Sometimes food bites back

Sharna Johnson

Hunger and need change everything — even those rules we believe to be black and white.

It’s a thought I arrived at this week while talking with a friend.

“You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you, you’re mean,” he said jokingly.

He proceeded to point out he was struck by the thought after a visit to my house which included a tour of my pet menagerie.

He explained he had been feeling sympathy for a snake whose cage was situated next to a cage of three baby rabbits.

“That just ain’t right, that has to be frustrating, and imagine what the rabbits are thinking,” he said grinning.

I took the opportunity to defend myself and share an interesting dynamic with him that I have learned over the years.

Food is only food when the predator is hungry, and a predator is only a predator while it’s trying to kill you.

Predator and prey, for the most part, understand their roles and hold no grudges.

More times than I can count I have placed a fuzzy rat or mouse into the snake cage then quickly squished my eyes closed and turned my back waiting for the “dinner is served” squeal.

And many times when that squeal hasn’t come, I have slowly turned back and opened my eyes to see the snake apathetically serving as a balancing beam for a curious rodent.

The first time I saw it I was amazed and sure it was an freak thing, but no, it happens all the time.

The rats don’t even seem to know they’re in danger.

It seems that snakes (at least captive snakes) don’t strike and kill just because.

Not only that, they won’t even defend themselves even though it has to be annoying to have a mouse standing on one’s head.

I have had snakes spend days bonding with their food and watched in amazement as they curl around a rat, acting as a cushion.

And the rats scurry around seemingly oblivious to the potential, using the snake’s long body as a bridge or ladder to get where they want to go.

What is even more interesting, is that the tables can be turned and sometimes it’s the food that bites.

The vulnerability of a snake is actually quite shocking, and when combined with the apathy that accompanies lack of appetite, can be down right deadly.

In essence, the snake becomes a living snack for a precocious rat.

A few hours confined together and a snake owner may very well return to find their slithery friend gnawed on like an ear of corn, injuries snakes often cannot bounce back from.

Of course in the wild, predator and prey wouldn’t bunk together and would actively avoid contact with the exception of hunting time.

So it’s logical the dynamic is a product of captivity dulling the instincts.

Our local zoo, for instance, has a program where they intentionally place objects with the scent of herd animals in the tiger’s and other cat pens and vice versa, the smell of the predators into the pens of prey animals.

The practice helps to stimulate them and awakens their instincts, cutting down on the malaise of captivity.

And those instincts are critical to both the hunter and the hunted.

But in the end, it is the drive and the appetite that directs the outcome of that relationship, ensuring that it’s not always the creature with the biggest teeth that prevails, but instead the one with the greatest hunger.

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at