Pretzel, 20 Years On

Today is an anniversary of sorts. May 30, 1999 was the date I got back into snake keeping, when I brought home, from a pet store, a young female corn snake I named Pretzel. She wasn’t a particularly large snake, though she wasn’t a newborn, and she wasn’t particularly flashy: just a plain, ordinary corn snake with no fancy colour or pattern mutations.

Twenty years later, Pretzel is still with us, hardly changed from the day I brought her home. The Dorian Gray of colubrid snakes. I was going to say that she’s still going strong, but that’s up in the air at the moment. Right now she’s sequestered in a cage with a nesting box because she seems to be with (absolutely infertile) eggs; last week she had a few seizures that may or may not be related. We’re keeping an eye.

Since she wasn’t a baby when we got her, she probably hit twenty years old a few years ago. It’s a grand old age for a corn snake, though the record for the species is around thirty-two. She’s almost certainly the oldest snake we have, and she’s outlived a lot of other snakes that I expected to outlive her.

Compared to other corn snakes, Pretzel tends to be shy. She likes nothing better than to stay in her hide box all day while her various cagemates (most recently, the much younger Ella Mae, aka LMA, or Little Miss Adorable) cruise around the cage. She’s always been very gentle and handleable, though: in twenty years she’s only taken a swing at people twice, and for understandable reasons (once was right after I got her, and once was when her hibernation was interrupted).

She’s also much smaller than the other, younger corn snakes; I suspect she’s got at least some Miami corn in her. Even so, she’s rarely refused food unless she was gravid, which actually has happened quite a lot, even when we weren’t trying to breed her. We started doing that in 2001; in the following years she’s produced several clutches of eggs, sometimes twice in a year, and up to 17 at a time. But the process was gruelling: she’d be absolutely hollow and gaunt afterward, and if you fed her back up too fast she’d clutch again.

We hatched a number of babies, but they tended to be finicky eaters who were hard to get started on food. (Which is a Miami corn thing: they tend to start on lizards.) As Pretzel aged, and as we moved to locations where we couldn’t hibernate her properly (to improve breeding success), her fertility declined: she’d go through all that metabolic trouble only to have none of her eggs hatch. So we pulled her male cagemate (named Trouser) out of her cage and eventually moved in another female (LMA). She still sometimes produces infertile eggs because she apparently can’t help herself, but she hasn’t had a successful clutch since 2005.

Overall she’s been pretty healthy. She had a bout of Giardia that she contracted from a cagemate in 2001, which she recovered from after a round of medication, though it cost her that year’s second clutch (she resorbed the eggs) and, well, the cagemate. But since then she’s been really good. Last week’s seizures were the first sign of anything untoward since that time.

At her age I figure she could go at any time and for any reason and it wouldn’t be premature, but I kind of hope the Grande Dame of our snake collection sticks around for a while yet.