After spending 10 years as the Forest Preserve District's resident reptile at Plum Creek Nature Center, Bud the ball python passed away following a recent illness.
But he made an impact during the years he was featured at many Forest Preserve programs, said Suzy Lyttle, an interpretive naturalist at the nature center.
"We are so proud of the time Bud had here," she said. "We know at least two families that fell in love with Bud and were inspired to rescue their own ball pythons."
Bud spent his time at the District educating students during Hands-On Herpetology field trips, the Frogs, Snakes and Turtles youth group program and at many public programs and events.
"I have heard both children and adults say they have never touched a snake before meeting Bud," Lyttle said. "Some people were so scared, but eventually they felt comfortable enough to pet Bud. Snakes can be intimidating for some people, but Bud was so friendly it was a perfect opportunity to conquer any fears."
Bud was estimated to be around age 30 when he became ill. After being rescued by the Chicago Herptological Society in Chicago, Bud was adopted in 1992 by Bob Bryerton, an interpretive naturalist at Plum Creek Nature Center.
"He was a pet that was purchased through a pet store, and the gentleman that bought him no longer wanted him, since he was not too exciting," Bryerton recalled. "He put him up for adoption and was planning on getting a pot bellied pig, since that was the trending pet at the time."
Bryerton donated Bud, whose species is native to sub-Saharan Africa, to the nature center in 2007 when it began its reptile exhibit. While ball pythons are not native to Illinois, Bud was the perfect ambassador to work with members of the public, Bryerton explained.
"I specifically was looking for a snake at the time that would be large enough that kids could see him but not get so large as to be dangerous to handle on your own," he said. "The ball python fit the bill. Also ball pythons' normal reaction to danger is to put their head in the middle and roll into a ball, so they are very gentle and never even try to strike."
Because of the species' easy going nature, the Forest Preserve District has acquired a new ball python, this time a female. Like all of the animals on display at Plum Creek Nature Center, this ball python also is a rescue animal.
"We just got her on November 4, and she's about 5 years old," Lyttle said. "She was purchased by a child who wanted a snake, but got a little freaked out when he saw her eat."
Ball pythons eat live prey.
"Right now we are getting her acclimated to her new home and new role as lead snake educator," Lyttle said. "Staff will have to learn her personality and handle her often until she is ready to do programs with the public."
She will be on display with the other animals at the nature center. Plum Creek's menagerie includes Smashbox, a three-toed box turtle; Daenerys, a bearded dragon; and Shoebert, a tiger salamander who is native to the area.
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