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For goodness snake: UMM loses beloved boa constrictor

Ramses the snake was fixture in the University of Minnesota Morris science building until his death in May. UMM photo1 / 2
Many students stopped to look at Ramses when he lived in the science building at the University of Minnesota Morris. UMM photo2 / 2

Ramses did not teach any classes or coach any teams or work in any office at the University of Minnesota Morris. In fact he sat around most of his life.

But when this several foot long boa constrictor snake died in May, the UMM Facebook page was flooded with comments that were a testament to the snake's popularity on campus.

"Ramses is the reason I have a few snakes of my own," Cameron Ryer wrote on Facebook.

"Even tho (sic:) I'm not a fan of snakes this one was really neat?" Tammy Blake wrote on Facebook.

"I heard from a lot of former students and staff. I was surprised at how many people remembered Ramses," Heather Waye, a biology professor at UMM, said in an interview with the Stevens County Times. She's been Ramses' keeper for about eight years.

Current staff and students also left notes, even flowers, in Ramses's glass case in the science building.

"You helped me get over my fear of snakes," was writen on one note.

Ramses was a snake "who made everyone smile," said another note.

"The cards are very sweet," Waye said. "That really surpised me too."

Ramses was also popular in the community. Folks would bring their children to see Ramses. Ramses would also appear in a former event which invited daycare children to meet him.

It seems there are many Ramses stories from his roughly 25 years years on campus.

Waye has many of her own.

She'd walk by his case everyday on her way to classes.

"I still check everytime I walk by," Waye recently said.

How does one get attached to a roughly 13-pound snake who ate one large rat every two weeks?

Waye believes snakes have personalities, "although some would argue with me."

"Until recently, we always thought that reptiles were slow, stupid, uncaring and almost robot-like animals," Waye said.

But research is showing there is more to snakes that than the old mindset.

Snakes are much more social than once believed. They also have more awareness of the world around them then they've been given credit.

Ramses's counterpart, 8 Ball, is more of a laid back snake. When he is taken out for students or guests "he can lay around all day."

"Ramses was a bigger boy but even so, when we took him out he'd be curious," Waye said.

"His tongue would be flicking and he'd be looking around following movement," Waye said.

He tolerated being placed on someone's shoulder and generally being handled.

"When I cleaned his cage, I'd put him on seats," Waye said. "When he was younger, he'd move his head and peak over the top of the seats as if he was watching me."

She'd also hold Ramses in her lap. "He'd poke his head around my hair. I wouldn't say he was affectionate because that's not what they do but he certainly was not dumb."

Waye noticed changes in Ramses as he aged.

"Ramses became a grumpy old man," Waye said. While he still tolerated curious onlookers he made it known when he was tired.

"He became quite vocal in his old age," Waye said. "He'd kind of hiss or sigh heavily." That indicated he was ready for his case. He may have gotten a little grumpy but he never, ever tried to bite her or anyone.

While Ramses had trouble shedding his skin for as long as Waye knew him, it was more difficult the past few years.

"I'd have to soak him," Waye said. And while he could be grumpy, "He let me pick (the skin) around his lips," Waye said.

Ramses also lost weight. He weighed about 16 pounds a few years ago and dropped to about 13 before he died.

Ramses arrived at UMM about 27 years ago after he was bred in captivity.

Waye hasn't determined if and how, she'd replace him. "My philosophy is to rehome a snake that's not wanted anymore," she said.

For now, the case is without a snake. But there are still many memories.

"RIP Ramses," Heather Nelson wrote on Facebook.

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