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how to probe snakes

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Posted by: 53kw at Tue Jun 3 08:26:22 2008  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by 53kw ]  

When the practice of probing went public I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I'm surprised at how few collectors feel comfortable probing snakes. It's easy and safe as long as you are gentle and use a good probe.

When I started probing my own snakes I looked over the professional probes available on the market. I noticed they had ball tips and I wondered about that. My feeling at the time was that ball tips might be uncomfortable for the snake, as the cavity the probe goes into might constrict reflexively when the probe is inserted, gripping the ball at the tip of the probe and making it uncomfortable to remove.

I decided to make my own probes from some heavy gauge paper clips. I straightened out the clips until they were quite straight and sanded the tip to be inserted with emery cloth until it was rounded over. Then I polished the tip with a fine grade of steel polishing cloth called Crocus Cloth, which is usually available where emery cloth is sold--hardware stores. I learned about polishing steel when I worked a summer job at a factory that made steel wall cabinets for fire hoses--I had to polish the weld burns off the front of the cabinets. The ultra fine grade of the Crocus Cloth polished the paper clip to a nice finish with no burrs or rough surfaces. Since I'm also a bug collector, I happen to own a good microscope and I used it to check the tip of my home made probe. Just a sidebar to mention that paper clips are actually good quality steel and well suited to this purpose once properly prepped.

Sure enough, my probes worked beautifully, and came out as easily as they went in. Years later, I got some professional probes just to have them and after using the ones with the ball tips, I found that my assumption was correct, the snakes do clench down on the ball tip probe, making it less easy to withdraw than the straight tipped probe. I'm afraid my nice professional ball tip probes sit in a desk drawer and the ones I carry to shows and into the field are my trusty paper clip probes, which work for everything from small garters to the largest Gopher Snakes.

Getting those wiggly snakes to tolerate a probing is a job, though. I hold the base of the snake's tail in my left hand--cloaca facing up--and try to control the body by confining it under my left arm. Be sure the snake's tail is pretty straight with respect to the orientation of the body and insert the tip of the probe into the cloaca. I usually have to point the tip of the probe toward to snake's body to get it under the anal scale and then turn it toward the tail. Gently slide the probe into the pocket on one side or the other of the tail. You may have to feel around for a second to locate the pocket but if you keep being gentle you won't harm the snake. Barely push the probe into the pocket and let it stop where it will without shoving it farther. The gentlest push when it stops will confirm that you are indeed at the end of the pocket. Female snakes will probe so shallow you may think you missed the pocket but if the probe goes even a little way in and stops, you most likely have a female. In male snakes the probe keeps going and if you've probed females before it may seem to go on forever. Once you get past the third subcaudal scale you can stop if you like since there is no point in going to the end of a male snake's deep pocket once you pass the depth of a female. Male snakes will probe to the seventh subcaudal or deeper. Boas probe deeper than Colubrids but if you probe a few you'll get the hang of it in no time. Boas are also very strong so the main concern is controlling the tail sufficiently to avoid digging the tip of the probe into the side of the pocket. Be patient and the only thing left to worry about is how to get the snake's teeth out of the back of your arm, since they just love being probed so much they will give you a love bite to show their appreciation. It's as if they're saying "Probe me again--probe me again!"



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