Cold weather spells doom for Wessie, the giant snake

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Today, Wessie is probably dead ; the restaurant owner who is banning tips has already lost servers over it; and Troy tells the story of the 19th century’s most successful female inventor (she’s from Portland.)

What we’re talking about

If ever there was a sizable serpent slithering around Westbrook, its days are likely done.

With snow beginning to fall in the north and heaters being turned on in homes throughout the state, the Texas scientist who identified a large snake skin found in Westbrook as having belonged to an anaconda said it is now too cold for the snake to survive.

“At this point, a green anaconda would probably be dead in Maine :\ ”, John Placyk, a herpetologist at The University of Texas, Tyler, wrote in an email (the emoticon was his.)

Placyk had previously told BDN Portland that Maine’s famous snake would most likely die in short order, once temperatures dropped to about 50 degrees “for a sustained period.”

Those kinds of snakes typically don’t experience temperatures below 72 degrees or so, based on the green anacondas that Jesús Rivas, a professor of biology at New Mexico Highlands University, has studied.

“They never encounter anything close to what they have been facing since September or so,” he said.

Dubbed Wessie by Westbrook residents, the snake was first sighted in June when someone told the police he or she had seen a snake “as long as a truck [with] a head the size of a small ball” near a playground in Riverbank Park. Days later, two city police officers reported that they’d seen a snake at least 10 feet long, eating what appeared to be a beaver along the riverbank.

These sightings gave rise to much speculation about and celebration of Westbrook’s new reptile resident. A beer was named after the snake, the city turned Wessie into a marketing campaign and national media delighted in the snake tale.

Then in August, a massive snakeskin turned up on the banks of the Presumpscot River and was sent to Placyk for testing. There is no definite link between the skin and the snake people saw. But if there was an anaconda in Westbrook, the Texas scientist said it’s likely gotten far too cold for the South American species to survive.

There have been no reported sightings of the snake in recent months, so it’s possible it’s coiled up in a safe and warm place. But a 10-foot serpent would probably be noticed if it were inside a building, and Placyk is skeptical.

“Some suggest that it may be hiding out in a building; I seriously doubt it,” he said.

And even if the skin was a prank and the snake seen by police was a different species, a reptile expert with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife previously told BDN Portland that a snake large enough to eat a beaver could not be indigenous to Maine, nor survive the cold.

Whatever the experts say, the legend of Wessie has grown much longer than 10 feet, and will likely live on. — Jake Bleiberg

In other news

The restaurant owner who’s ditching tips says she’s already lost servers over new policy — Kathleen Pierce reports:

On Tuesday, the owner of Portland’s Bao Bao Dumpling House and Tao Yuan in Brunswick announced her plan to jettison tips, pay all servers $15 an hour and tack on an 18 percent surcharge on checks. “[Tipping] is such an arcane system. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. …

The hate mail came in fast, and a few servers have left, she said. “Many people write in saying ‘we will never come to your establishment again.’ I’ve been slandered online, saying we will take this money and put into our pockets,” she said. “It’s frustrating and hurtful.”

City councilors want to relax AirBNB rules proposed by city —  As Jake reported last month, the city has proposed stricter rules around short term rentals, such as those offered by AirBNB. But members of the City Council’s Housing Committee last night said those rules were too strict, “and questioned how much of a problem short-term rentals posed to Portland’s housing crisis,” Peter McGuire of the Press Herald reported.

“I have yet to be convinced that short-term rentals are having a negative impact on housing stock in Portland,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said, according to McGuire.

The most successful female inventor you’ve never heard of is from Portland — We’re on the last few days of Troy’s “permanent Portlander” series, and they’re only getting better.

Helen Blanchard was born into a wealthy Portland clan in 1840. But the family fortune evaporated in the financial panic of 1866 — also the year much of Portland burned to the ground. Her father had to sell their family home. Soon thereafter, he died.

That’s when Helen moved to Boston, with no formal mechanical training, and embarked on her career as the 19th century’s most successful female inventor. She was over 30 when she filed her first patent for the now ubiquitous zig-zag sewing machine, used for making buttonholes.

Watch his video here.

The Big Idea

Here’s what happened when the BDN simulated the last two elections with ranked-choice voting — The BDN asked its audience to participate in a simulation of the last two gubernatorial elections using ranked-choice voting. The idea was to see whether the results would be any different had the state used the other voting method. Michael Shepherd laid out the results:

Ranked-choice voting might have kept Gov. Paul LePage out of office, but a Bangor Daily News simulation cast some doubt on the impact of the “spoiler” phenomenon that many left of center have blamed for his 2010 and 2014 election wins.

The results paint a muddled picture of the change to elections under Question 5 on the Nov. 8 ballot, which would move Maine to ranked-choice voting in gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections with three or more candidates, barring constitutional concerns.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.