By Sean Willett, September 24, 2015 —
I own a pet snake — a ball python, to be specific. A five foot-long reptilian predator that has evolved to kill mammalian prey. An animal that would strike fear into the hearts of many people. An animal some would kill on sight. A pest.
But I love her, as much as someone might love their dog or cat. And you might be surprised to find that you can love one too.
But why would someone want a reptile in the first place? The answer is different for different people. Some people keep reptiles because they like the idea of having an exotic pet. Others keep reptiles to breed and sell them. My reason was the reason most people have pets — I wanted something to take care of.
I owned a reptile when growing up, but I was too young to properly look after her. Reptiles, like any other pet, need your time and energy. Many people buy lizards, snakes and turtles thinking they’re ‘low-maintenance’ pets. But in reality, reptiles can be some of the most demanding pets to care for. Like mammals and birds, they need owners who can ensure their living conditions are exactly tailored to the needs of their species.
This time, I did my research beforehand and settled on a ball python due to their reputation as good beginner pets. I made sure to buy an enclosure that was the right size and shape, then set up heating pads and accessories that reflected the habitat these snakes have in the wild. I also found a reliable local breeder, as I didn’t want to buy from a potentially untrustworthy pet store.
Elaine was only a couple months old when I got her. She was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, and a little on the thin side for a ball python her age. I made sure to hold her container under my coat as we drove back through the snow, hoping to keep her cold-blooded body warm until we got home. My paranoia made me check on her every few minutes, peering under my jacket to see Elaine’s dark, bright eyes and puppy-like snout peering back. I was smitten.
As someone who was used to only interacting with mammals like cats and dogs, I wasn’t expecting a snake to learn or communicate. But Elaine continues to surprise me with the level of intelligence and emotional depth she is capable of.
She can recognize me by sight, greeting me when I come home by moving out from her burrow and towards me. While I’m handling her, Elaine will always tap my nose with hers as soon as I take her out of her enclosure, and will rub her head against my hand to ask me to massage her cheeks. The fact that she even lets me touch her head means that she knows I’m friendly. It means that she trusts me.
As mammals, we tend to think that only other mammals can be complicated, emotional beings. It’s a misconception that has plagued both science and popular thought for years. Only recently, with new attitudes and research, are we beginning to understand that we are wrong.
While reptiles can be difficult and demanding pets, keeping a lizard, snake or turtle can be just as rewarding as any warm-blooded creature. Reptiles are different from us in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t share deep-rooted similarities. Many are intelligent and caring. All they ask is that you take the time to care for them back.