North American River Otters… Were Busy?


Okay, so, not every photographic expedition is a success.  Take this one, case in point:

  1. My big camera, the SLR, (Single Lens Reflex), couldn’t handle the lack of lighting.
  2. I used the camera in my phone, which has much better performance in low lighting, but even it had trouble focusing on the very dark corner.
  3. The otters were… well…  Here.  Take a look at the sign:


So we were, like, interrupting.  As I stood there, trying desperately to take a decent picture of them, one of the otters got up and grumpily wandered over to its little den cave thingie to hide.  The other one, clearly wanting to nap, curled up with a smug sort of “And stay out” attitude.

Hmm.  There’s only one problem.

What am I going to use for “N” today?

I know!  The Reticulated Python!

It has an “N” in it, come on!  Granted, it’s at the end, pythoN, but it’s still an N.  Besides.  There’s a story here.


This isn’t even a fully grown snake.  He’s fricken huge.  A little background:  my husband is what they call a “herper,” short for the word “herpetologist,” meaning someone who studies reptiles and amphibians.  I’ve learned, though him, that the herper community is filled with highly knowledgeable people because if one decides to keep these animals as pets, there’s not a lot of information about them and so one must learn a lot about their care in order to do it properly.  It’s a lot more complicated, therefore, than keeping, say, a puppy or a kitten.

For those of you not familiar with our books, my coauthor Rachel and I have a series with snake shifters whose animal form is a Burmese python.  Burms are very popular in the pet trade because they can be socialized and are quite friendly if handled properly.  They get very large, with the females growing to between sixteen and twenty feet.  In these snakes, the females are larger then the males.

In the pet trade, as I understand it, reticulated pythons, pictured above, are responsible for the largest number of pet-related deaths every year.  They are not friendly, and they are not socializable in the way that Burms are.  They trade off with the anaconda for the longest snake in the world.  Their natural diet in the wild is baboons, among other things.  And humans, you may have noticed, are awfully similar to baboons.  Why someone would want a pet that looks as one as a potential food source, I don’t know, but there you go.

I am mildly afraid of snakes.  I’ve handled them, having grown up on a horse ranch; we had common garter snakes in our garden and rattlesnakes weren’t uncommon in the forest where we lived, though I only ever saw one.  But even a large garter or rattler isn’t all that huge; they certainly don’t get as massive as this guy.  Every time we’ve visited the zoo, he’s been quiescent, either sleeping or… well, waiting.  o.O…


I asked my husband how big they get, and he said that in theory, they don’t stop growing.

Like that’s not seven kinds of creepy.


Since I was doing shots for the challenge on this visit, I bent down to get a better angle.  Out of reflex, I started talking to him.

Sue me.  I talk to everything.  Cats, people, dogs, birds, walls…

Okay, maybe not walls.

That I’ll admit.

Moving right along…

Apparently, he realized I was talking to him and started moving.


My hands started to sweat at this point.  I don’t mind snakes, as I said, but moving snakes are unpredictable, at least to me, and I don’t know what to do.

Understand I’m in absolutely no danger here; there’s a very thick (3 inches or so) lucite barrier between me and him.

There is, however, a thick screen grate thing over on the left front of his enclosure.


I started talking to him at this point, because clearly he’s looking at and responding to me in some way I don’t understand.  He’s not a mammal; I don’t know how to read his body language.  My husband was off looking at the Galapagos turtles and, to be honest, by this point I was totally engrossed in what this fellow was doing.


We are, at this point, nearly eye to eye.  I’m 5’8″.  This is, shall we say, disturbing.  My mind kept gibbering, “Retic – highest pet-related deaths – babboons – striking speed of … what’s the number? … damn it, I have crappy number memory… hundreds of miles an hour… that can’t be right… A THOUSAND!!… he’s pretty…”

At which point my husband barks, “Step back.”

My husband never barks at me, so when he does, it’s serious.  I took a convulsive step backwards, still sweating.  Michael came up to me and said, “He was hissing.”

I swear, I did not hear it.  I did hear something hiss-like, but I thought it was a water system in another enclosure.

Michael was puzzled too, and watched the retic for a few moments.  Then he slowly extended his hand.


They had a long moment of some kind of interaction I didn’t understand.  Michael moved very slowly, and the snake just watched him.  Or at least, I assume he did.  One of the problems I have with understanding their body language is they don’t have eyelids, so they can’t close their eyes.  One cannot tell, or at least I can’t, if the snake is awake or asleep or what.  He never opened his mouth to hiss, which I assumed he would (too many monster movies with really pissed off snakes); Michael said the small triangular black spot between his lower lip and upper lip is an opening through which they can hiss; he said that’s what he heard.  He said the hiss sound was intermittent, though, not continuous, so he can’t tell if that means I angered the snake or not.


Before we left, I took this one just to show how big he is.  Michael and I talked it over when we left, because I still don’t understand what happened or what the interaction meant.  It bothers me that I didn’t hear him hiss, because I don’t want to irritate him or something.  Michael said snakes have a very good memory, and it’s likely he will remember me now.  After I got over the initial shock of that, I’m curious to go back and see what that means.  Will he come over to see me again?  Did I make him mad?  Did he think I was there to feed him?  Michael pointed out that the screen thing was probably the food slot (you can see the padlock and sliding opening below left in the picture).  I was scared the whole time, but I can’t help but feel … I’m not sure the word.  Honored, maybe?  Something.  I feel honored that this huge animal came over to … what, talk? … to me.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t take the pictures to show myself what happened.

And for the record?  This is a big damned snake.  lol

Remember, no post tomorrow for Sunday.  We resume the challenge on Monday with the letter “O”.  This is one of my favorite new-to-me animals, one that wasn’t discovered until comparatively recently because they are so shy.  Stay tuned!

Thank you for joining me for the A-Z Blog Challenge.  If you’re blogging in the challenge, please leave me a link so I can come visit you too.  If you have a moment, please check out these other fine blogs:

My theme on my Knoontime Knitting craft blog is Letterforms In Nature and the Built Environment.  I’ll be exploring my daily round, looking for shapes in the natural world and build environment.

The theme at Noon & Wilder is The A To Z of Chicago.  Since I live here in the city and we have our Chicagoland Shifters based here, I figured I’d share a window into the city, Noon & Wilder style.

The Nice Girls Writing Naughty have a new home, and we’re blogging in the challenge again this year.  Throughout the month you’ll be hearing from each of the Nice Girls, and during the RT Booklovers Convention from April 12th to the 17th, you’ll be getting live convention reports.  Join the conversation!

The Writer Zen Garden’s brand new website is up and running, and we’re bringing you posts from me, Noony; my partner in crime, Rachel Wilder (the Wilder half of Noon & Wilder); the talented Darla M. Sands – a blogger in her own right, see below; as well as Grace Kahlo, Evey Brown, and author Tina Holland.  Check it out!

My friends who are participating in the challenge (and if you’re not on this list, tell me and I’ll add you!):

Write on, and Happy Blogging!

7 Replies to “North American River Otters… Were Busy?”

  1. Cool! Our Cincinnati Zoo has a great reptile room, but there are no openings visible like that. I’m not exactly fearful of snakes, either, but having a screen like that on my side of the enclosure seems a bit perturbing. Great photos! And that is interesting about the otters. I didn’t know they were rough at mating time.

    1. Thank you! I’d love to see the Cincinnati Zoo. We’ll have to go one day. I wonder where they feed them from? Maybe somewhere hidden in the back of the enclosure?

      I didn’t know that about otters, either. They seemed intent on curling up on each other, or at least the grumpy one did, but they were over in a shadowed corner so for all I know, it was the boy and he was trying to whisper enticingly in the girl’s ear and she wasn’t havin’ none o’ that funny business. 🙂

  2. The Petco near me has Ball Pythons. They are supposed to be a good snake for a first time owner and don’t get that big (in python terms). I really liked them and thought about getting one but my then room mate said that if I brought a snake in the house he would leave. My current room mate doesn’t like them either. I saw a monster reticulated python at the Field Museum and its size just bowled me over! Would have liked to see the one you took pictures of!

    1. He’s at Brookfield, so you can see him next time you go. I believe he’s in the Reptile House. I get confused, because there are two. (And two retics; they have a baby one in the other house.) But he’s in the big one along the back wall down from the aquarium building, near the Galapagos turtles.

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