Mystery snake escapes Fish and Game custody

Beth Bragg

Man finds snake. Man calls Fish and Game. Snake meets Fish and Game biologist. Biologist takes snake home. Snake ditches biologist.

That's the short version of the story of Grubb, the little snake that right about now is either exploring Jessy Coltrane's Eagle River house or slithering around outside, searching for his third home in less than a week.

Before you shout "eek," relax: Grubb is a baby rubber boa - a snake whose name might twist your tongue but which otherwise presents no threat to humans.

Grubb is so nonthreatening, by look and by nature, that when a man discovered the 8-inch-long creature in his South Anchorage garage last Friday, he thought it was a really big night crawler.

Upon closer inspection, the man learned otherwise.

"It also had a head with a tongue and some eyeballs," said Coltrane, a biologist for the state Department of Fish & Game.

So the man called Fish and Game, and Fish and Game took the snake. No one was quite sure what to do with it, so Coltrane named it Grubb - as in grub worm, because of its wormy appearance - and took it home with her to Eagle River. Put it in a terrarium right next to her hedgehog's cage.

When Coltrane got home from work Tuesday night, she checked on Grubb, and he was gone. Then she checked the hedgehog, just in case.

"I checked Hank's belly, but I don't think he could have eaten the whole thing," she said.

Finding no bulge in Hank's belly or any slimy remains in his cage, Coltrane deduced that Grubb is somewhere in her house, looking for nonexistent mice that make up a rubber boa's diet.

That's the long version of the story of Grubb. The rest of the tale is sheer speculation - a missing chapter that tells us where Grubb came from and why he's in Alaska at all. After all, except for garter snakes in Southeast, Alaska is a snake-free zone.

Rick Sinnott, Coltrane's co-worker, jokes that Grubb's presence here might be yet another sign that Alaska is ground zero when it comes to global warming.

He's only kidding, snake-o-phobes. Coltrane and everyone else assures us that even though the ice cap is melting and the tundra is thawing, Alaska remains no place for cold-blooded critters like snakes.

"Is it getting warm enough up here for snakes? Hell no," said Maria vonKoehnen, a reptile rescuer who has taken in 300 kinds of snakes over the years and currently has 14 living in her Muldoon home. "Do you know why they're legal here? Because they can't survive."

vonKoehnen has tried - unsuccessfully - to get the Legislature to pass a law forbidding the sale of snakes that grow to eight feet or longer. Too many people buy a python or a boa constrictor without understanding what they're getting into, she said.

Then the pretty python or the cute constrictor gets bigger than a bathtub, and the owner dumps the snake. Usually that involves taking the snake to animal control - which says it takes in a dozen or fewer snakes a year - or to a rescuer like vonKoehnen. Sometimes it means letting the snake loose and letting it - and those it encounters - fend for themselves.

Coltrane has no clue how Grubb came to be in Alaska.

The man who found it while moving a mattress in his garage had never seen it before. And the three pet stores in Anchorage that sell snakes all say they've never sold rubber boas.

"It could be an escaped pet, or it could have come from an escaped female that laid eggs," Coltrane said. "There is a possibility that it came up on a pallet, but that pallet would have had to wind up in that guy's garage and it didn't, so that would be a big maybe."