Monday, April 28, 2008

Down on the Snake Farm, Chapter Two

(Note -if you're new to this story, you might want to read Chapter One first, located just below this blog post. If you're afraid of snakes, please don't read this at all, unless you enjoy being frightened out of your mind.)

My brother loaded the containers into the car and I drove them down the road to the Montfort Reptile Institute. When I took a turn a bit too quickly, the containers rolled about on the passenger side floor, their contents hissing and wiggling. If a lid came undone, I was completely prepared to leap from the moving vehicle. Nothing in the world could get me to even touch the containers, for fear of feeling the skritchy movements of the varmints inside. When I reached the Institute, I rang the doorbell and told Mr. Montfort that I had some snakes for him.

Mr. Montfort was thrilled. "What cute babies!" he exclaimed, as if they were kittens. He pulled a couple of the hissing, coiling vipers from a container and let them wrap around his fingers. Their heads were triangular shaped, like pit vipers, with nasty little turned-up noses like my friend Allison. They were speckled like rattlesnakes but arched up and flattened like cobras about to strike.

Feeling lightheaded, I backed my way toward the car, muttering something about being glad to return his poisonous snakes to him. “Oh, no, these aren’t mine,” he said. “Nor are they poisonous. They’re Hognose snakes - they act poisonous but really aren’t. They fake it to survive.”

He kissed one on the back of its hissing, flattened, speckled-leather head. “They’re the clowns of the snake kingdom!” I was never a fan of clowns, especially when my sense of humor was tucked up neatly under my bladder for safety.

Mr. Montfort was so delighted with them that he insisted on giving me a behind-the-scenes tour of his snake farm. I recall attempting to say "No, thank you," but his offer knocked the wind out of me and the words stuck in my throat. Mr. Montfort was already starting the tour, and I was raised to be polite, so....

"Have you ever met a caiman?" he beamed, waving me through the door. A caiman is a slightly smaller, slightly more unattractive version of an alligator. Gators and crocs get all the good press and choice leading roles. As a result, caimans resent this, working harder to be feared like their bigger, prettier relatives.

Mr. Montfort hopped into the cage to wake up the caiman and put on a show for me. The caiman didn’t care much for this, spinning around and hissing at him. I agreed with the caiman. No introductions were really necessary here.

The issue with getting a behind-the-scenes tour is that it is usually just that -behind-the-scenes. In this case that was a bad thing. Much like a mullet, this place was business in the front, party in the back. Regrettably, not my kind of party. Many of the safety features designed to protect everyday visitors to the institute were on the front sides of the cages and displays. Backstage, not so much. One wrong step and you could end up with a rather grumpy reticulated python as a roommate.

Our crazy neighborhood herpetologist continued, proudly showing off his collection of lizards, snakes, and things most sane people avoid at all costs. He had all kinds of snakes, many I’d never even heard of, many I’d meet again in my nightmares, but his pride and joy, our final stop on this wonderful up-close-and-personal tour, was his King Cobra. "This is what your hognose wants to be." The viper stared motionless at us through the glass. "But your hognose is quite a bit slower than this fella."

What a surprise - Mr. Montfort was going to demonstrate to me how fast his cobra could strike. “See this stick?” he put a long stick in front of me. “No marks on it, anywhere, right?” He opened the rear of the snake’s case with the stick. I heard a thwack but didn't see the cobra move.

“Now look,” he said, putting the stick quite close under my nose. There was a nasty, new gash in the stick along with a small blob of what I believe was, depending on your point of view, either snake spit or deadly cobra venom. “Pretty wild, huh?”

I steadied myself against what I thought was a shoe box, stacked on a shelf about head high. I felt something rustle in the box. "DANGER - TIMBER RATTLER" said the label. If I fainted I’d fall and knock open that box, or maybe a different box with a different slithering, killing machine, or maybe multiple boxes of slithering death, so I did everything I could to stay upright and breathing.

“I feel bad taking all of these. Are you sure you don’t want to take a few home with you as pets? They’re not as common as they used to be around here and they’re excellent mousers.”

I shook my head no. I meant to say something but my lips had dried to my gums and my tongue was hiding behind my tonsils so nothing came out.

“Hmmmm… You gave me eight babies. Hognose lay eggs in groups of 10 to 15, so there are probably a few more out there. You might want to look around. They usually don’t stray too far. You might get lucky and find the rest of them.”

“Urrrgh,” I replied.

“Then there’s Momma Hognose. She’ll be laying more eggs soon enough. They’re territorial, you know.”

I, on the other hand, was no longer territorial. I was moving. At the earliest possible opportunity

P.S. - if you're insane interested in seeing how an Eastern Hognose imitates a cobra, here's an excellent video:
Photos from the top are:hognose, cobra, cobra, and hognose.


Shania said...

When mulching a flowerbed right beside my kitchen door, I found a clutch of tiny little hatchlings. Not being one to kill things, I scooped them up and took them into the woods, after I took some pictures. I showed my father-in-law the pictures later that day. He got rather pale, told me they were copperheads and grabbed a shovel to go find mama.

ScottMGS said...


Anonymous said...

You are a gifted writer, Annie.

Jug said...

Annie your stories are always amusing. Thanks for being such a good read.

Annie said...

Thanks, guys. I'm in the process of writing a book about surviving my childhood. This story will be included. Stay tuned.

shania, dear, Darwin has you on his radar. Be careful!

Red or Green? said...

Good 'ol livin' in the country! Great story.

Urit said...

This is great info to know.

Brian said...

Oh, man!

I'm a Rhinebeck local from back in the day, and went on field trips to the Montfort Reptile Institute back in the 70's. I had no idea he was still around as recently as 2008.

No wonder I'm not scared of spiders and snakes.