Thursday, October 4, 2012

Becoming a "Snake Handler"

The time has come for you to handle your Ball Python for the first time since you placed them in the enclosure.  Let me make one suggestion prior to your embarking upon this journey-buy a small bottle of blue Listerine.  I haven't had to use mine in some time now, but just in case...there is always a bottle nearby.

I want to address the "Big Nasty" right up front...what if you get bitten?

Relax!  Let's talk about bites a bit, and what you can do to prevent and/or interrupt them.  You will be fine, the snake will be fine and both will be much happier afterward.

Ball Pythons can bite as a defense mechanism, though I primarily see this in young snakes.  One of my first hatchling Ball Pythons was named "Strikey" for his frequent "lashing out".  With that said, a defensive bite from a hatchling Ball Python is about as traumatic as pricking your finger to measure your blood sugar.  They generally strike with their mouth open, and retreat with their mouth open.  Defensive bites rarely involve the snake "holding onto" or constricting you.  They just lash out, and you may see a drop of blood.  Obviously, Ball Pythons are not venomous, so rinse the wound and carry on.  (Not intended as medical advice.)

If for some reason your snake bites and holds, under no circumstances should you attempt to "pull" the snake away from the bite.  There are two reasons that this is a bad idea;

1-You have effectively turned what could have been less than a pinprick into lacerations.  If the snake is of any size, you will likely be hoppity-hopping to the local ED for some sutures.

2-You will likely pull some of your snake's teeth during said incident, possibly killing your snake through refusal to eat or trauma.

What are you supposed to do?  I'm so glad you asked!  Remember the blue Listerine?  Calmy (or with help) pour a small amount of blue Listerine into the cap from the bottle, and pour said pea-sized amount onto your skin directly in front of the snake's mouth.  A small amount of blue Listerine will run into his/her mouth, and they will subsequently let go.  Do not pour directly from the bottle, as a larger volume will likely kill your snake.  Just pour in pea-sized amounts until the confused snake lets go.  We will revisit the reason for 99% of "holding" bites.

I can hear you now..."How am I supposed to stay that calm and collected while a snake is clinging to my flesh?  It is actually easier than you think.  For the most part, it just doesn't hurt.  The worst of the experience is when your brain catches up with the fact that a snake has struck at you, and you try to fly away with all of that flapping.  When you are reaching for your snake, realize that you could be bitten.  If you are prepared, you should not be surprised.

When handling your snake, I suggest that you gently tap a certain number of times on the door of the enclosure prior to opening and reaching in.  I will explain this in-depth later.  For now, gently tap four times on the glass, open the door and let's pick your snake up.

Keep your hand open and approach your snake with your hand in a "stop" configuration.  Open, fingers together and extended, palm toward the snake.  This will minimize bites should they occur.

Reach in with authority.  Hesitation, reaching and pulling or the like will cause they prey mechanism in your snake to fire, likely resulting in a bite.  Just reach in with purpose and pick your snake up.

Do not rub your snake to "get them used to your touch".  They aren't dogs, and while I have seen one of my friends rub his King Cobra, I wouldn't generally recommend this practice.  Ball Pythons often "rub" their killed prey just prior to eating it, so you could be sending the wrong message.

Do not approach your Ball Python's head.  They will be head sensitive for the majority of the time you handle them.  Don't reach for the end with the teeth!  Instead, pick them up by their body.  Do not pick them up by the tail.

Not too hard, not too soft.  Squeezing a Ball Python has no purpose.  Pick them up with enough pressure to be certain that they do not fall, as falling can be lethal.

Once in your hands and out of the enclosure, get still.  Don't wave your hands in front of or around the snake.  Just let him/her sit on your hands, while you keep them from falling.  In the likely event that they are "balled" when you pick them up, do not attempt to "open them up".  This is a senselessly painful experience for your snake.  Just let them come out on their own.

Once they open up and start looking around, keep them secure, but let them explore your hands.  Again, do not point at, poke or try to touch their head.  This type of activity will not end well.

Your snake may do something like this.  He's staying warm.
Having others around is fine, but limit the passing around of your snake for the first few days.

If for some reason you think that you should hold your snake close to the back of their head, abandon that idea.  Really...if you are calm, follow my directions and don't smell like a mouse or a rat, this will go very nicely.

When you are tired of watching your new buddy slink around between your hands, gently place him/her back on the floor of the enclosure and close/lock the doors.

What can go wrong?

Forward to 3:04 to see Chewy's examples of what NOT to do.

A few things.  Don't handle mice, rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits or other small animals prior to holding your Ball Python.  Their vision is not fantastic, but they sense heat and smell very well.  If it is warm like a mouse, smells like a mouse and is roughly the same size as a mouse (finger), you will likely get bitten.  I had a friend that gave his snake away because it "bit him every time he handled it."  It turned out that he was handling the mouse, then going to get his snake so that it could eat.  The whole scenario was a nightmare, and I only wish he had consulted me prior to giving his animal away.  I will further address this issue in a post entitled "Proper Feeding."

One more thing-don't use gloves.  They shield heat and lots of smell, along with your sense of appropriate pressure.  Plus, if you are planning on using gloves until the Ball Python "gets used to you", the day you remove the gloves is like starting over from scratch.

As a disclaimer, small children should be very carefully observed when spending time with your Ball Python. My two year-old loves every snake I have, and is allowed to touch them within very limited parameters.  I hold his hand and steer him to touch away from the head of the snake.  I will allow a snake to crawl over his arm, but at no time does he hold the snake.

Upload a video of you handling your new friend!

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