Handling Wild Herps Poll

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

Moderator: Scott Waters

User avatar
jonathan
Posts: 3627
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 7:39 am
Contact:

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by jonathan » April 10th, 2015, 6:53 am

Bryan Hamilton wrote:Has anyone heard about that study on head trauma in rattlesnakes in museums? I think Harry Green did it but it was never published.

As I remember, a high proportion of the rattlesnakes had skull and neck fractures. These specimens were collected and euthanized by skilled, professional herpetologists. The take home lesson was that if professional herpetologists can't pin a rattlesnake without breaking bones, no one should.

Rattlesnake handling has come a long way since I started. Very few people pin the snakes and handle them by their neck anymore. Use of tubes has helped a lot.

My dad just mentioned that one to me the other day. The context that he mentioned it in was explaining that back in the 1970s when he was involved in rattlesnake research, he and the scientist he worked with not only pinned the snakes but then stretched them out to measure them. He said that if even normally pinned rattlers were getting skull/neck fractures, he shudders to think about how many snakes they must have seriously injured in the context of their research.

User avatar
gbin
Posts: 2293
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by gbin » April 10th, 2015, 7:36 am

Bryan Hamilton wrote:... a high proportion of the rattlesnakes had skull and neck fractures...
Questions that came to mind when I read this was: Did they consider and if so could they tell whether the fractures were fresh enough to be likely attributable to the snakes' capture by pinning? And if so, how did such fractures compare in prevalence to older fractures? I'm asking in complete ignorance of the subject and maybe my thought is silly, but that thought is that animals that capture and consume whole potentially feisty prey that are considerably larger than are their own heads and necks might incidentally suffer occasional fractures thereby. I realize they have various anatomical adaptations to enable/facilitate this, of course, but still...

Gerry

User avatar
Bryan Hamilton
Posts: 1217
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 8:49 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Bryan Hamilton » April 10th, 2015, 8:13 am

Those are good questions Gerry. I don't know the answers. Its become part of the lore of Harry Greene. These might be some of the reasons that its never been published?

Obviously it should be possible to determine how fresh the fractures are. It should be possible to compare fracture frequency in museum collections to fracture frequency in wild populations.

My gut feeling is that rattlesnakes are particularly good at protecting their head and necks. Unlike colubrids, rattlesnakes don't probe or push (to the same extent) with their head. A rattlesnake uses its head as a different kind of tool, more precision, less brute force. Rattlesnakes are really wimpy in respect to strength.

They also have the luxury of feeding on dead prey. I assume that their strike force is insufficient to cause fractures, but this must be the literature somewhere. It would also be easy(ish) to calculate the force required to fracture some of the bones in the head and neck.

edit-I've seen some really rough pinning of rattlesnakes and some really gentle. The venom extractors pin their snakes hundreds and hundreds of times but I bet they never fracture a bone. Contrast that with someone like me, who is scared and never properly trained, and that is a recipe for trauma.

Besides the risk to the snakes, anyone that pins venomous snakes unnecessarily, is eventually going to get bit. Your hand and fingers are right there, the margin for error is slim. And it really pisses the snake off. A snake that might not have cared about being handled now feels its life is at risk. Its going to bite and inject venom if it gets the chance.

User avatar
Noah M
Posts: 2289
Joined: November 3rd, 2012, 6:00 pm
Location: Gainesville, FL
Contact:

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Noah M » April 10th, 2015, 10:33 am

As I remember, a high proportion of the rattlesnakes had skull and neck fractures. These specimens were collected and euthanized by skilled, professional herpetologists. The take home lesson was that if professional herpetologists can't pin a rattlesnake without breaking bones, no one should.
My first thought was that if the collectors knew they were going to end up killing the animal in the end, then perhaps being more careless was acceptable. You know, if it came down to breaking a few bones that would be hidden by taxidermy, vs. being envenomated.

User avatar
Bryan Hamilton
Posts: 1217
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 8:49 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Bryan Hamilton » April 10th, 2015, 10:38 am

Maybe. Most collectors are meticulous about their specimens. If they knew their methods were breaking bones, I don't it would have been acceptable. Its not really taxidermy, they were all we specimens stored in jars.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 10th, 2015, 12:00 pm

"]
Kelly Mc wrote:... Human interaction manipulation that does not resemble any natural occurrence with any other animal in the world.
This isn't meant in an anthropogenic sense, in fact the opposite which is why its pertinent to the anomalous character of its impact/s which I suspect will be found out to be significant and detrimental.

Please pardon my digress.

User avatar
gbin
Posts: 2293
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by gbin » April 10th, 2015, 1:29 pm

Bryan Hamilton wrote:edit-I've seen some really rough pinning of rattlesnakes and some really gentle. The venom extractors pin their snakes hundreds and hundreds of times but I bet they never fracture a bone. Contrast that with someone like me, who is scared and never properly trained, and that is a recipe for trauma.

Besides the risk to the snakes, anyone that pins venomous snakes unnecessarily, is eventually going to get bit. Your hand and fingers are right there, the margin for error is slim. And it really pisses the snake off. A snake that might not have cared about being handled now feels its life is at risk. Its going to bite and inject venom if it gets the chance.
Yeah, I've been a herper a number of decades, now, and I've yet to have occasion to pin a rattlesnake - including when I assisted in a study of western diamondbacks in AZ that required getting the snakes in hand. And I can readily imagine that a less experienced, less confident or less caring herper would use excessive force, thinking "If I'm going to pin this snake, then by gosh I'm going to make sure it's pinned!" The truth is there's rarely a need to actually take a rattlesnake in hand at all, and when that need does arise there are ways to go about it that are much better for the snake and the handler than is pinning. (Funny that something so dangerous can at the same time be so fragile.)

Kelly, I'm sorry, but whereas I thought before that I understood what you were saying, now I'm much less sure of that. I don't know how to read what you wrote in anything but an anthropogenic sense. Maybe if you try expressing your thought in an entirely different way?...

Gerry

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 10th, 2015, 3:02 pm

I meant in terms of actions and effect, of bagging, tactically exhausting, repetitive tailing. Not what/who is applying them.
I do not know of snake as prey/predator interaction that last for hours or days. If there was such an event, the same consequences would apply. But morbid fright isn't usually a drawn out experience in nature.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 10th, 2015, 3:37 pm

A few years ago I did see footage of two crows working together to kill a rattlesnake. It was impressive, the savvy and cooperative behavior of the crows.

But I don't think we want to create lengthy death is imminent responses in herping activities.

User avatar
gbin
Posts: 2293
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by gbin » April 11th, 2015, 9:16 am

Kelly Mc wrote:I meant in terms of actions and effect, of bagging, tactically exhausting, repetitive tailing. Not what/who is applying them.
I do not know of snake as prey/predator interaction that last for hours or days. If there was such an event, the same consequences would apply. But morbid fright isn't usually a drawn out experience in nature.
Ah, I see. That's a potential point. Sometimes a predator will toy with its prey for an extended period and sometimes the prey just takes quite a while for the predator to overcome, but I can't imagine these apply to (m)any snake predators. I'm not sure, though.

Gerry

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 20th, 2015, 8:07 am

chris_mcmartin wrote:I know of at least one study (may still be ongoing) where researchers at Emporia State University, KS, were measuring cortisol levels in snakes upon initial capture and periodically thereafter until released (maybe a couple of hours). I can't remember the details and have not heard any results.

Lynnette Sievert's Research Page; it looks like one of her grad students is exploring this topic.


There's also this: Iguana Faeces Reveal Stress

Chris this data deserves its own thread.

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 20th, 2015, 10:33 pm

Here are more studies with some important points that describe squamate stress and stressors in realistic terms

https://books.google.com/books?id=HKv3m ... ch&f=false

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 20th, 2015, 11:02 pm

Understanding that stress and stressors encompass a wide scope of life factors is as important as any other aspect of interest in herps.

Because we have been habituated to think of stress in human terms, from everything from headache commercials to yoga, the tendency to trivialize its actual meaning into anthropomorphic oblivion and non interest when it comes to animals, is more due to our popular use of language than science.

User avatar
gbin
Posts: 2293
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by gbin » April 21st, 2015, 6:36 am

As I mentioned, stress biology is a very hot topic nowadays.

From a historical perspective, it's interesting that another split in thought appears to be developing between European and American scientists in this area:

Back in the day, Lorenz, Tinbergen and von Frisch led European scientists into the study of animal behavior via an ethological approach (focusing on innateness), while American scientists followed the lead of Watson and Skinner into its study via an experimental approach (focusing on learning); the result was the classic nature vs. nurture debate and its for the most part very clear geographic boundaries. (It's a quite entertaining and instructive story for those interested in such.) That debate has long since been resolved - nature and nurture both play a role in all behavior, of course - but it was with us a long time and indeed some less-informed folks still manage to lose themselves in it.

In stress biology, the Europeans (especially the British) are largely approaching the subject from a philosophical perspective born of the animal rights movement, focusing on whether and how much various kinds of creatures are suffering due to livestock or other food animal handling practices and to the captive confinement of wild animals such as in zoos. They appear by far most concerned with the question of whether humans should (be allowed to) treat animals in these ways at all. In contrast, the Americans are largely approaching it from a pragmatic perspective resulting partly from animal welfare concerns and partly from an interest in productivity. If dealing with agricultural practices, for example, the goal from the American orientation is to reduce animal stress in order to produce the highest quality meat most efficiently, and in the zoo world the goal is to reduce animal stress in order to improve health, longevity and reproduction and minimize unwanted behavior. Mind you, I'm not saying that none of the Europeans have pragmatic rather than philosophical ends in mind, nor that the Americans don't care about animal suffering in and of itself; in particular, with the animal rights movement's help the European perspective has made some headway in mainstream North America even if not as much among American scientists, and most zoo folk in America and elsewhere care deeply about their animals' happiness as well as well-being. But these are the general trends.

I suspect this dichotomy will ultimately resolve much as did the nature vs. nurture debate. Both philosophical and pragmatic perspectives are worthwhile.

As much as animal rights advocates might wish otherwise, I don't believe we're ever going to stop using animals for food, clothing or even recreation. Nor, from my personal perspective as a career scientist dedicated to wildlife conservation, should we. We've obviously evolved with a strong tendency to interact in a variety of ways - including ways that at least appear purely recreational - with the various other creatures with which we share the earth. In the long run that tendency is a very good thing, as it keeps us connected to and caring about those creatures and their environment. We care most for that which we know best - and care least for that which we know least.

Returning to our specific topic from the general situation, even if being picked up by a curious human now and then stresses a frog or snake so badly as to significantly shorten its life - which we have no evidence of it happening, by the way - I would still be for curious humans being allowed, even encouraged, to occasionally pick up a frog or snake. The human-animal connection and its ramifications for wildlife and wild lands conservation is much more important overall than is the lifespan of a few individual animals.

Don't forget, too, that all creatures have evolved to experience stress, and all creatures do indeed experience it at both major and minor levels throughout their lives - whether or not they ever encounter a single human being. Never mind stress alone, real suffering of various kinds and both great and small are a very normal and inescapable part of nature. We can't eliminate animal stress or suffering, not even were we to disappear off the face of the earth tomorrow; the best we can hope to accomplish is to reduce it among those animals over whose lives we have any real influence.

These are the reasons why I advocate (as I have a number of times on these message boards ;) ) that people aim to minimize the amount of stress/suffering they inflict on other creatures by using best practices while dealing with them in whatever pursuit (livestock rearing, hunting, pet keeping, herping, etc.), not that they kindheartedly but foolishly try to eliminate the animals' stress/suffering by ceasing in those pursuits althogether. Said another way, go ahead and do what you want with animals (within the law), but do also think about your purpose and your effects, and consider especially how you might reduce the most negative of your effects while still achieving your purpose.

Gerry

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » April 21st, 2015, 7:01 am

I can't help but think also, that being as phantom like as possible in our interaction is like holding a lens by the edges, and wiping it clear of obscuring factors before setting it down.

User avatar
gbin
Posts: 2293
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by gbin » April 21st, 2015, 7:12 am

I'll respond with another photographic metaphor:

I reckon how one should behave depends on whether one wants to take a picture or be a part of the picture. "Different strokes..."

;)

Gerry

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4318
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Handling Wild Herps Poll

Post by Kelly Mc » May 7th, 2015, 2:38 am

When I received the parental pair of my gallotia group, the female had a slight respiratory infection out of brum. I gave her supplemental slurries in hand, which she licked up - they were sweet. Gallotia have actual vocal capability, which is faint and birdlike, selectively expressed in moments of excitement, social interaction or fear.

When giving her drops of an oral medication from the same syringe - She emitted sharp tones of a distressed squeal from the bitter taste; and it was remarkable in effect, to actually hear what a lizard was feeling.


Its not so much treating reptiles like delicate flowers, or being airy-fairy in sentiment, but maybe it might be a matter of grace, to remember how easily reptiles can be handled, stored, and even caused fear of death - even physical injury without an overt sign of it occurring.

Because it is easy to dismiss what we cant see, makes threads about this subject important, and forgiven to repeat.

Post Reply