Planet Princeton

Boa constrictor found in Riverside Elementary School classroom in Princeton

The surprise visitor at Riverside Elementary School. Students named the snake Zeus.

Students in Megan Reilly’s 3rd grade classroom at Riverside Elementary School in Princeton discovered they had a surprise visitor hiding among them on Tuesday. A four-foot-long boa constrictor snuck into the school and was coiled into a ball in the back of the classroom.

The students are accustomed to seeing a snake in their classroom since the class pet, Cuddles, is also a boa constrictor. But the students and Reilly quickly realized that the snake in the corner was not their beloved classroom pet, but instead a snake that looked nearly identical to Cuddles.

Riverside Elementary science teacher Mark Eastburn suspects that Cuddles’ scent drew the male snake, which the students named Zeus, to Reilly’s classroom.

“My students were all very excited that we had a visitor seeking friendship in Cuddles,” Reilly said. “They were all asking if I could keep the snake so that Cuddles would not be lonely
anymore. They also suggested that Cuddles and Zeus should get married, which was very cute.”

Zeus appeared to have been a pet, probably from a nearby neighborhood, and was not in ideal
health when he was found. He was removed from Reilly’s classroom and placed safely into
a container in Eastburn’s science classroom. Reilly used Zeus’ visit as a learning
opportunity for her students, asking them to write a fictional story from the snake’s
perspective about his adventures and how he ended up in their classroom. The students were full of ideas, speculating that perhaps he got on a plane and flew to New Jersey or that he came to Riverside Elementary looking for his “sister,” Cuddles. One student imagined that an ugly princess was going to give Zeus as a gift to a king, but he escaped and slithered all the way to Trenton, where he smelled a mate – Cuddles.

“This has been a joyous story for us,” said Valerie Ulrich, the principal at Riverside Elementary.
“Our discovery saved the snake’s life.”

Princeton’s Department of Animal Control picked up the visitor on Wednesday morning and will be working with Scales and Tails Exotic Pet Rescue in Randolph,  New Jersey, to find a new home for the snake if the snake is not claimed within a week. Boa constrictors are often abandoned by pet owners who no longer can or want to care for them.

Even though the snake is no longer in their classroom, the students are still concerned about its safety. One student told Reilly she should contact whoever adopts Zeus “so we can know for sure that they’re gonna really take care of him.”

“In all my years in education, I have never before encountered this particular situation,” said
Superintendent Steve Cochrane in a press release about the snake, adding that he was proud of the way the students handled the situation. “You might think that the students would be terrified by finding a snake in their classroom. Instead, a likely terrified snake was lucky enough to find a compassionate class of third graders,” he said.

The snake is now at a rescue center for reptiles.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Pat Palmer

    Whoa! It had to have been pretty cold if it was outdoors in recent evenings. I hope this does not mean that these creatures can survive in the wild in these parts. Because if they can, letting them escape is a disservice to everyone. It is, anyway.

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