LOS ANGELES — Until recently, Lorie and Steve Viner thought Mortimer was gone for good.
The Viners' 5 1/2-foot boa constrictor disappeared last September from the bathroom of their mid-Wilshire apartment, and an extensive search failed to find the pet snake.
"I even rented a fiber optoscope to look inside the walls for him, but I couldn't find him," said Viner, who received Mortimer as a birthday gift from his wife 14 years ago.
The Viners got the idea of using a fiber optoscope--a telescope-like device used to see around corners and inside walls for building inspections--because Lorie Viner recently had benefitted from fiber optics technology during the surgical removal of a benign esophageal tumor.
After spending hours peering into the optoscope through a hole in the wall under the bathroom sink, the Viners were discouraged, but they still hoped Mortimer would show up.
"You hear stories of snakes getting into the toilet plumbing and showing up in someone else's apartment," Viner said.
But after several months passed, they said, they gave him up for lost and took consolation in their remaining menagerie, including a shaggy dog, an Amazonian parrot, a cockateel and a tankful of tropical fish.
Then, one morning last month, when Lorie Viner reached into a drawer beside the bathroom sink for her hair brush and makeup, she found "a drawerful of snake," she said. It was Mortimer.
Apparently he had been living in the bathroom wall and finally had crawled into the drawer, which gets daily use and had been opened countless times since Mortimer disappeared, the Viners said.
Year Without Food
According to Harvey Fischer, curator of reptiles at the Los Angeles Zoo, it is possible for boa constrictors to go as long as a year without food. And since Mortimer was living incognito in the bathroom, "he was finding water someplace," Fischer said.
The Viners celebrated Mortimer's return by calling friends and relatives and by buying him his favorite food--a small live mouse.
Mortimer spent much of the day twining around the Viners' shoulders and drinking from his water dish in the large dry aquarium where he has resumed residence.
Mortimer had lost quite a bit of weight during his months-long absence, but otherwise seemed unharmed, the Viners said.
"He must have gone in and out of hibernation (during the nine months)," Viner said. "He couldn't have gotten too far away or he would never have found his way back."