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Revealing: Rebel

I'm sure the titles are ridiculous, but hey, I like my alliteration...anyway, this is introducing the second of the latest additions to the family, a species that probably quite a few people are at least passingly familiar with...

Isn't he adorable?

Rebel is a bull snake, probably about 6 months old (maybe less) currently, hailing from the region around Abilene, Texas, where the local population often produces snakes that develop phenomenally bright, orange to brick red coloration in the blotches and background (I strongly encourage looking up photos). He's not very bright right now (though you can see the red starting to show through on his sides already), but as he gets older he'll grow into his color.

Side view showing the hints of color that will grow stronger as Rebel ages.

The bull snake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) is a subspecies of the widespread gopher snake, one of several species in the genus Pituophis (a strictly North American genus) and one of the most widespread subspecies of gopher snake at that. They can be found all the way from northern Mexico up throughout just about the entirety of the Great Plains and Front Range areas, and into southern Canada. They're not picky about habitat, though they generally prefer relatively dry grassland or sparse woodland areas when available. Bull snakes are among North America's largest serpents as well, adults averaging 4-6 feet long an capable of maxing out at over 8 feet, with a powerfully built body and blunt head with an enlarged rostral scale that helps them root around in leaf litter and even burrow somewhat (though not as effectively as species like hognose snakes). Their pattern is characteristic, blotchy and mottled with a general sense of a saddle pattern along the front portion of the body, with the spots and dorsal saddles gradually growing darker and more distinct toward the tail until they become solid, square designs. This coloration helps break up the snake's outline and also provides it defense in that it is highly similar to more dangerous snakes, like the various rattlesnake species it shares its range with.

Typical bull snake pattern (and Rebel, as is also typical, being active and moving his head out of the photo)

Though nonvenomous, this pattern often gets the bull snake in trouble unfortunately as unaware (or uncaring, as sadly is more often the case) people mistake them for rattlesnakes and kill them. One should never kill a rattlesnake either, as it puts you in greater danger and they only bite in defense, and can always be relocated elsewhere to continue performing their vital environmental services, but even in supposed cases of protecting house and home there is no risk from the bull snake. Their other habits don't help either however: in defense, wild bull snakes are often seen as cantankerous, as they readily coil and strike, vibrating their tails to buzz in leaves and even vibrating the opening of their trachea to mimic the rattling of a venomous snake's tail. However, a bull snake is more likely to eat rattlesnakes than it is to pose even the threat of a bad bite; they are pest control specialists, taking care of venomous snakes as well as the many rodents one often finds around the house or farm (their preferred food).

Unlike their wild counterparts though, captive bull snakes are often very docile animals; even a wild one, if handled long enough, will typically calm down and act relatively placid, and a few are just naturally docile. As babies, they're still full of energy and sometimes nip, or simply try to run away (Rebel is still in this phase, buzzing his tail and wanting to run away as fast as he can, though he has yet to attempt biting), but a well-acclimated adult is often a great pet, active but relaxed and curious. Many color morphs and line-bred varieties are now becoming available in the pet trade (the red guys like Rebel among them, along with amelanistic, hypererythristic-that's heavily red- or anerythristic, even leucistic or all-white snakes with black eyes), and for someone who wants something a little different from a standard corn snake, these guys are a slightly larger alternative. Most will readily accept frozen-thawed mice or rats even from hatching, making them easy to feed, and an adult female may lay up to 30 eggs in a clutch in late spring to early summer after mating. They are also a relatively long-lived species, in captivity easily exceeding 20 years of age (this means Rebel ought to be with me until I'm at least in my mid-40's). Every single one has a different personality, like so many snake species, so it's likely there is one that could fit with anybody out there looking for a pet snake.

One thing that should be stressed however: a wild bull snake should never be caught and kept as a pet animal, particularly as there are fully captive-bred lines available; this goes for just about every animal species kept nowadays as a pet as well. Wild snakes are often highly stressed in this new environment and frightened of the people around them, and generally won't do as well as a captive-bred animal that's been raised in and conditioned to people and our odd environments. Plus, though there are few diseases that a snake can pass on to a person (that salmonella claim most people will throw out is only a risk if you're messing with their waste improperly...ew!) it's best not to risk keeping a wild, exposed animal in your house. Captive pets are maintained well most of the time and better assured to be in good health and safe for ownership.

Plus, a captive-bred animal often means you know exactly where it's coming from, you can see the colors and personalities before you buy or adopt them, and you're more likely to find the adorable face that fits you, like I did this little one (though not little for long :) ).

Captive-bred snakes make great pets, easy to care for and often quite amusing too!

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