A slippery customer gave Tesco shoppers a shock after escaping from its cage and turning up in one of the supermarket giant’s Northern Ireland stores.
The California kingsnake was found in the crisp aisle of Tesco Knocknagoney in east Belfast.
One shopper told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s not exactly the type of thing you expect to see in Tesco when you pop in to buy a few groceries.
“It must have been three or four foot long, but after one of the customers raised the alarm an employee quickly caught it.”
A local vet who is looking after the three-foot reptile believes it slithered into Tesco in search of warmth after escaping from its cage.
The non-venomous serpent, which is black with white rings, is now being cared for by Belmont Road-based Vets Now, which is hoping to reunite the snake with its owners.
Lara Wilson from Vets Now said: “The California kingsnake would be quite a common pet that would be usually kept in a heated tank, but they can be quite accomplished escape artists.”
She explained how the snake, native to the US, came to be in their care.
“A customer found it in Tesco and Tesco contacted us to say they had found a snake and were worried about it.
“One of the employees brought it into us. It was just looking for somewhere warm and found an open door. It seems to be perfectly happy, well fed and is used to being handled.”
Tesco contacted the store’s technical team and the police for advice after the discovery.
“We believe that the snake either escaped or was abandoned, and as soon as it was discovered, we took it to a local veterinary clinic where it is now being looked after,” a spokeswoman said.
However, Wayne Hull of City Reptiles has urged anyone who encounters a snake not to lift it.
He said: “No-one should lift any snake unless they know exactly what it is. You hear stories about animals being found in the fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, and you never know what is venomous and what's not.”
And those concerned that the serpent visitor would be devouring their Tesco Finest can rest easy — Kingsnakes prefer rodents.
“Unless Tesco have started selling mice, it wouldn't have eaten anything,” Wayne assured us.
If you are the owner, please email Vets Now on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Belfast Telegraph on 028 9026 4420
California kingsnakes are a non-venomous subspecies of the common kingsnake. Found in the western US and Mexico, they thrive in a variety of habitats including deserts, rivers and woodlands.
At adult size they measure an average of three to four feet, but can reach up to five. Usually solitary creatures, they spend their days hiding in secluded spaces, emerging at dusk to hunt.
Feeding on a menu of rodents, birds and amphibians, they are also frequent consumers of other snakes. Looping around their prey, they constrict and squeeze their catch until it suffocates.