Once again, in less than a year, we have lost one of our elderly snakes. Karma, the Western Terrestrial gartersnake, was a co-worker we depended upon more than any of our other snakes for our reptile programs.
If a snake could be ever be considered good natured, it was Karma. Her disposition allowed us to use her in school programs even when she was “opaque,” or preparing to shed her skin. While most snakes in this condition are touchy and sensitive, Karma never wavered from her composure. She was always available to be included in our reptile program and always exhibited patience and calm.
In the Beginning
We began presenting school programs about 12 years ago before selling our house and hitting the road in our RV. At that time we had only one snake (California king snake, Spike). Since we needed another snake to round out our program, we searched fruitlessly one day throughout a state park and neighboring wildlife areas, as well as several pet shops to find any kind of snake.
Discouraged, we returned home where Chuck decided to mow our lawn. As soon as he pulled the starting cord, a snake shot out from under the mower, startling Chuck because, after living in that house for over 30 years, we had never before seen a snake in the yard. Chuck was able to capture her, and a month later she gave birth to six babies, which we released to the nearby state park.
Because she hadn’t been injured by the mower and because she successfully gave birth, we named her Karma. Karma undoubtedly outlived all of her offspring since her care in captivity far surpassed life in the wild. From the beginning Karma was calm and easy to work with. She amused school children by coiling the posterior two thirds of her body into a knot as I held her while educating about serpents. And she never flinched when children reach out and touch her gently with two fingers.
But recently Karma seemed to be struggling, even though her disposition remained the same. Having observed her behavior for years, Chuck was sensitive to any changes. “Her eyes were dull as if going opaque,” says Chuck who suspected she was going blind. “Her appetite was not as good and she wasn’t that active. And she stayed in one spot for extended periods, sometimes with her mouth open slightly.”
To relieve Karma from participating in all of our naturalist work and reptile programs, last month we acquired another Western Terrestrial gartersnake who appears to be about a year and a half old. We named her Taggart after a lake in Grand Teton National Park near where we spend our summers.
Although young, Tag (for short) has already participated in several reptile programs, as well as in our roving naturalist work at the National Elk Refuge. She has had no problem allowing youngsters to touch her gently, and remains calm during programs. She has exhibited a ravenous appetite, downing two mice at each feeding and never refusing to eat.
Big Shoes to Fill
But even though Tag is progressing as an education animal, if snakes had feet, we’d say that Taggart has big shoes to fill! Karma will be sorely missed and leaves a big hole in our hearts.