Snake on a … Well, You Know!

Some headlines just write themselves.

In an instance of (fictional) déjà vu, last fall, a United Airlines flight from Tampa to Newark had an unexpected—and sad to say, unwelcome—stowaway on board. It was, of course, of the ophidian variety—specifically, a common garter snake, both harmless and diminutive. The hapless creature, which had somehow strayed onto the aircraft, was discovered late in the flight, as the plane was taxiing into the destination airport. Seems it disrupted the passengers--who were "shrieking" and pulling up their feet--but limited its walkabout to business class. (Evidently, the snake either had business to do, or simply didn't wish to travel in coach. Who can blame it?)

The plane was able to land normally, and the snake was removed, though no details were forthcoming on what became of it. Let's just hope it was someone able to guide it to a rescue or shelter.


Or maybe make it the latest Hollywood star?  😉

Up Close and Personal: A Gecko’s Journey

This news item is a couple of years old, but still worthy of note. A British woman on holiday in Barbados returned to her Yorkshire home only to discover a tiny reptilian stowaway in, of all places, her bra!

A small (possibly juvenile) desert gecko made the journey of 4,000 miles (there's a song in there somewhere, right?) in the woman's brassiere, inside her luggage. This turned out to be a safe, soft, and comfy spot in her otherwise cramped suitcase—which she admitted she had to sit on to get closed. A very tight spot indeed.

Once the woman discovered that the centimeters-long uninvited guest—which she later dubbed "Barbie"—was still alive and kicking, she promptly called the RSPCA (the British equivalent of the US organization for animals). They sent out a reptile specialist to take in the foundling. The article, written at the height of the pandemic, went on to note that the minute creature happily did not require a Covid test upon arrival at its very own holiday destination.

Life ProTip: after your travels, do shake out your clothes. One never knows what might be lurking in one's lingerie!

In Memoriam: Mitch the Water Dragon

RARN is very sorry to report that in January (2023) we lost one of our long-time rescues, a very handsome but skittish male water dragon named Mitch. He was over 10 years old.

Mitch came to us as a tiny dragon, no more than a couple of months old. When RARN took him in, we thought Mitch was a girl—so for quite a while he was called Midge. He did not seem to be offended. Later, when it was obvious that he was a male, we found him a new name!

Mitch was a poster-boy rescue animal. He came in with a messed-up tail, an injury treated by a vet who was not experienced in handling exotics. The bandage put on the tail was too tight and the tail had to be amputated by another vet, one who had some background in reptile pets. Because of that, Mitch was not a good candidate for adoption—but he beat the odds! He was adopted by someone who wanted him very badly. But alas, the union was short-lived. He sustained damage to his front jaw from rostral rubbing against glass. This can easily get infected if it is not treated immediately. He came back to RARN and got care, and stayed with us to the end.

Mitch had a big bowl with two gallons of water to swim in, in his enclosure, and really seemed to enjoy contact with water—well, he was a water dragon, after all! Though he was pretty much a homebody, he did get the chance to run around the house in the summer, under supervision, for a little "time out." He lived his best life.

Mitch was always a bit shy and grumpy, and did not like crowds or strangers. They frankly freaked him out. So he never showed up at RARN's pre-pandemic public outreach events. But he was always our beloved RARN water dragon. We adored his little face and incredibly gorgeous green coloring. And we miss him.

Cuddle your creatures a little closer this week, and think a good thought of Mitch.

Froggies Went a-Courtin’? (Now with a real court!)

This summer, a trip to Prague, Czech Republic (part holiday, part business) led to a most delightful discovery: frogs in the middle of the venerable city!

Specifically, we stumbled upon the amphibians in an intricately ornate terraced garden in Prague's Mala Strana neighborhood: Vrtbovska zahrada, the Vrtba Garden. This immaculately tended Italianate garden, a baroque gem from the 18th century at the foot of Petrin Hill, had been developed for the highest officer attached to Prague's Castle: the burgrave of Bohemia, Jan Josef, count of Vrtba. Though the burgrave's palace no longer survives as it was, the lovely formal court gardens endure (though they underwent renovations some 25 years ago). We were fortunate to have this rose-scented bower as the setting for a theatrical performance we were attending.

Five minutes into the performance, however, a creature hopped over my foot. I knew by the light touch it had to be a frog or toad. All evening long I was entranced by the play, but even more enchanted by having had an amphibian make its presence known to me, a stranger in town!

After the performance we wandered around the lush fountains and—of course—found more frogs. There were LOTS of frogs. And that spoke well of how the gardens were being kept—amphibians do NOT do well in the presence of heavy pesticides or insecticides. And these fellows were well fed. Who knows how long they had been breeding there?

But light was fading fast, and we could only snap a couple of pictures before our amphibian friends disappeared into the ponds and hedges. When we first saw them, we thought the bumpy, dark-patterned creatures were toads. (They may still be, by the way) But after some research—thank you, iNaturalist!—I believe we can identify these winsome anurans as specimens of the European Common Frog (Rana temporaria).

But here's the rub: the name. Common? A frog from the gardens of a chief courtier, common? Not possible, say we! Ah well. Common or not, the frogs in that garden at least did not seem endangered.

Here's hoping all readers have similarly engaging amphibian adventures in your travels!

Lizards in Our Lives

Two recent news articles about lizards focus on these scaly, myth-laden creatures getting up close and personal with humans. We'll consider both, and add a brief moral to the story.

The first is a brief, feel-good narrative about an event many reptile keepers are familiar with: a lizard that had strayed from its human and eventually was happily brought home. The errant chuckwalla, native to desert southwestern US and northern Mexican climes, was variously misidentified at first as a toad (??) and a black water dragon (?). It was discovered in a car park on the island of Guernsey and was finally reunited with its very worried human companion: the poor creature had been missing for six weeks....

The second article is more whimsical: a woman in Bangladesh who discovered a small nest of lizard eggs in an old make-up bag in a closet! The eggs, laid in the "classic" lizard-egg-laying spot of a dark, enclosed space, were probably from an otherwise-unspecified "common house lizard" and were not upsetting to the woman in the least. Like many of those who keep reptiles deliberately, she considers the presence of the scaly creatures a benefit: "They eat my enemy mosquitoes!"

But the article stands out because someone on the woman's social media suggested this might make her "Mother of Dragons," linking the woman's discovery of the clutch of eggs to the TV series Game of Thrones. For those who did not follow the show, the character Daenerys Targaryen was gifted three dragon-egg "children" that she carefully guarded and raised (but which, when grown, behaved like … fire-breathing dragons!)

What your editor takes from these articles is that reptiles—while still considered unusual animals to keep or discover out in the world—are very much present in our lives and our consciousness. The myths and stories that we shape around them—about their kinship with dinosaurs, dragons, and the like—serve to make them more endearingly popular, while still enhancing a mystique of awe and (sadly, sometimes) dread.

RARN welcomes healthy, pragmatic attitudes towards reptiles and amphibians. They aren't for everyone to keep. But in the right circumstances—and particularly for rescued animals that cannot be sent back to the wild—they can be wonderful companions that truly enhance our lives. And that's no myth!