Dear Tom and Ray:
I really need an answer soon! There is a possibility that I have a 5- to 6-foot, 2-inch-diameter snake living in my engine compartment. It was slithering under my car, which was parked on the street in Muenster, Texas. Some men from the local electric company tried to shoo it away. But it never came out from underneath the car. I had two screaming grandchildren with me, plus a less-than-happy spouse, so after a thorough search of the cabin, I drove 40 miles home. I called the Honda dealer (it's a 2008 Honda Fit), and they said it was possible for the snake to enter the passenger compartment through the air-conditioning ducts. My car is parked outside in the Texas heat right now. What are the chances the snake is in the car, and how do I get it out? Am I being paranoid? This happened yesterday. Help!
TOM: Are you being paranoid? You're being delusional to go near this car. If it were my car, I'd set it on fire and stay 50 feet away until there was nothing left but fine ash.
RAY: Of course, we Northerners aren't accustomed to seeing snakes very often, Mary. Unless they're working at car-repair facilities.
TOM: So we spoke to Dr. Fred Zaidan, a herpetologist at the University of Texas, Pan American. He says that your little pet there is probably either gone by now, or dead.
RAY: He says that engine temperatures, which typically are several hundred degrees, are too hot for snakes, especially in the summer. If it were early spring or late fall, they might try to get warm by crawling up in the engine bay. But when it's already 100 degrees outside, the only reason they'd go up there is to get away from someone trying to swat them with a broom.
TOM: So if the snake could get out of there, it's probably gone by now. If not, it'll likely die in there. And you'll know if that happens by the horrific smell that announces itself in the next couple of days. Or by the obituary you read in next month's Good Snakekeeping magazine.
RAY: While there are some ways it could get into the ventilation system, and from there get into the passenger compartment, it's not easy. And Dr. Zaidan says, in his experience, that rarely happens. The snake wants out, not in.
TOM: Of course, would I take Dr. Zaidan's word for it, just because he's spent his whole life studying snake behavior? Hell no! If it were me, I'd lure a local snake expert out to have a definitive look.
RAY: Right. Your nearby university may have a herpetologist, or you may try a local nature center, or go online and find a bulletin board for snake hobbyists. A person familiar with handling snakes probably would be willing to poke around, and if the little guy is still in there, grab him and remove him from the premises.
TOM: Without seeing it, or knowing its coloring, Dr. Zaidan says it's impossible to know whether it was a venomous snake. But he says (reassuringly, again) that any venomous snake 5 to 6 feet long would be more than 2 inches thick.
RAY: Of course, people often get the dimensions of snakes wrong. My brother saw a foot-long garden snake in his tulips, and called the zoo and told them there was an 8-foot anaconda loose.
TOM: Well, I didn't think they'd bring the blowtorches for a garden snake!
RAY: Statistically speaking, you should be safe, Mary. The snake doesn't want to be in your car any more than you want him in there.
TOM: But, like I said, if it were me, I'd take additional precautions. I wouldn't drive the car again unless I was wearing a chain-mail suit and accompanied by a family of starving mongooses. And I'd definitely stop playing the Indian flute.