Friday night I was talking to a friend on the phone when Matilda the cornsnake slid her head and a few inches of body out of her Kleenex box house. She lifted her head and opened her mouth wide in a yawn. I interrupted the conversation.
“Matilda just yawned! I never knew snakes yawned!”
“Wow,” said my friend. “Wish I’d seen it.”
We paused for a moment. I watched Matilda look around, find nothing interesting, then retreat back inside. “That’s it,” I said. “That’s my excitement for Friday night.”
Even more anti-climactic was the later thought that she might only have been adjusting her jaw the way a snake does after eating. They dislocate the lower jaw to swallow large objects—anything from newborn mouse to a pig, depending on the snake—then gape their mouths wide to resituate the jaw.
Matilda has been off her feed for nearly three weeks now, a terrible waste of mice as I offer her one each week, not knowing when she’ll get her appetite back. I tried feeding her again tonight. She’s big enough for adult mice now. I thaw one in warm water, blot it in a paper town, and lay it in her tank on top of the paper so that she won’t get aspen shavings mixed with her dinner. She always comes out to investigate, flicking her tongue all over the mouse and the paper. She really checks out that paper towel, maybe trying to figure out why it smells like mouse when it isn’t a mouse.
Smell and taste become the same thing with a snake. They smell by catching the scent molecules on their tongues and I assume we smell things by catching the molecules in our noses. We taste with our tongues but we can’t taste without smelling. A snake has all the same equipment; it’s just streamlined, sort of like tossing out all the extra belongings we don’t really need and getting by on the essentials without wasting anything.
Once again she didn’t eat it, though I wriggled it a bit to get her interested. Snakes can go a long time without eating and it’s not a problem. For them. I just wish she’d come up with some way to signal that she’s ready to eat so that I don’t have to keep throwing away mice. I hate wasting perfectly good food.