This story is part of Grist’s Summer Dreams arts and culture series, a weeklong exploration of how popular fiction can influence our environmental reality.
People thought the snake spotted in the park was a black mamba. Who knows how a reptile that normally makes its home in sub-Saharan Africa could have slithered its way over to the East End of Pittsburgh — or why it would want to make that particular trek — but there it was, wrapped around a beech tree in the middle of Frick Park back in April.
Of course, everyone in the neighborhood lost their minds. A highly venomous snake right there where people go jogging and walk their blissfully unsuspecting labradors and terriers? Call the police if you see this thing, people posted on Facebook, and sure enough, somebody did. One local news station sent a chopper. (“It’s no garden snake — look at this thing!” said an incredulous anchor.) The department of public safety issued a citywide alert.
But the people more familiar with the ecosystem, those who knew their non-human neighbors, were aghast. The police? For what? That thing was a ratsnake. A big o... Read more