‘Not a surprising place’: Snake expert explains why boa in Tooele was found by freezer

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(YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

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TOOELE, Utah (ABC4) – Thought to be on the run – or slither – for more than a month, the owner of an 8-foot-long boa constrictor notified authorities that the snake had been found inside his home.

In a notice to the public, Tooele City Police stated that the owner felt the snake “may have been there for a while,” after finding it next to a deep freezer inside the house.

While it can be assumed there was relief that a giant snake wasn’t on the loose in a residential neighborhood, where the snake was found begged the question: how did the cold-blooded reptile survive next to the freezer for an extended period of time?

It makes sense when you think about the function of a freezer, Utah Division of Wildlife herpetologist Drew Dittmer explains.

“The compressor outside of the freezer actually has a warm motor on it,” he says. “It’s not a surprising place at all to find a snake that is looking for a warm place to hold up.”

According to Dittmer, unsuspecting locations such as behind a freezer or by a car engine are very typical places for missing snakes to turn up.

While boas kept as pets are usually kept in an artificial environment, such as a terrarium or some sort of climate-controlled enclosure, a boa on the loose wouldn’t survive very long in Tooele or any other part of Utah. They’re not made for the temperatures here, even in the hottest regions of the state.

“They’re tropically adapted species,” Dittmer states. “Maybe they get out of the house and decide to go try it on their own, but all boas and pythons in the pet trade are tropical species. They cannot make it even in the warmest parts of Utah.”

Had the snake in Tooele not found refuge behind a freezer, or near a car engine, it very likely would have died.

At the time it was reported missing on July 6, the owners stated it was not an aggressive snake, however, authorities still advised anyone who happened upon it to keep their distance and contact the police.

Dittmer explains that had the snake been out and about on the sidewalk or grassy areas of the neighborhood, there likely would have been no danger to humans. A house pet or small animal in the wrong place at the wrong time may have been the main course for a meal, but as far as humans are concerned, he is not aware of a single attack on a person by a pet boa.

For the most part, snakes don’t want anything to do with humans, they know they’re outmatched. It’s in their best interest to stay out of sight.

“They have no arms and legs and they’re not particularly fast,” Dittmer describes of snakes. “They’re very vulnerable animals, so their number one way to stay alive, age and reproduce, and find food, is to stay hidden.”

It’s more than likely that hikers in Utah walking along any given trail in the state could be stepping past a bevy of snakes on their route. While Dittmer agrees that some fear of snakes is rational, as there are some venomous species that can harm or even kill a human if it chooses to strike and bite, humans are at a major advantage.

“In North America, there is no snake, even if it’s venomous and bites you, that you cannot immediately kill,” he assures. “When you’re with your hands or by stomping them, they’re pretty essentially defenseless animals. They have no arms or legs, and they have no way to immobilize a human being as a predator.”

While the missing boa in Tooele was a rare and eye-catching news story, as it turns out, there was never any immediate danger to anyone on the west side of the valley. The boa, who had been knocked out of its home by a clumsy window installer, wasn’t looking to constrict and consume a person. It was looking for a place to survive and found one behind a freezer.

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