OK, so I caved. Last week (Halloween, to be exact) I brought home a new pet. Not a dog not a cat not even a bird or fish. Eschewing the traditional indoor fauna, I adopted a snake — a corn snake, to be precise.

Yep. Her name is Dart. She had belonged to one of my techs and, since she had taken over the care of my saltwater aquarium (what a workload!) I agreed to take on her reptile. But a snake? It’s against my better judgment to take in any new species, especially one that deserves to live in the wild. And who knows what danger lurks there?

So it was not without significant trepidation that I carried in the aquarium, plugged in the thermal pad adhered to the glass, and set up the full-spectrum light overhead. As I handled the little beastie, I felt like a high school geek in love with her new best friend: a mindless reptile, no less.

In her smaller version (pictured dangling across my eyeglasses in the photo below — click on the photo to see the full-size version), she was pale and quiet. Now she’s thrice as big, lively as a rat, and a far brighter hue of deep oranges and reds. She’s impressive — to this serpent-novice anyway.

Now for the kicker: she hasn’t eaten in a week, advises my mentor on all things snaky, you need to feed her within the next few days. Okey-dokey! Let’s just hop on over to the snake store and buy … a fuzzy … a what? Not a pinkie not a full-blown mouse … a juvenile mouse.

I get to the store, feeling mighty stupid for someone who has a pretty good idea about what the insides of one of these reptiles looks like and what drugs they respond best to (I did a six-week rotation at the Baltimore aquarium where they keep lots of snakes). Having never lived with one, though, I feel like that high school kid all over again — just dumber.

"What kind of fuzzy you want?" asks the nineteen-year old behind the counter.

"Um … a fuzzy one?"

"Big, medium or large, Lady?"

"Um … a medium one?"

Two seconds later I had a scratchy little thing in a brown sandwich bag.

Great. Now it’s time to feed the thing. Pretty as she is, I didn’t relish the thought. Because I have plans to release her in her native habitat within the year (once she’s big enough to survive well on her own), I knew enough not to offer her a dead or stunned bit of prey. I had to give it to her alive — something I had never done before. (I’m actually quite adept at rendering mice unconscious — I spent a whole summer feeding a Great Horned owl a whole lot of these. You just put one in a Ziploc bag and rap it quickly against the wall.)

So I waited for Max (my eight-year-old son) to come home — for moral support (and perhaps some education). We then released the bagged fuzzy into her den. (But it’s so cute, Mom!). Had I not feared for my hand I might have grabbed the fuzzy back at this point. Luckily, my son relented when I explained how hungry Dart was (I didn’t completely convince myself, either, but it was worth a try).

I don’t know what I expected but nothing happened. Max got bored of waiting and went off to play on the computer. I sat, riveted, waiting for something to happen. An hour later, the fuzzy was still sleeping peacefully, twitching occasionally. By this time I was knitting away my impatience, bored as well. Then the fuzzy got to wandering around the aquarium…

Remember that B-movie with the six-degrees guy where giant snakes lurk beneath the desert surface? Well, this was the memory that struck me as Dart cautiously raised her head above the sawdust that obscured her movements. Once the fuzzy was three inches away, she lunged, struck and coiled herself around her stunned prey. It happened in a millisecond.

My son came running, just in time to see the "so cute" fuzzy give up its last gasp. Perfect timing. Dart then deftly unhinged her jaws as she maneuvered the fuzzy (ten times larger than her head!) into her super-peristaltic insides. Cool!

As the fuzzy disappeared into the snake’s mouth, only its feet and tail protruding, my son yelled excitedly, "Now it’s even cuter than before!" There’s no accounting for taste. I guess even snakes need someone to love them.

Image: Good Tongue Action by Sirenz Lorraine