Tuesday, June 7, 2011

This morning I showered with a murderer

I did it yesterday too.

Now you mustn't imagine that I enter into such liaisons lightly.
But there's only so long that one can go unwashed in order to avoid unsavoury company.

Maybe I should start at the beginning...

About a week ago, I woke at 3 am to the sound of screaming.
Never a good sign.
The dogs, Wobbly Cat and I hurtled out of bed, in a tangle of blankets, flailing limbs and stepped-on paws, and blundered to the bathroom; source of the shrieks. What we found was grisly.

Now I want you to imagine the shower scene from Psycho. Not the bloody bit (which, by the way, was actually the chocolate saucy bit, because Hitchcock thought stage-blood looked wishy-washy in black and white) but the suspenseful build-up. OK, you need to tweak things a little; make the victim rather short and dumpy, and she's snoozing in the cubicle rather than actually showering, but otherwise everything is bona fide horror movie.
The assailant's stealthy approach, the victim blithely unaware... the weapon silently raised, ready to strike... And then AAAAHH!

Well we stumbled in at the AAAH part to find the killer dangling from the light fitting with the terrified victim struggling in his jaws. This was disturbing because the victim was a friend; she'd lived in my house for more than a year. OK, I admit she was a frog, but foam nest frogs are endearing creatures. Creamy coloured with huge jewel eyes and suction-pad toes, she'd munch any mealworm tossed her way, and - along with her gentlemen friend - had faithfully guarded the entry to my shower for the last two months; one atop each door post like a pair of animated gargoyles.

And now here she was scrabbling frantically in mid air, squawking in distress, with the killer's jaws clamped over her back and her huge hind feet wind-milling.

My dearly departed southern foam nest frog (Chiromantis xerampelina). R.I.P.
You can read about this critter's idiosyncrasies here.

And the perpetrator? Still only half-emerged from a small hole in the ceiling, the assassin was slicked out in glistening brown. He was, of course, legless (what else would a snake-phobic expect to find in their bathroom at 3 am). Not large enough to send me into a full-scale panic attack (at a bit less than a metre long (2' 6") and 2 cm (0.8'') thick), the murderer glared down at me with the eyes of a cat: bright gold with a vertical pupil.

'The Beast, I presume', I thought grimly.

Those of you imprudent enough to follow this blog will know I live in fear of The Predatory Beast that haunts my ceiling. Since I've never had the courage to climb up and identify The Beast (you can read of my ongoing cowardice here and here) I guess it's inevitable that he would eventually come to me. But at 3 am, identifying him was beyond me (actually that's an excuse; it's beyond me at anytime).
Was this snake venomous? Was it dangerous?

The frog's shrieks and cries were so heart-rending I considered launching a rescue mission. After all, how in Heaven was this snake going to gobble down an amphibian four times wider than his own head? Yet something in the snake's bitterly determined, clamp-jawed expression ("All I have to do is keep my mouth shut and wait") suggested my shower accessory was already doomed. The pets and I trudged sadly back to bed and lay trying not to hear the pitiful – and now weakening - shrieks.

By 6 am, I knew I had a problem. The snake was still hanging from the bathroom light, his head and throat bizarrely distended to accommodate the first inch of limp, dangling frog. And to me, it was appallingly clear that - like Pooh Bear after a honey binge – this snake, post breakfast, was not going to fit back through the hole from whence it came. Oh God!

The killer - a marbled tree snake (Dipsaloboa aulica) - was identified, from a mug shot, by the folk at SA Reptile Forum. (I guess I'm now honour-bound to stop suggesting they're a little bit barmy). The bulge on the perp's right side is my friend's hind feet, and the rest of her is contained within the swelling on the left.

I didn't photograph the whole frog-swallowing thing (sorry) for fear that any intervention by the paparazzi might induce vomiting, and my friend would then have died in vain. Marbled tree snakes hang out in lush riverside forest in the lowveld (a strip of low-altitude, bushy savannah edging South Africa's eastern border). They specialise in hunting tree frogs and geckos by night and, although venomous, they aren't considered dangerous to people (fingers crossed). I suppose it's fitting that my resident tree frog should die at the hands fangs of an arch nemesis.

By 7 am, breakfast was consumed (miraculously) and The Beast retreated to my shower cubicle, coiling up neatly in the grooves of the aluminium frame over the doorway.
He's been there ever since.

Ophidiophobia mutating into ablutophobia (fear of snakes, and bathing, respectively). This photo was taken from inside my (tiny) shower cubicle looking up at the lintel. When I'm showering, those coils are only 1 foot from my nose; genuine immersion therapy.

Initially I abstained from showering (hoping to wait out the digestion period), but the creature's shown no inclination to leave even now he's svelte. Bathing is tense for us both: he tightens up into a bundle, with just his snout peeping out over his coils, and I edge nervously into the cubicle and press myself against the far wall. We then try to avoid making eye contact more than, oh, forty times per shower. He's an awesome water saving device though.

Figuring that he was pretty harmless, I'd resigned myself to his winter-long presence (snakes have to hibernate somewhere I suppose), but then one of my resident toads came hopping into the bathroom. Instant serpent action! Arrgh! I didn't know snakes could move that fast. Fortunately, I managed to shove the toad out the door before tooth-contact was made, but my fumbling attempts at snake removal (unravelling coils from the light/toilet/tap/shower-head/sink using a broom handle) were laughable (yes, I know snakes don't laugh, but he was doing his best).

Making light of murder. My resident snake (I go cold just writing those words) enthusiastically making dinner plans.

So The Beast continues to squat in my shower cubicle believing my bathroom is a larder. And I'm getting neurotic trying to remember to keep the bathroom door closed to avert further carnage.

Ahh, don't you just love snakes...

My squatter expressing his feelings toward the landlord.


  1. Good grief! That's very brave of you sharing the shower with a snake. I have conniptions if there's so much as a cockroach in my bathroom!

  2. Yikes! I think I'd be taking "spit baths" in the kitchen until the snake moved out.

  3. Hey all these image are clicked by you very brave person you are. I like it. Pvc Strip Door, Flexible Pvc Strip

  4. I like snakes, having traveled cross country w/ a Texas rat snake in a canvas bag tucked into my shirt and then shared a room for a while w/ a lovely reticulated python named Cleopatra...but there is a limit...breaking and entering to eat my buddies! living in my shower! EEK!

  5. Snail,
    Oh for a humble cockroach...

    Actually you'd probably avoid my kitchen sink too as there's something suspiciously reptilian living beneath it. Unfortunately, I recently lost my infallible snake-detector (cat) so I can't be sure whether it's fully legged or not (I'm living in hope).

    Mr Naveen,
    Glad you liked the post.

    I appreciate your commiserations but no sane person tucks a snake inside their shirt. Oh, but wasn't that what your python's namesake did with her asp (an Egyptian cobra)? And we all know how that ended!

  6. Lynda, I'm sorry you lost your froggy companion! I guess snakes have to eat too, but it's definitely discomfitting to watch that cycle unfold with animals you know, and in your own home.

  7. What about the other animated gargoyle in the pair?

  8. Sciencetrio,
    Yes, I'm hopeless at coping with animals dying but it's a daily occurrence here. My white-bread upbringing just hasn't prepared me for a life red in tooth and claw!

    Elephant's Eye,
    I think the male frog got wind of an imminent attack (maybe this was the snake's second try) because he'd disserted his post about three days earlier. I found him cowering in the toilet cistern, precariously balanced on the floatation ball. Worried that I'd accidentally flush him, I returned him to the shower door but he headed off (out the window) the following night. Long Live Mr Frog!

  9. wow.
    1. sorry about losing your froggy friend & your kitty. =(

    2. I'd forgotten until a friend who visited me during my field work (last week of, saved my LIFE I needed that "break" so much (quotes 'cause kept sampling the whole time, of course)) reminded me that when one took a shower out there in the shower structure (was it free standing?), there was a line of little froggy faces peeping out at you. A very dry, hot place in the summer, is Riverside County, and they were nobody's fool. Live. In. Shower. Very cute.

    3. well, at least you know what the beast is. erg. GREAT writing as ever. A pleasure. xo

  10. Biobabbler,
    Thanks for your condolences, and I'm glad you managed to take a break (sort of). Frogs are pretty cunning when it comes to finding nice damp roosting spots; I'm expecting to be evicted by my resident toads any day, now that the dry season is upon us and house-room is getting short!

  11. Lynda, you must live in the adventure capital of the world :o)

  12. Max-e,
    A snake in the bathroom is very mild compared to your bungee jumping!!


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