SAN JOSE (BCN) — A panicked San Jose couple called 911 late Thursday morning to report something they conceived to be a serious emergency: a three-foot constricting snake native to Africa nestled in some leaves at the end of their Willow Glen neighborhood driveway.
The emergency dispatcher told the couple, David and Katie Arken, to call the Santa Clara County Vector Control District, which is responsible for collecting wildlife animals often considered pests, such as raccoons, mosquitoes, and, apparently, the occasional ball python.
“They were very alarmed when they saw it,” said Dr. Noor Tietze, a supervisor for the control district.
The technician who arrived at the Arkens’ house that afternoon immediately recognized the snake: he had responded to a call of this same python escaping once before, Tietze said.
In the reptile’s previous outing from its terrarium, the pet stayed inside its owner’s home, which is next door to the Arken house, Tietze said.
The control district was called when a terrified resident – who was unaware his roommate owned a snake – found the python loose in their house, Tietze said.
The technician quickly caught the slow-moving constrictor on Thursday and returned it to the neighbor, Tietze said.
He learned that the snake had actually gone missing several days earlier and had been hiding under its owner’s deck after she took it out for an excursion in their backyard.
When the snake eventually decided to come out from under the deck, it apparently made its way over to the neighbor’s driveway, where it remained for several hours until the control district could collect it, Tietze said.
Despite the fear it caused to the roommate and the Arkens, the python’s owner will not face consequences, nor will regulations on sheltering the snake prevent any future escapades, Tietze said.
A wayward snake is the same as a dog that got out of the yard, he said, explaining that it would distress the owner as well as anyone who is afraid of the animal that got out.
Tietze said he was unsure of the snake’s age and gender, but he was confident that it was an adult based on its size. It appeared to be in good health, he said.
“Usually we’re getting things like rattle snakes and gopher snakes, sometimes garter snakes,” Tietze said. “This is kind of an unusual find.”
Calls to collect ball pythons are so uncommon that the responding technician, though familiar with the native California wild snakes Tietze listed, mistakenly told the couple the snake was a boa constrictor, Tietze said.
The innocent inaccuracy sparked an outcry from snake enthusiasts who recognized that the snake was a ball python when the wrong species label was reprinted in media reports about the snake in the driveway.
Ball pythons range from about three to five feet in length with females being larger than males. They get their name from a typical stress reaction in which they curl up in a ball with their head tucked in the middle so tightly that they can literally be rolled around.
Tietze said the main defense mechanism for snakes is to bite or try to escape the threat, but that most domesticated snakes don’t react like that to people unless they are handled by someone with little or no snake handling experience.
Though ball pythons are constrictors like boas and anacondas – meaning they squeeze their prey to death before eating them – they are particularly docile and slow moving in nature, making them ideal pets for reptile lovers, Tietze said.
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