ELM Services

GUIDELINES FOR PROBING & SEXING SNAKES

There are several ways to determine the sex of a snake. These notes, which were prepared with the assistance of an experienced handler who was with the Transvaal Snake Park, Warren Schmidt, to cover the use of sexing probes as manufactured by E.L.M. Services cc, in South Africa.


One must exercise extreme care when using probes and it is strongly recommended that initial attempts be under the supervision of an experienced person. Incorrect usage may result in incorrect sexing and more importantly may cause internal injury.  

PROBE CONSTRUCTION & CARE

The Titanium probes are locked into the anodised Aluminium handle both “mechanically” and with an adhesive. Titanium was discovered in 1791 but volume production only started in the late 1940’s. Titanium is as strong as steel but 45% lighter. It resists corrosion by many acids.

  1. Hot formaldehyde will affect the adhesive. However, the use of formaldehyde in any form should be avoided as fumes from the substance can irritate the nose and eyes. The American Environmental Protection Agency has listed formaldehyde as a cancer-causing substance.
  2. Strong alkalis (Ammonia, Caustic Soda, Handy Andy, etc.) will affect the aluminium anodising. Anodising simply creates a 20/25 micron “skin” on the aluminium and is added to improve durability. It is not essential and if “destroyed” will not affect the ability to use a probe.
  3. Temperatures above 160°C will affect the adhesive.
    N.B. The larger autoclaves may use temperatures above 160°C.
  4. Probes are generally sterilised in alcohol, boiling water, small autoclaves, commercially available sterilising fluids, etc. Alcohol as a sterilising agent, could have an effect on the aluminium anodising after a few years, if immersed for long periods.
  5. “STERICLEAN”, “F10 SUPER CONCENTRATE” and “HIBITANE” are all in the pH range of 7.0 to 7.6 (neutral). Bleach is generally in the range 12.5 to 13.5 (stongly alkaline) and should be avoided. There are probably other products on the market that have not come to my attention. This information is given with the usual disclaimers.

PROBE USE

  1. A second person may be needed to hold and control the snake whilst it is being sexed.
  2. The snake must be firmly but gently restrained and the tail held in a position that will render it easy to probe.
  3. Select the required size of probe. The smallest are used for hatchlings and juvenile snakes, whilst the largest are used for large pythons and boas.
  4. The nominal sizes of probes supplied in the E.L.M. Services set are 1.14 mm, 1.60 mm, 2.00 mm, 2.40 mm, 3.18 mm and 4.00 mm.
  5. The probes must be clean and sterile.
  6. The end of the probe should be coated with a lubricating gel such as “KY” jelly.
  7. The probe should be inserted very gently into the cloacal opening and tilted so that the probe lies parallel to the snake’s ventral scales with the tip of the probe pointing towards the tip of the tail.
  8. Gently push the probe into the tail region – not directly in the centre, but to either side of the tail.
  9. Do not force the probe if it does not slide smoothly into the tail.
  10. If the snake is a male, the probe should go about halfway down the tail (past the third and fourth sub-caudal scales).
  11. If the snake is a female, the probe will not go further than the second or third sub-caudal scales.

probe diag

Probing picture

IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT MIXING A STRONG ALKALI (e.g. pH 12) WITH A pH  NEUTRAL LIQUID (e.g. 7) IN THE RATIO OF 50/50, WILL NOT GIVE A RESULTANT pH of 9.5 (MIDWAY BETWEEN THE TWO VALUES).

  APPARENTLY THE RULES OF CHEMISTRY ARE NOT THAT SIMPLE.

THE RESULTANT MIXTURE WILL REMAIN CLOSER TO pH 12 

WARRANTY

The E.L.M. Services “Standard Terms and Conditions” apply to the sexing probes. The above information is given in order to highlight the possibility that a snake may be hurt if the probe is used incorrectly. There is no substitute for experience – learn how to use the probes from someone who has experience. Snakes are living creatures and should be treated with consideration. Snakes cannot say “that hurts", other than by biting!!!!!

 

Albert Schweitzer

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When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

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Anne Frank

Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find by experience that a quiet conscience makes one strong.