Vol. 2, Issue 8, February 24, 2004
Dodo: the Other Other White Meat
The Voice Of Reason

Study: Rattlesnakes make Poor Pets

Despite widespread popularity throughout the southern United States, rattlesnakes may not make very good pets, suggests research conducted at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

"Now, I like my snakes as much as the next guy," said Herbert Jasper, assistant professor of sociology at UNC Greensboro. "I've got three myself. But it turns out that, for some family situations, they may not be as ideal as, say, a dog."

The study tracked over 600 families throughout western North Carolina, a rugged area where venomous snakes are popular companions among young men. Of the families surveyed, 50% had at least one timber rattlesnake in the home. The families were tracked over a period of five years. Factors examined included the number of medical emergencies in the household, as well as any other pets that may have been kept around.

"Well I have to say, this comes as a surprise," said Randy Vinson, 33, a longtime snake owner who lives in Greensboro. "Sure, I've been bit over the years maybe nine, ten times. But you know, I never put two and two together with regards to the danger of these critters."

According to the study, ninety five percent of families with at least one rattlesnake suffered a medical emergency over the study period, with a large majority of those being snake-related.

"I'm surprised it's not a hundred percent," said noted herpetologist Dierdre Falstell, of the University of California, San Diego. "It is true that recent research has come to demonstrate that crotalus horridus [timber rattlesnakes] can recognize siblings and hence may be cognizant of some familial relationships. But that recognition is not transferable to human beings. When you let them roam the house, it's a whole new ballgame."

The study suggests that the rattlesnakes' low profile and penchant for hiding leads to a high number of incidents in which the snakes are stepped on or tripped over. In addition, it was noted that there is no empirical evidence that rattlesnakes can be trained.

"I thought Striker was just slow on the update," said Vinson ruefully. "No wonder he never passed obedience school."

The study noted that many snake owners are under the impression that rattlesnakes are less dangerous than dogs because"their teeth are smaller." Forty percent of respondents also stated they were"unsure" whether rattlesnakes are reptiles or mammals; thirty percent believed that lettuce was an appropriate food for their snakes.

"You know what," said Falstell,"it may be better just to let snake owners keep the snakes, and let nature take its course. I think society will be better off as a result."

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