To Maine police, a large snake on the loose is no joking matter.
Like the opening act of a B-movie creature feature, the sightings of the snake now known as “Wessie” have played out in glimpses. The first report, toward the end of June, was that a snake as long as a truck with the head the size of a softball slithered past a children’s playground in Westbrook, Maine. It disappeared into the nearby Presumpscot River. Only one witness said he saw the creature.
The police warned people to stay away, though the sighting attracted a handful of inquisitive souls to the playground.
Not all Westbrook locals were completely convinced. “That person may have seen something, but I doubt it was a big snake. You never know, though, people have crazy pets today,” Michael Diemond told WCSH 6. “A pet could have gotten away or abandoned down here.”
A few days later, two officers with the Westbrook Police Department also spotted a snake of unusual size. “The snake,” as the police department wrote on its Facebook page, “was eating a large mammal, possibly a beaver (not joking).” As it swam away, the officers estimated it to be 10 feet in length. It was 3:30 a.m., the darkness foiling the officers’ attempt to take a video.
Given the 10-foot-long estimate, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Derek Yorks concluded it was likely a python or constrictor, neither of which are native to the area. “We don’t have anything big enough to eat beavers, that’s for sure,” Yorks told the Bangor Daily News. His theory was that the animal was a pet that had outgrown its owner’s ability to keep it.
Interest in Wessie hit a fever pitch. City officials called in an unnamed animal tracker, though the self-proclaimed cryptozoologist rescheduled twice and has yet to appear.
Like many wild critters that end up in the spotlight, the snake enjoyed a healthy fandom on social media (what isn’t set in stone is a last name: it’s Wessie P. Thon on Twitter or Wessie the Presumpscot Python on Facebook). Wessie buffs took to the animal with a zeal usually reserved for sasquatches, goat-men and other cryptids. Wessie earned itself a folk song as well as a locally-brewed IPA in its name.
After a flurry of activity in June, Wessie seemed to have vanished. There had been no sign of Wessie since the police report. Some people began questioning that the police had seen a snake at all — perhaps it had been a beaver with a log in tow, rather than a snake feasting on the animal. But Saturday, evidence of a large snake appeared yet again. This time, it took the form of a giant snake skin, discarded near the boat launch by the Presumpscot River.
Police tagged and bagged the skin, a sample of which will be examined to determine the snake’s species. “Until the type of snake is determined and we can assess the safety risk,” a Westbrook Police Facebook post said, “we caution people who recreate along the Presumpscot River to remain alert, maintain a safe distance from any wildlife.”
Still, snake experts see something wrong with the picture. “It’s very suspicious to find a shed that’s laid out like this that wasn’t laid out by someone,” Rob Christian, president of the Maine Herpetological Society, told Portland’s WCSH 6.
Auburn University herpetologist David Steen also is skeptical. On Twitter, he wrote that “it looks like the skin was just placed there by someone,” later comparing how neatly the snakeskin was displayed to a limbless person setting out a jacket and pants.
Unfortunately for Wessie, if the animal does exist, its chances of making it through a subzero Maine winter are not good. Exotic Burmese pythons have established themselves in Florida; some evidence suggests that the snakes could survive year-round as far north as Washington, D.C. (if they can learn to hibernate, a behavior practiced by some North American snakes but unusual for the Southeast Asian pythons).
But unless someone — even a cryptozoologist tracker — can catch Wessie, Maine will turn out to be too chilly for the truck-length snake.