Last month, visitors to Saxet Lakes at Patriot Park found a ball python.
The snake was rescued and delivered into the care of an expert. Ball pythons are not venomous and pose little risk to humans, but a reptile in the wrong place can cause a lot of problems.
“It’s not actually that uncommon for nonnative reptiles to be released, unfortunately. I see more reptiles than anything else, but I also see the occasional guinea pig or rat,” said Jessica Coleman, who runs the Lumpy Lizard Reptile, Poultry and Exotics Rescue in Edna, where she also rescues red-eared slider turtles, nonnative tortoises, iguanas and various other snakes.
By the time the snake, named David Hisslehoff, found himself in the care of Coleman, he had an infection which required shots at the Crossroads Veterinary Clinic every two days. The vet identified David as a banana morph ball python, which means his yellow and tan coloring—similar to an artfully bruised banana—comes from selective breeding.
And like most bananas, ball pythons aren’t from around here.
“If David here were to be left as a released animal, and survive, and make a breeding population, well now we’ve got a whole other invasive situation,” Coleman said. “It’s not a thing that’s good for him, or for his offspring, or for anything natively around him.”
To see how this works, look to Texas’ own red-eared slider. Native to the southeastern United States, the turtles can now be found in habitats across the world, where they frequently out-eat and out-breed local species.
“I get in 20 red-eared sliders a year. And since they are both a native species and a pet species—if I’m not sure which is which, I have to treat them as a pet,” Coleman said. That means she has an ethical responsibility to assume that the reptiles wouldn’t survive in the wild on their own.
Shannon Grubbs, a wildlife biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Victoria County, said it’s unlikely that the python would have lived long enough to cause problems in the wild. The climate in the Crossroads is different than in Florida, where nonnative reptiles like Argentina’s tegu lizard and Burmese pythons thrive in the state’s subtropical conditions. This means that escaped or intentionally released pythons probably won’t be setting up shop to wreak havoc on the environment any time soon. Grubbs pointed to the region’s feral hogs as a current and pressing invasive concern.
“Texas isn’t quite as bad population-wise (as) the more eastern states,” Coleman said. “Reptiles don’t survive quite as well as they do in the Florida Everglades, so we’ll probably never have a population quite like the Florida pythons. But it’s still enough to be concerned.”
At the Lumpy Lizard Reptile, Poultry and Exotics Rescue, David convalesced in the company of various animals—feathered, furry and scaly—to whom Coleman had given refuge.
“We just find things that people don’t really know what to do with,” Coleman said. This includes the common snapping turtle “Snapsnap”—who is missing a beak and can’t live on his own, but who has found a second career as an educator because “he’s so well-mannered, and he’s a little bit weird looking”—and Mary, a bossy Naked Neck chicken who rules her coop with an iron wing.
“(I) started in dog rescue, just like everybody does,” Coleman said. But one day, “I found myself on the road to Houston to find a monitor lizard. And so, that day, I was like ‘hey, turns out I’m in love with lizards.’ And it’s kind of been that ever since.”
David’s turbulent time in the Crossroads is coming to an end, and he’s now on his way to the Houston area to live with a woman who runs an animal rescue and sanctuary. Knotted into a scaly ball in Coleman’s lap last week, David briefly uncoiled to raise his head and look at his caretaker’s face.
“Oh, I’m gonna regret not keeping you,” she told the snake softly.