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The Case of the Escaped Corn-Snake: A Case Study

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 31 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
Snake Escape Corn Snake Cobra Boa

The Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) has long been a popular pet with reptile keepers. Its characteristically docile nature, uncomplicated demands and relatively modest size make this native of the southern states of the USA an ideal candidate – and it seems to respond well to captivity, with a life expectancy of twice or three times as long as it typically enjoys in the wild. Like many species of snakes, however, there are some individuals who seem to be natural born escape artists and one four-year old female Corn Snake in particular, named Onyx, seems intent on making a habit of it.

A Year of Freedom

At a mere 18 months of age, she was found slithering her way along a street in Rosyth, Scotland, which led to her being adopted by her current owner, Billy McAndrew. Fast-forward a year and a half, and Onyx was at it again, slipping out of her vivarium in late 2009 to face one of the coldest winters in British history – leaving Billy to hunt high and low for her, before reluctantly giving up all hope of ever seeing her again.

They say that cats have nine lives; if so, then some Corn Snakes can’t be very far behind them. More than a year later, after somehow surviving the worst weeks of heavy snow and freezing night time temperatures that the Scottish weather can provide, Onyx turned up, just a few streets away. Fit and well, only her thin body gave any hint of her unofficial year of freedom, spent fending for herself.

Instantly able to identify her from her skin chequering and a distinctive horse-shoe marking on her head, snake and owner were re-united in double quick time – with Billy vowing to fit some heavy duty padlocks to her tank to prevent any possible third escape bid in the future.

Other Escapes

Unlike Onyx’s tale, not every escape story has a happy ending, and some snakes pay a high price for indulging their propensity to wander – as what happened to one German cobra shows. Escaping from its 19-year old owner’s flat in Muehlheim, the snake eluded detection for the best part of a month, despite the attic apartment being stripped to the masonry and attempts made to tempt it out with food.

With these efforts failing to find the small but deadly reptile, the decision was ultimately taken to evacuate and then seal the building to preserve public safety. When officials returned some weeks later, they found the unfortunate snake dried up and dead, stuck fast to a sticky tape trap. While the snake, sadly, paid with its life, there was a price of a different kind to be paid by the owner, who reportedly faced a 100,000 euro (£86,000) bill for all the damage and disruption.

Snake on a Train

Fortunately, sometimes the only price is a financial one, as Melissa Moorhouse from Massachusetts found out. Having decided to take her three-foot long boa constrictor, Penelope, along for a ride on the Boston Red Line subway in January 2011, somehow her attention seems to have wandered just long enough for her pet to detach itself from her neck and make its escape.

Like the much smaller German cobra before it, this constrictor managed to avoid being seen for nearly a month before a commuter spotted her, and Penelope was at last recaptured. Also like the cobra, the snake’s impromptu adventure left its owner facing a bill – though at $650 (around £400) it was, fortunately, a rather smaller one.

It’s not just the amateurs who get caught out by snakes’ natural talent for escapology; even seasoned experts are not immune. In 2009, for instance – the same year that Onyx made her great escape – in a real life case of ‘snakes on a plane’, a Qantas flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne was grounded after four baby Stimson’s pythons (Antaresia stimsoni) disappeared on-board. They were being transported in the airliner’s hold at the time, in a purpose made box and to this day, no one appears to know just exactly how they escaped – or what became of them.

If you have anything to do with snakes, the chances that sooner or later you’ll have your own brush with a reptile who thinks it’s Houdini would appear to be pretty high; it just seems to go with the territory!

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