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Serpent charmed into eating ceramic egg in Seward chicken coop

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 11:09 p.m.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jill Argall, Director of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona, handles a rat snake that was brought into the center by Alan Hollingsworth because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jill Argall, Director of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona, holds down a rat snake that was brought into the center by Alan Hollingsworth because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
A rat snake that was brought into the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona by Alan Hollingsworth waits to be weighed because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jill Argall, Director of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona, weighs a rat snake that was brought into the center by Alan Hollingsworth because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Jill Argall, Director of the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona, handles a rat snake that was brought into the center by Alan Hollingsworth because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.
Pictured is the X-ray of a rat snake that was brought into the center by Alan Hollingsworth because of a ceramic egg lodged in its digestive tract on Monday, August 11, 2014. The rat snake was found on Aug. 6 at the home of Al Filat in Seward, where Filat kept ceramic eggs to encourage his chickens to lay eggs. Filat noticed the ceramic egg was missing on July 22, 2014.

A black rat snake looking for eggs in Al Filat's chicken coop in Seward found the ceramic version used to coax his chickens to nest pretty hard to swallow.

“The egg smelled like chicken,” neighbor Alan Hollingsworth said. “Let's face it, they're not that bright.”

Hollingsworth, 54, who volunteers with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission surveying timber rattlesnakes, took the 5-foot snake with a tell-tale bulge to the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center in Verona on Monday. A veterinarian who evaluated the reptile on Tuesday has called in a specialist to perform the “high-risk” surgery.

“I have never seen anything quite like this,” said Jill Argall, director of the center. “This is a little beyond what we can do.”

The co-founder of the Pittsburgh Herpetological Society said she was surprised that the snake swallowed an artificial egg.

“That's a good one,” said Dolly Ellenbrock, 63, of Aspinwall. “I've probably never heard of a snake swallowing a ceramic egg.”

Black rat snakes are frequent visitors to suburban backyards, farms and fields from Connecticut to North Carolina, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They can range from 3 12 to 7 feet long and live primarily on rodents, amphibians and young birds.

Snakes are opportunistic hunters.

“They will eat eggs if they come across them,” said Edward Bennett, 60, of Franklin Park, a veterinarian who works with reptiles and has been called upon to remove foreign objects from their bellies.

Bennett recently did surgery to remove a fish hook from a water turtle, more common objects that reptiles swallow after smelling fish or bait on them.

A 2 12-foot Northern water snake got more than it bargained for two years ago at Keystone Lake after swallowing a fish that had a hook in its mouth.

Park officials found the snake tangled in fishing line. The fish — and the hook — were inside the snake's stomach.

The Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center also treated that snake, dubbed Captain for the fictional character Captain Hook from the story “Peter Pan.”

An X-ray showed the natural course of digestion had pushed the hook to the snake's colon, making surgical intervention difficult because of the risk of infection.

Veterinarians instead treated the snake with enemas and waited about a week for the hook to pass.

That's probably not the course of treatment for the snake that Alan Hollingsworth took from his neighbor's chicken coop.

“I knew something had to be done, he said. “That ceramic egg takes up his whole stomach.”

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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