I stink. It’s a foul smell somewhere between “rotten fish in the bottom of the dumpster” and “four day old diaper that was left in the trunk of a hot car”. It’s not my fault. Well… I’m not emitting the smell so much as I have the smell on me. It is my fault that I have the smell on me. I was trying to help peel the shedding skin off of a Florida Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana), a subspecies of the Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula). No good deed goes unpunished. I got “squirted”.
All snakes shed their skin as they grow. It’s a vulnerable time for them and they tend to be reclusive and irritable. I generally don’t handle captive snakes during their shed as even the normally “polite” snakes tend to be more aggressive and may bite to defend themselves. The issue is mostly visibility. At the onset of shed, the skin cell that covers the eye pops up and appears milky white and is not easy to see through. A fluid is excreted between skin and shed that eases the separation of old and new. After a few days the snake has improved vision and seeks out a stone or a branch – something to help rub against and pull the shed off. For most snakes the old skin comes off in one piece and inside out, like taking off a pair of tights. I don’t know this from experience. The head is freed first and the tail is often the last portion to separate from the shed. But there is one sensitive area that can’t be ignored. The cloaca vent. For all intents and purposes the vent is where the waste comes out. Inside the cloaca are two glands that produce a foul, horrible, disgusting, nasal penetrating, tear inducing olfactory nightmare that scientists suggest is a defense mechanism to ward off predators and idiots trying to peel a snake’s shed off.
Whether the snake intended to express its fetid funk or a bit of the cloacal juice just happened to squirt me as the shed skin cleared the vent is unknown. What is for certain is that no amount of tomato juice, vinegar or sanitizer alleviated the stench. Four days later, my stench-soaked skin had in turn shed and I was able to breathe again without wincing.
I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t do that again.