Neville Linton, 63, was doing a regular grocery shop on a regular day. However, he found a “frightening” surprise in a bag of broccoli. He had purchased food as usual from an Aldi in West Midlands, England. But a few days later, he opened up the bag while cooking to find a snake snuggled inside the vegetable. It’s a person with ophidiophobia’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, Linton had a fear of snakes.
Linton, who works in industrial cleaning, was rescued by his relatives, who jumped in and took the snake away from him. The grandfather of one admitted, “It was pretty frightening. I’m not good with snakes. It’s lucky I didn’t just leave the broccoli out in the kitchen, or it would have been loose in the house. That would have been a huge risk for us because we have two vulnerable people living here.”
After finding the creature, he called for his sister, Ann-Marie Tenkanemin, 57, who recognized it as a snake. The pair trapped the reptile in a plastic container and brought it back to Aldi. “I thought she was joking at first,” said Linton about Tenkanemin’s identifying the snake, “but I backed off when I saw it start moving. The guy in the shop was pretty frightened, too.”
Although he had been offered some compensation, Linton believes the situation should warrant more since the snake was a risk to the vulnerable relatives that lived with him, including his disabled son and his mother-in-law. “It’s just not good enough — the implications for us if it had [gotten] out in the house are huge,” he said. “Plus, I’m phobic of snakes, so there’s the emotional impact of that, too.”
An Aldi spokesperson commented, saying, “Our supplier has never had a complaint of this nature and has robust processes in place to prevent such issues occurring. We are investigating this isolated incident and have apologized to Mr. Linton that our usual high standards were not met.”
Image Credit: Donovan Linton
What Kind of Snake Was It?
According to Linton’s son, Donovan, 41, a specialist from the Dudley Zoo said the creature was a young ladder snake. Although they look scary and can deliver a nasty bite, they are not venomous. They are commonly found around Europe, including Spain, Portugal, and parts of Italy and France. They like temperate habitats with a lot of low shade such as hedges, forests, vineyards, rodent burrows, hollow trees, orchards, and boulders. Ladder snakes tend to be solitary, aggressive, and defensive in nature. They ward off attackers by snapping their sharp fangs and releasing a foul odor. Despite being carnivores, they don’t go after humans. Instead, they feed on rodents like mice and rabbits, birds, spiders, lizards, and insects. The broccoli-invading reptile now resides at the Dudley Zoo.
However, herpetologist Dr. Steven J. R. Allain identifies it as a viperine water snake, which is fortunately less dangerous. “Having reviewed the [actual] photo of the snake in the broccoli, I am not sure the zoo identified the species correctly,” Allain said. “To my expert eyes, the snake is in fact a viperine water snake (Natrix maura), which is a harmless fish-eating species found throughout southwestern Europe and northern Africa.”
He theorizes how it could have slithered its way into a broccoli. “Seeing as a large portion of the food grown and imported into the United Kingdom comes from the Mediterranean region, it is no surprise to find a species from this area turning up in some vegetables likely grown there. In my opinion, the snake was likely moving through the field at the time, before being scooped up by agricultural equipment, then seeking refuge within the broccoli.”
“Viperine water snakes are dangerous only if you’re a fish (or a frog). They do not bite humans as a defense mechanism (they’d much rather play dead), and they are regarded as non-venomous to humans.” Additionally, these snakes can go months without food, especially in cold temperatures like a fridge, which would lower their metabolism. But the snake in question wouldn’t have liked the switch from the Mediterranean warmth to a chilly, crisper drawer.
But whether the reptile was a viperine water snake or a ladder snake, Allain hopes to educate the public about this species. People may become less afraid if they knew more about these delicate and misunderstood creatures.