Sophia is a boa constrictor who loves to cuddle.
For many people, that might sound alarming. But for John Corcoran, science teacher in the RiverDell school system, Sophia is not only a fine example of reptilian camaraderie, but a great teaching aid as well.
"The kids are always thrilled to see Sophia," he says, as the snake curls gently about his shoulders.
And is Sophia equally pleased to see the kids?
"Snakes have very poor eyesight," Corcoran explains. Sophia only sees shadows moving."
Lacking sharply distinguishing vision and without the assistance of hearing (in case you never noticed, snakes do not have ears!) these reptiles with the nasty reputation actually can be very vulnerable to their environment.
"Snakes are highly attuned to textures," Corcoran continues. "They recognize their home, their bedding, even their owner by the familiar touch." And when a snake senses someone or something new is nearby, he or she will pause and try to decipher if it is friend or foe.
On cue, Sophia sticks her funny forked tongue out and tests the air, then promptly withdraws, sensing strangers are near.
Mr. Corcoran feeds Sophia once every two weeks, but her water dish is always accessible. Weighing approximately thirty pounds, she is much larger than she was when Corcoran initially brought her home as a baby.
He holds up a short stretch of rope in the air to demonstrate. "She was just about this size when I first got her 12 years ago."
Sophia snake-charmed her way around the Corcoran household for 2 years before the teacher made her a permanent fixture at the school science lab. "I decided to let her live at the lab since the students loved seeing her so much," he says.
And who wouldn't?
The complex and beautiful textile imprinted upon her skin is truly one of nature's more beautiful patterns. Definitely better to be viewed upon Sophia than a handbag or pair of shoes.
While some of Sophia's far less fortunate relatives may have been utilized in the manufacturing of such items, happily Sophia is safe in RiverDell.
Hesitantly stretching her head out of her glass enclosure, Sophia carefully moves towards a delighted student. Considering how gentle this reptile is, why such a frightful reputation?
"I was watching a movie on TV the other night, "Mr. Corcoran says. "And the evil snakes were approaching. The music was scary and the way they shot the snakes they appeared menacing, like they were on the attack."
Corcoran immediately recognized the dastardly snake-villains as being "ball pythons," a type known for it's timidity and tendency to curl into a ball when approached.
"The media portrays snakes as being slithery, terrifying fiends," he says, as Sophia happily ducks her head beneath the tip of his tie. "It's just not always the case."
Clearly not in the case of Sophia, a boa who could make anyone scared of snakes question their reasoning. Is it possible to feel affection for a slithery reptile like Sophia?
"During the first two years of her life when she lived with my family, my kids got attached to her," Corcoran says. "Now they are 20 and 21 years old, but they still ask after her. As they were growing up they used to ask to come to the school to visit with her."
Luckily for Mr. Corcoran's students, they don't have to make a special request to check in on Sophia, she is just a great part of their daily learning experience.