A Memorable Reptile

I spend all morning walking the trails, looking for mammals, which I record for our census of mammals. So, it's a pleasant change to meet a special reptile. At the end of a four-kilometer census morning, I hurried downhill toward the lab. I was jumping down from one step to the next, gathering speed as I went. I ducked under a branch over the trail, when my brain registered an alarm before I knew what I was seeing or could stop.

My internal conversation went like this: Snake on the steps! BIG snake! ...Head pointed the other way (that's good)...don't step on the tail! Change directions! Get that foot off to the side. DO NOT land on this large beast!

It was a Boa constrictor, lying on the steps. It was longer than 5 cinder blocks laid on the trail as steps. Its head and neck extended past the first block and its tail trailed along at least 15 cm (6 inches) beyond the last block. I used my notebook cover to measure a step width: 17.5 cm. The spaces between the blocks were about 60 cm. That turned out to be more than 3.5 meters long (how many inches or feet?). Its body was very thick--too big for me to put the fingers of both hands around its middle. It was the biggest snake I had ever seen outside a zoo. However, it was not a record, since the largest boa reported elsewhere in the wild has been 6 m.

The snake's skin was glossy with an iridescent sheen. At the same time it had a lovely complex pattern of brown and black blotches on a tan background. I set the camera on the ground and left it running, then walked up to the snake and touched its body. You can see in the video that this was not something the snake liked, and she (I think this is a female) pulled her head around and coiled her neck so she would be in position to bite me. She kept her head aimed at me the whole time, as I moved to keep some distance between us. Her tongue flicked in and out to collect molecules of scent. She seemed to be trying to determine what kind of creature I might be. A boa with such a large head has numerous sharp teeth that could slash my hand badly, so I left her alone.

You might want to read more about boa constrictors.