Plenty of people were mystified by the appearance of a python on board the Water Wheel that sits at the base of the Jones Falls and collects debris. A day later, City Paper learned a dozen people had come forward to claim the snake is their pet.
In the hopes of finding out more about the snake, we asked some questions of Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium. As you may recall, Cover was called in by the Waterfront Partnership to help uncoil the snake and take it in. Here are his responses.
Are Ball pythons good swimmers?
I would rate Ball pythons as adequate swimmers. All snakes can swim and some species like our native northern water snake (seen on occasion in our urban Inner Harbor waters) are semi-aquatic and excellent swimmers. Ball pythons are native to the equatorial region of west and central Africa. Their native habitat is open woodlands and grasslands and are somewhat dry. However they do encounter flash floods during the rainy season and must have the ability to swim across rivers and creeks in their natural habitat.
How did this non-native snake end up on Mr. Trash Wheel at the base of the Jones Falls?
It is highly likely that this non-native ball python is an escaped pet or perhaps it was deliberately released by a pet owner who no longer wanted it. We can speculate that the snake washed down the Jones Falls when it attempted to cross or that perhaps it had taken refuge in a hollow log or other debris that washed down the Jones Falls. The trash interceptor, Mr. Trash Wheel, is a very effective device that collects much of the debris coming down the JF prior to entering the harbor waters. In this case it collected an escaped pet snake.
What would have happened to this tropical snake had it not been found?
Non-venomous ball pythons are a very popular pet snake species due to relatively small adult size ( 3-4' maximum length), docile nature, and beautiful color patterns. They are commonly sold in area pet shops. This tropical species, found in equatorial Africa, is not adapted to survive in cold climates. Had it not been found, it would not have survived outside in our latitude's freezing winter weather.
Boy or girl?
Ball pythons can be difficult to sex. Looking at its tail thickness and small spur size (yes, pythons and boas have spurs) it is most likely a female. No name was given to the snake.
Advice to urban dwellers who have pet snakes?
For some urban dwellers, snakes make ideal pets. Many snake species require a small amount of space, do not have to be taken on walks, are completely quiet, and are easy to care for. They eat every one-three weeks, so as long as they have proper housing, temperatures, and clean water to drink, an owner can go away for 2-3 weeks and their snake will be fine. However, snakes are often called "Houdinis" due to their ability to escape from a non-secure or improper cage. Leave a lid unlatched or partially open and they will escape. It is important to have proper caging and to have secondary confinement. Make sure the room where the snake is maintained is escape proof. This may mean door sweeps under the door (kept closed) and room vents that are screened to keep the snake in the room if it ever gets out of its cage. When you take on any pet you are responsible for its health and well-being.