An escaped boa constrictor, spotted at a reservoir by a surprised walker, may have hitched a ride to Harrogate from Lancashire.
A woman has got in touch with the Harrogate Advertiser after reports that a six-foot snake was spotted at Swinsty Reservoir.
She says the snake - verified as a boa constrictor - may be her missing pet, Legless, who disappeared from her home in Burnley a fortnight ago.
“I think he’s probably hitched a ride to Harrogate in my dad’s van,” said Debbie Hodgson, 31.
“They are likely to go for warm places, so if an engine was running he could have climbed in there.
“I’m pretty sure, looking at the markings, that he’s mine.”
The snake was first reported in the grassland at Swinsty Reservoir last Saturday by walkers from Otley, Edward Ryder and his girlfriend Alex Burns.
“I spotted what looked like a big fat sausage in the middle of the path,” he said. “It dawned on me that it was a snake and that it was still moving. It was obviously watching us.”
The pair managed to get a picture of the tail end of the snake as it slithered off into the grass and Mr Ryder contacted the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union.
“They have said it is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a boa constrictor,” said Mr Ryder. “There was a quite big bump in the middle of it, so it looks like it’s been getting quite a bit to eat.
“I wont be in a hurry to come across it again,” added Mr Ryder, aged 40. “I’m not fond of snakes at all, I didn’t even like my grandma’s snake draught excluder.
“I enjoy running around Swinsty, and I have been wondering how to get my speed up - I don’t have to worry now.”
Another couple, from Franklin Road in Harrogate, have contacted the Advertiser to say that they too, spotted the snake.
Elizabeth and Ian Richards were walking at Swinsty Reservoir with their dog at about 4pm last Saturday, June 16.
“It was lying fully across the path,” said Mrs Richards. “I thought ‘that could be a snake. It doesn’t look like a stick.’”
She added: “I was petrified. There was no way around it, only over it. I deliberated for about 10 minutes before I jumped over it, I was scared it would hear the thud as I landed.
“The lower part of its body was bigger, so it may have just had some prey. My husband said it was dead, but I could see it looking at me.”
Miss Hodgson, who called the Harrogate Advertiser after seeing pictures of the snake in the national newspapers, is convinced it is her Legless, who has been missing since June 6.
“My dad and my sister drove to Harrogate on June 12, to look at a fish tank, and I think he went with them,” she said. “My dad thought there was a problem with the water tank, maybe he pulled the tube out.
“He’s completely harmless. He only eats rats, dogs and children aren’t at risk at all. I can assure he is no danger to anything, apart from maybe a hamster and there aren’t many of those around Swinsty Reservoir.”
Legless escaped after he was let out of his secure tank for a break on June 6.
“It’s my fault,” said Miss Hodgson. “I nodded off while he was out, and he escaped. I’ve done this before, but he never normally leaves my side. This time, he decided to go for a wonder.”
Miss Hodgson has had Legless for four years, since he was only a few weeks old.
“He’s missed dreadfully,” she said. “I’ve brought him up from when he was a baby. I just want to get him back safe.”
Yorkshire Water is urging visitors to exercise caution and to keep dogs on a lead until the snake is found.
Site manager Geoff Lomas said: “Over the years, we’ve discovered a number of escaped or unwanted exotic pets at our recreational sites across the region, such as terrapins and koi carp, but never an exotic snake more commonly found in the jungles of South America.
“Clearly there is some concern in that we have a snake, of which we know very little about, including when it last ate, on the loose in a vast woodland area which is very popular with visitors from across the region.
“Whilst a boa constrictor is unlikely to pose a risk to humans, a lot of people walk their dogs around the site and clearly small dogs could be at a small risk from such a predator.
“With this in mind, we’re saying to people, please do come to the site, but please be sensible and exercise caution when out and about, ensuring all dogs are kept on a lead.”
Commonly found in North, Central, and South America - but legally kept by some people in the UK as a pet - the boa constrictor is a large snake which is recognisable by its brown colour with distinctive brown or reddish brown patterns.
At home in forests and woodland, it is able to climb into trees and shrubs to forage for prey which includes a wide variety of mammals and birds, such as mice, bats, and amphibians.
As a nocturnal animal, it normally hunts in the dark, first striking at its prey and then asphyxiating them by wrapping their bodies around them and crushing the life out of them, before consuming their prey whole.
As a cold-blooded reptile, the boa constrictor needs warmth to sustain it (temperatures of between 75 - 85f) and as such is unlikely to survive for long in the UK climate.
North Yorkshire Police, the RSPCA and Yorkshire Naturalist Union have all been informed about the snake.
Yorkshire Water has also put up a poster at the site detailing the sighting and urging people to exercise caution when exploring the beauty spot.