Neville Linton, aged 63, was doing his usual grocery shopping on a regular day when he stumbled upon a “frightening” surprise hidden in a bag of broccoli. He had purchased groceries as he normally did from an Aldi store in West Midlands, England. However, a few days later, as he began cooking, he discovered a snake nestled inside the bag of vegetables. It was a nightmare scenario for someone with ophidiophobia, a fear of snakes.
Linton, who works in industrial cleaning, was fortunately rescued by his relatives, who promptly intervened and removed the snake from his presence. Linton, a grandfather, 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 making this startling discovery, he called for his sister, Ann-Marie Tenkanemin, aged 57, who recognized the creature as a snake. Together, they managed to trap the reptile in a plastic container and returned it to the Aldi store. Linton recalled his initial disbelief when Tenkanemin identified the snake, saying, “I thought she was joking at first, but I backed off when I saw it start moving. The guy in the shop was pretty frightened, too.”
Despite being offered some compensation, Linton believes the situation should warrant more, considering the potential risk the snake posed to his vulnerable relatives, including his disabled son and mother-in-law. He expressed, “It’s just not good enough — the implications for us if it had [gotten] out in the house are huge. Plus, I’m phobic of snakes, so there’s the emotional impact of that, too.”
An Aldi spokesperson responded by 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.”
Regarding the identity of the snake, Linton’s son, Donovan, aged 41, mentioned that a specialist from Dudley Zoo identified it as a young ladder snake. While they may appear intimidating and can deliver a painful bite, ladder snakes are not venomous. They are commonly found in various parts of Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France, and prefer temperate habitats with ample low shade, such as hedges, forests, vineyards, and more. Ladder snakes are generally solitary, aggressive, and defensive, using sharp fangs and a foul odor to deter potential threats. They primarily feed on rodents, birds, spiders, lizards, and insects. The snake that invaded the broccoli now resides at Dudley Zoo.
However, herpetologist Dr. Steven J. R. Allain identified the snake as a viperine water snake, which is fortunately less dangerous. He explained, “Having reviewed the [actual] photo of the snake in the broccoli, I am not sure the zoo identified the species correctly. 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.”
Dr. Allain offered a theory about how the snake might have ended up in the broccoli, suggesting, “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.”
He emphasized that, “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 without food for extended periods, especially in cold temperatures like those in a fridge, which would lower their metabolism. Regardless of whether the reptile was a viperine water snake or a ladder snake, Dr. Allain hopes to raise awareness about these species and help people become less fearful by providing insights into these delicate and often misunderstood creatures.