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by Abigail Van Buren

Signs of Snake's Intelligence Have Little to Do With Smarts

DEAR ABBY: "Karen," whose letter said snakes make loving pets, must have a very unusual snake. She said she has a 6 1/2-foot boa constrictor that she used to take everywhere. It is very intelligent, she claims -- it kisses her on command, and once it even chased away a prowler it heard coming through the sliding glass door.

Abby, snakes are not very intelligent -- they have very small brains and cannot hear. They have no ears, but they feel "vibrations." Also, her snake is not "kissing" her -- it is smelling her. A snake's sense of smell is its best weapon when in danger.

I also have a pet snake. His name is Leonard. He's a bull snake and I have had him since I was 11 years old. (I am now 38.) Leonard does not know his name, although I speak to him often. From what I have learned about snakes, Leonard has lived a very long time for a bull snake, and he is probably nearing the end of his life.

Although it may seem silly to be sentimental over a reptile, after having him around for 27 years, I will cry when he dies. -- MICHELE DUNNING, ST. PAUL, MINN.

DEAR MICHELE: For more about snakes, read on:

DEAR ABBY: I fear your correspondent Karen has a very fertile imagination concerning the "intelligence" of snakes.

When I was a kid back in the old country -- Hungary -- I also had a pet snake, which I carried around inside my shirt to pull out when I met a girl I knew would scream when she saw it. (Most girls react with horror at the sight of a snake.)

Abby, I know something about snakes, and I can tell you that you can't teach a snake anything -- much less have it respond to a request for a kiss. Snakes are far from intelligent. They have only "reptilian brains," barely adequate to respond to anything beyond their instinct to survive.

As for a snake going after a burglar who was attempting to enter through a sliding door -- snakes cannot hear. They feel only vibrations, and they pick up smells with their tongues.

Furthermore, the only snake that appears to enjoy (or even tolerate) handling is the indigo snake -- found in the southern part of the United States -- and the poor critters are hunted to near extinction for this very reason. -- ERWIN FUCHS, SEATTLE

DEAR ABBY: Your answer to Karen, who wrote about her love of snakes, was not completely accurate.

You said snakes make good pets because they're quiet, you don't have to walk them and you don't have to worry about anybody stealing them.

Wrong! About three years ago, my father's 6-foot-long boa constrictor was stolen -- cage and all. But the thieves did not take the TV, stereo or the microwave. It just goes to show you that some people put a lot more value on snakes than you think. -- CORALIE GILL, BELTON, MO.