handling snakes safely

 “Uh, uhh, Bud, I’m not touchin’ that snake!”  This is a common emotion in humans and, for the layman, perfectly understandable and certainly the safest attitude.  There are, however, a few folks who either like snakes or work in jobs where they have to deal with live snakes and need a few pointers on how to safely handle the critters.  Here are a few hints.

Best rule of thumb:  If you are not positive of the identification of a snake, treat it as though it is venomous.

The distance that a snake can strike is roughly equal to the amount of its body that is pulled back in a coil - it simply straightens out the coil.  This usually is about half the snake’s total length.  Beware that if the snake is lying against a wall or a log, it may be able to jump a bit by pushing against the prop.  What does this tell you?  It indicates that you can work safely at a relatively close range to a snake.  Just be careful not to get too close.

HANDLING:  Unless you are an expert, it is best to never handle a snake with your hands.  Even non-venomous forms can deliver a nasty bite.  The simplest tool is a four-pronged “potato rake.”  I prefer the type with hardened steel tines that do not bend easily (Sears has a great one for about $18.00).  Another rather simple tool is to make a loop stick (see Figure 1a).  If possible, use a loop-material that is broad so that it does not cut the snake.  An old belt works well.  You simply loosen the loop, place it over the snake’s neck, pull it tight gently, lift the snake to the preferred place, loosen the loop, and free the snake.  Try to get the loop near mid-body; snakes tend to thrash around and, if the loop is on the neck, they may injure themselves.  Another tool that is extremely easy to use is a “snake clamp” (Figure 1b).  The same rule applies:  hold the snake near mid-body.  I prefer to use two snake clamps.  These, and other tools, are available from:  1) FurMont Reptile Equipment, 905 South 8th St., LaPorte, Tx 77571 (713-470-8397); 2)  Animal Care Equipment and Services, P.O. Box 1376, Crestline, CA  92325 (714-338-6056).

 CONTAINING:  The key here is placing snakes in a container that they can’t escape from (they are artists at this) and can’t bite through.  The simplest practical container is a deep plastic bucket (18" or so), such as those with sealable tops used by painters.  Make a few small holes in the top for air.  A more elaborate, but in many ways more efficient and safer, technique is to build the box shown in Figure 2.  The inside screen allows you to open the lid without have a snake grab your nose!  It is very important that all ventilation holes have screen on both sides so that a venomous snake can’t strike its fangs through the hole and bite you.  An additional safeguard that also shortcuts needing a box or bucket all the time is to use a cloth bag that can be knotted at the top (Figure 3).  Bags can be either used by themselves or placed in the other container.

Above all, be careful.  Don’t get distracted!