Monstrous snakes slither off Craigslist into homes across country

Aug 07, 2013 at 12:43 PM ET

Summer 2013 is the season of runaway snakes. The unwelcome reptiles have wriggled their way into homes all over the United States and Canada, shocking unsuspecting homeowners in Brooklyn, New York, Hialeah, Florida, and, tragically, New Brunswick, Canada. And online classifieds like Craigslist and Hoobly might be helping make it all possible.

Are you, your family and your pets safe from these scaly murderers? Maybe not! (But probably.)

The snake trade is bustling. There are major “herp” operations (companies that professionally breed and sell herps, an in-the-know term for herptiles, or reptiles and amphibians) all over the United States and lower Canada.

But it is the undercover herps, the ones owners keep in their basements and closets, that are more likely to suddenly appear curled up in the cushions of your La-Z-Boy. The owners often buy their snakes off online classifieds, like Hoobly, Craigslist and KingSnake.com. Boa constrictors, anacondas and pythons are sold out in the open on these websites. These three extremely popular kinds of snakes aren’t the most dangerous, but they also aren’t particularly good or safe pets. And they are capable of killing humans.

While there are federal laws, like the Lacey Act, that govern herp imports to the United States and transportation across state lines, there are very few that restrict breeding large snakes. Many states require special permits for snake breeding, however. A lot of the breeding is happening in Florida, Texas and California.

“Florida produces a lot of the reptile trade,” says Felton Willis of ReptileCity.com, an online herp vendor. “They don’t want to see that revenue taken from their area.”

Sale listings on Hoobly suggest that Florida is home to the greatest number of people selling boa constrictors. Vocativ found 88 boas up for sale in the state, including this albino red-tail boa, a “tame great eater.” Most postings come from Bradenton and Myakka City on Florida’s western coast. 

Although boas aren’t as dangerous as they’re made out to be (there have been only 17 constrictor-related deaths over the past 35 years), there are laws all over the country that monitor boa owning. “Many local laws do require constrictors over 8 to 10 feet to be banned, so this is is a much more regulated business than you think,” Jeremy Stone, major boa constrictor collector and operator of BoaConstrictor.com, says in a message. “Human error and bad judgment is the problem—not stopping Craigslist. Buyers must be aware of all local laws.”

Boa constrictors range between 3 and 13 feet in length and can weigh up to 60 pounds. They live to age 30. Some require special permits. Even so, there are large boas up for grabs all over the country. Ohio is the second hottest spot for boas on Hoobly, but there are also 13 boas for sale in and around Waldorf, Maryland, and others available in Houston and San Antonio.

One Craigslist poster in Brooklyn, New York, is “taking all unwanted boas and pythons” into his or her home—a refugee camp for large snakes. “I am willing to take in any boas or pythons regardless of age, size, temperament, special needs, etc.,” the poster writes.

The majority of previous boa attacks have occurred in Florida, Texas, California and New York. You’ve been warned.