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If you keep snakes that are less than perfectly tame, or venomous snakes, you should definitely think about using safety tools for their handling. One of the most common safety tools is the snake hook, which is essentially a long stick with a hook at the end that is used to lift and move recalcitrant or snappish snakes. Designs of snake hooks can be very different, ranging from my favorite deeply bent long hook made by Midwest (http://www.tongs.com) to lightweight V-shaped hook designs with flattened ends that are good for scooping up neonates.
You can make your own hooks at home, but keep in mind that the larger the snake you intend to pick up with them, the wider and sturdier the hook needs to be in order to give the snake a safe and comfortable ride. Using too small or too thin a hook can break a snake`s ribs.
To more safely examine a snake that is likely to bite, use a clear plastic tube that is blocked off at one end and just slightly bigger than the snake's body. Get about a third to half the animal's body inside the tube, and grasp it firmly at the juncture of the tube and its body to keep its head safely inside. You can then examine it with much less difficulty.
You can purchase a set of snake tubes from Midwest (http://www.tongs.com) or Glades Herp (http://www.gherp.com), but you can also improvise at home using any clear plastic tube that is reasonably sturdy and that you can cut to a convenient length (usually about 2-3 feet). Some products such as large maps, posters and some specialized auto parts come packaged in clear plastic tubing; see what you can scrounge from the stores.
The use of tongs in handling snakes has always been controversial. The old Pilstrom style tongs with their scissor-like interlocking closure were originally designed to snip fruit off of trees, not to pick up delicate fragile creatures with thin bones, but they were quickly adopted for use in handling venomous snakes during events like the cruel and brutal rattlesnake roundups . Unfortunately a lot of damage was done with them, since it is very easy for a novice to apply too much pressure or to use an incorrect angle resulting in broken bones or internal injuries.
Since then, much gentler and more "snake friendly" designs in tongs have been developed. Whitney style tongs are no longer being consistently manufactured and are very hard to come by (currently they are many months on back order and unable to meet demand), but they were among the first of the safer designs. However they still take some skill to use, and many of the recent and cheaper imitations of the WhitCo tong (such as the Latest Rage design) are inferior in construction and performance. The new "gold standard" in tongs are the Gentle Giants from Midwest (http://www.tongs.com), which are extremely safe and comfortable for both snake and handler, and come highly recommended by the experts.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|