Monday, November 11, 2013

Lucy Grace

Lucy Grace is a Reticulated Python (aka retic).  She was named by my cousin who happens to be named Mary Grace Long and we have always called her by her first and middle names - Mary Grace.  I instantly loved the name Lucy Grace so it stuck with this particular retic.  Here is Lucy Grace living up to her name as she gracefully slides past the camera:

Reticulated Pythons are the longest snakes in the world growing to more than 20' long.  What?  Wait - are you sure that is correct - only 20' long?  I can hear you saying "No way!  Everyone knows that pythons can grow to 40' long and are man-killers".  Well only part of that may be right and the experts still disagree on a python's ability to eat a full grown human.  As we all know (especially if you know me personally), the rumors and exaggerations about snakes even extend to the world's longest snake.  Hell - the rumors probably started with the world's longest snake.  Time to dispel some myths about Reticulated Pythons and especially Lucy Grace.

First the facts about Reticulated Pythons:
  • Longest length ever scientifically measured was 22'8" long (wild retic from Indonesia measured under anesthesia)
    • More than 1000 wild snakes have been officially measured so this is probably a good estimate of the longest snake ever.
    • Humans have long exaggerated lengths to almost 30' long with the best example coming from the Highland Park Zoo.  Colossus (male retic) was said to be over 29' long but when scientifically measured after his death it turned out he was only 20'10" long.  This is an overestimation of almost 30%.  I guess I can now claim to be 8' tall.
    • There is a $50,000 dollar reward for any snake found longer than 30' long.  This reward has not been claimed in the roughly 30 years it has been offered.
  • Human eating - there is some evidence that Reticulated Pythons may actually be a snake that considers humans prey items.  
    • Humans in southeast Asia and the islands of Indonesia are smaller on average than humans in other parts of the world.
    • Reticulated Pythons are primarily mammal eaters including primates.
    • There are reports of Reticulated Pythons consuming humans throughout their range.
    • Experts still disagree as to whether retics seek out humans as prey
    • Hmmmmmm - makes you wonder.

Now on to Lucy Grace.  Lucy Grace is a very young Reticulated Python - I am guessing about 18 months old. Lucy came to me as an adoption from a local pet store.  They called me and asked if I wanted to adopt a 9' long retic that was extremely aggressive.  Now if you know me, you probably have heard my lecture that snakes are NOT aggressive towards humans.  They just aren't - yes, they can be defensive and some snakes can be very scary but they just are not aggressive.  The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines aggression as:
  • a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.
Really? - a snake can be aggressive - I don't think so.  So I agreed to "rescue" the "aggressive" retic in hopes that I could rehabilitate it for use in the Center for Snake Conservation's educational programs.  I headed to the pet store about a week later to pick her up.  When I got there, the pet store employee started explaining to me that he had lots of experience with retics and this one scared him. He said she was close to 10 feet long and was extremely aggressive.  We found a box and the employee put on a thick leather glove to get the retic out of her cage.  I watch him nervously pull her out of the cage and she was acting fine - no defensive behavior at all.  I took her cautiously because the pet store employee said she would strike at anything that moved.  I held her for five minutes keeping her away from my face.  I do not mind a snake bite but prefer not to be bitten in the face.  We boxed her up and I took her home.

When I got home, I got Lucy out of her box to take some photos and test her temperament.  She was great - absolutely no defensive behavior but I was still leary.  I was told by someone who said he had experience with retics that she would bite unprovoked.  After holding her and taking a few photos, I put her back into her box with no incident.  Here are two photos from that first photo shoot:
Introducing Lucy Grace
Trusting Lucy Grace completely
So where is the "aggressive snake" I was told about?  I also did not believe that Lucy Grace was over 9' long so we had to measure her.  Now measuring any snake can be difficult but a snake as long and strong as Lucy Grace was quite a challenge.  The video below documents my efforts to get a measurement as accurate as possible of Lucy.  Guess what, she ended up being only 7'2" long - nowhere close to 9' long.  Now this is not a scientific measurement by any means.  Those can only be conducted on a snake under anesthesia or a dead snake.


So if you watched the video above you can see that I can handle Lucy Grace without any problems and no defensive behavior from her even with dogs and a little human running around.  Was she ready for an educational program?  I needed to test her with kids before I could be sure so I let my youngest son have a go at her to see how she would react.  He is not afraid of a snake bite but I was close at hand to watch for any defensive behavior so I can step in quickly if needed.  No rescue needed because Lucy Grace was an absolute sweetheart.
Happy boy, happy snake, and a big dog
Happy snake and boy
So - Lucy Grace was ready for her first educational program.  I chose to take her to a Halloween event on the Colorado State University campus where we were dispelling common snake myths as part of the festivities.  This was a perfect event for the world's longest snake as human attacking and eating myths are all over the internet these days.  Lucy Grace spent the majority of time climbing on someone's shoulders as we talked about retics in their natural ecosystems, their diet that included primates, and the potential snake - human predatory relationship in the wild.  We could also tell our audience that no other species of snake was known to actively seek out humans as prey.  Perfect night with a perfect snake.
Lucy Grace with CSC Board Member Bob Reed
Lucy Grace with CSC volunteer Maia Holmes

Just as with any other adopted animal, Lucy Grace is evidence that these animals may understand that they are going to a better home.  I am not sure if Lucy Grace was ever defensive but the pet store employee was certainly afraid of her.  We have found that she is a wonderful snake and look forward to her growing to 20' long and being a huge part of our educational programs for the next 30-40 years.

Lucy Grace with Pequeno, an Anaconda which is the world's heaviest snake

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