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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Snake kills toddler: Should this be a pet?

Python I will admit I'm no fan of snakes, or any cold-blooded pets for that matter. But when I saw this shocking story of the Sumter County baby who was hunted in the night in her crib by the family's pet Burmese python, I just can't fathom what makes this creepy thing such an attractive pet.

It is attractive, I will admit, with smooth shiny scales that make excellent purses. But these snakes consume large amounts of food, and due to their size, require large, often custom-built, secure enclosures, which can be very expensive. This is the reason, so many of them are released to the wild by pet owners and are now wreaking havoc in the Everglades. Remember that stunning picture of the 13-foot python that burst open as it tried to swallow whole a 10-foot alligator? Well, in the past five years, the U.S. has imported more than 144,000 Burmese pythons, according to National Geographic. Hatchlings sell for as little as $20. But once the cute little baby snakes turn into 15-foot-long beasts, they get dumped into our wet national forest.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced a bill in February to ban the import of pythons. Broward County Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Mel Martinez, introduced the same bill in the House in May. Hearings have yet to be held. And there has even been talk of exacting a bounty on the snakes in the Everglades.

Back to this family pet. These snakes are quite docile most of the time. There are reports of how often the child held this python or the other pet, a 6-foot boa constrictor, and found them almost affectionate. But they also have instinct. The mother's boyfriend, Charles Darnell, 32, told authorities he last checked on the snake shortly after midnight. It had escaped its terrarium. He put the snake in a bag and put it back inside the glass case. Then he put a quilt over the terrarium and tied something around the quilt. State law says pythons are supposed to be kept under lock.

When next he awoke he found the 8-foot snake wrapped around Shaunnia Hare, age 2. Typically, this snake will use its sharp backward-pointing teeth to hang on tight to its prey (the girl had bite marks on her head, according to one report). To keep the prey from fighting, it wraps its muscular body around it and contracts its muscles, killing the prey by constriction.

Does this seem like a family pet to you?

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:01am]


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