I Caught Him at a Bad Time

(Written May 20)

Biology has got to be the most imprecise science.  There are simply too many factors. There is no way to predict, with 100% accuracy, what an outcome will be.  Especially when it comes to animal behavior.

Case in point:  remember that boa constrictor a few weeks ago?  The one we found one morning that let us pick it up and handle without fuss?  Well, that same snake showed up again.  This time, it was the afternoon, the sun had been out, and there was a group of capuchin monkeys nearby.  The snake was, oddly, on the beach.

We had a tour group present, a bunch of US college students.  Wanting to use the opportunity to talk about snakes, I casually reached for it, remembering its previous behavior.  The snake struck several times, lacerating my knuckles and drawing blood before I decided to pin its head with a stick and grab it by the neck.  Impressed, shocked, and horrified at the same time—not to mention most likely questioning my sanity—the students then crowded around to take pictures of a boa held in a bloody fist while I tried to play it all off casually.

That was dumb.  It was dumb, unprofessional, and set a bad example.  One peaceful experience with an animal is never an excuse to let your guard down.  Get an idea of how an animal is likely to react at that moment before handling it, and always prepare for the worst.  What may have happened is that snake, already active in the hot sun, had been harassed by the monkeys and driven to the beach.  Boas are potential monkey predators, and the troop will screech and throw things if they see the snake to drive it away.  So it was energized, and possibly angry.

I got off with a few scars after I picked the broken teeth out of my skin.  Boas have septically filthy mouths, but I washed off and disinfected with no problems.  Going straight for the neck barehanded was a rookie mistake.  A herpetologist like that won’t last long.

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