The other day I was engaged in a discussion of “venomous” and “poisonous” on my word-nerd forum when one of the members posted this:
“Have I ever told you the story, related to me as true (!) of the young woman whose pet boa refused to eat and joined her in bed?”
“Oh, no!” I thought. “Please don’t let it be that ‘it was measuring her’ story again!”
Alas, it was. I first heard this one a couple of years ago, and the person who asked me about it credited the speculation to a veterinarian. Really? Even a non-exotics vet should be smarter than that about animals.
Whoever started this, I’d like to smack them up the back of the head. There are so many reasons this story doesn’t work!
First, reptiles have a really basic little brain. It handles the four Fs – fight, flight, feeding and mating. It doesn’t handle planning ahead. A snake isn’t going to think about eating unless its hungry; it’s certainly not planning meals for when it’s much bigger!
Second, whatever the uninitiated think of snakes, they are not all stomach. Part of that length – the part behind the cloaca (an all-purpose opening for breeding and defecation) – is tail. Part of it, the slender bit behind the head, is neck. The part that holds the innards is probably half to three-quarters of the snake’s length, tops, and I’ll bet not more than half of that is available for the stomach to expand into. That’s one reason a six-foot-long snake couldn’t eat a six-foot-tall person.
Third, snakes can generally manage prey that is twice their diameter. Most of the snakes in the pet trade are between one and four inches in diameter, and that four inches is on the generous side. That means that anything the snake wants to eat had better be no larger than two to eight inches in diameter, tops. Most people are bigger than that, even if only across the shoulders and hips. That’s the other reason a six-foot-long snake couldn’t eat a six-foot-tall person.
I’ve seen snakes die from attempting prey that was too large for them. They can rupture their oesophagus or their stomach. Again, most animals will not attempt something that’s too large for them. Yes, something like an anaconda could eat a human being, but anacondas aren’t available in the pet trade. Burmese pythons get pretty big, too. All the same, the largest prey animal I’ve ever heard of in the pet trade is rabbit.
The other thing that annoys me about this mythical young woman is that she lets her snake run loose in the house. That’s very dangerous for the snake, and not responsible pet-keeping behaviour. Snake-keepers don’t need her type out there, even if it’s only in an urban myth.