and her siblings were tiny for snakes of their age — even newborns a year younger would have been larger. Snakes are very difficult to diagnose: the breeders didn’t check for Strongyloides, and my first reaction was that the snake had been underfed rather than infested with nematodes. It can take a long time to realize that the snake needs a trip to the vet — and sometimes they die before there’s any indication that something’s wrong. I just thought we’d caught it in time this time. Damn.

On the other hand, I worry that being this open about things is setting myself up for random drive-by criticism from animal-care absolutists. I think talking about these things honestly will be useful for other people who are raising snakes, but as subcultures go, reptile keepers can be quite paranoid — sometimes with reason.