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City rat snake bites off more than he can chew

Eugene Adams has seen many things in his lifetime.

But a dead rat snake with a half-swallowed squirrel in its mouthin downtown Brookhaven ain’t one of them.

Adams, a DAILY LEADER newspaper carrier, and a dozen othernewspaper employees, gathered around the unusual carcass Wednesday- nudging, photographing and pondering – like CSI Miami’s HoratioCaine, sunglasses and dark blazer, perusing the crime scene andoffering a one-line masterpiece: “He bit off more than he couldchew!” Cue music.

“We used to see those rat snakes growing up on the farm,” Adamssaid. “But I never saw one in town, and dead with a squirrel in itsmouth? I never saw anything like that.”

The snake and its deceased package were discovered by a FederalExpress truck driver around 10:45 a.m. on the north side of theLEADER offices on East Court Street. The snake seemingly preferredfood-on-the-go, having died curbside far from trees, shrubs andgrass.

Soon thereafter, Brookhaven Animal Control Officer Joe Poole andBPD Officers Lisa Jackson and Phillip Tobias were called to clearthe crime scene.

Witnesses described Poole’s response to the crime scene, well,not a lover of squirrels or reptiles. Poole chose to ‘manage’ thesituation from afar, boldly refusing to leave his truck, quicklyrolling up the windows and commandingly locking his doors.

Officer Jackson scraped the dead duo off the pavement with ashovel, grabbed the 4-foot corpse with her hand and waved itmercilessly [with jeers] at Poole.

Museum of Natural Sciences educator Mary Alston postulated anumber of possible scenarios that might have led to the gruesomeanimal event.

“Rat snakes sometimes overestimate their capacity,” she saidfrom her Jackson office. “And if the object is too large, the snakecan’t release its prey because it doesn’t have the ability toregurgitate. So it is possible that it took too big of a bite,couldn’t swallow and then died.”

Holy indigestion, Horatio Caine may have been right!

“But,” Alston added, “the prospective meal sometimes is stillalive and will use its claws to scrape the inside of the snake.Some snakes die that way, too.”

Alston said it was not unusual for rat snakes to eat somethingalready dead, though it is more common to see them eat livinganimals.

But, what about finding a snake with a squirrel in its mouth inthe middle of a busy city street?

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me,” she said, “that is, finding itin town. Rat snakes are among the most common snakes in Mississippiand are often found in unusual places.”

In Mississippi, rat snakes are also often called chicken snakes.There is a whole website devoted to the cold-blooded creatures:www.ratsnake.org. Really!

The Wednesday mystery, though, remains unsolved.