Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just my luck!

So today, as my last official day in the field (until August/Septembers bumper 3-month session) was the day to tie up all the loose ends. I went off to the rocks to take some measurements, and was completely weirded out by having my laptop on the rocks... I went to one that's really close and I was super-careful, but it was still a strange feeling to have the sun beating down on me while I typed in calibration coefficients and other things that I really don't understand!

After that I headed off to release my second-last batch of lizards, taking my camera along to get some photos of them. I needed a couple of samples from females for some lab work when I get back, so I took some traps along with me. I also figured I'd do some trapping for the masters student who was visiting not so long ago. Shes very new to the whole trapping thing and not wildly successful, and while she was here I helped as much as possible, but I was essentially chasing a different species and as it happened they weren't overlapping too much at the time.

So I caught a few females for me, and a few of her males, when the wind picked up and I decided to let my lizards go (they'd been safely kept in a bucket under a tree, because otherwise you end up re-trapping them which is super-stressful for all concerned) and so I went to pick up traps.

One of the traps I had wedged under the back of a rock, between smaller rocks and a clump of really thick grass. It's a small access point, but I lost a lot of potential data to it so i usually shove a trap under there just in case. I pushed the grass back to grab it, and thought:

what a weird looking lizard!
That's not a lizard is it?
Holy crap it's a snake!
Oh no, it's a snake's TAIL which means the HEAD with the pointy scary bits is free under the rock and if I reach in and grab the trap it could swing around and attack me!

I would like to mention here, that I have no problem with snakes. In the right setting, I think they're awesome. I had a snake living behind a cupboard in the house here for months (ok, I did freak out a bit when I saw that one). Once, when we had an exhibition at university and there was a snake on display and he was cold I walked around campus with him around my neck all day (really does wonders for getting through crowds). I just have a slight problem when I have no idea what the snake might be, and I'm a good hours drive from the nearest hospital.

So I did what any self-respecting zoologist would do. I got a stick. No, not to hurt the poor little guy! I tried to drag the trap out from under the rock with said stick. The snake swung around and managed to get his chin stuck on the trap. And he hissed and I may have got a bit of a fright and jumped back slightly.

And then I was stuck. Basically, when trapping lizards, you put out long lines of traps, and if there's even a tiny gap under or between traps, the lizards skip over or under or through the gaps and don't get caught. Turns out I'm pretty good at getting them flat, because this one was wedged. I needed a stick with an opposable thumb. Of course, by now the snake was beginning to freak out at not being able to move, and probably the crazy human waving sticks around, and he started hissing and opening his mouth very very wide for me to see his little fangs (which, in hindsight were pretty cute). I was scared to pick the trap up by hand because I had no idea how stuck he was and if he was to freak and jerk free...

So I got a second stick and somehow managed to manoeuvre the trap out and on top of the rock. And then I realised that I had no idea how to proceed. No freaking clue. So I did what any self-respecting young scientist would do. I got a longer stick. Somehow I managed to use it to work his head and front part of his body free.

Well that was brainy.

He carried on gaping at me, and I tried to free the rest of him, which resulted in him swinging around to attack the stick, and getting his head stuck again.

So I got another stick, and managed to get the end into a sort of fork, and pinned his head over the rock away from the trap. He didn't like it, and then I was stuck again because the hand holding the stick holding his head meant that there was no hand to hold a stick to hold the trap down while I freed the rest of him.

So I had to work the stick between him and the trap, holding his head away from it, while I used the point to hold the trap down, and the other hand to move a different stick to get him off. It took a while.

Around then I heard a car nearby. Nearby being the road, which is about a fifteen minute walk from where I was, but close enough for me to start worrying that I was going to get unexpected visitors at the house - with the long hours trapping and measuring and being a bit sick, the house is a huge mess at the moment, and I started freaking that they might go there and I hadn't washed the dishes...

Anyway, I finally got him off the trap, much to my relief, and then realised that I was faced with a sticky snake (no pun intended). He wasn't too bad, but I couldn't just leave him! For my lizards I use cooking oil which dissolves the glue if you rub it on them, but there was no way I was going to manage that the conventional way. I keep two small bottled of oil in a pocket for when I'm trapping, so at least I was well stocked! I held the snake away from me with on stick, and hurled the contents of a bottle onto him. He was not impressed 9to say the least) and then I poured the other bottle in front of him and chased him over the resulting puddle.

He seemed to get away well enough, although that section of rock is going to be hazardous for a while! And he went into grass, so I'm hoping the worst of the oil-glue solution will rub off on that.

The moral of the story: if you want to do something nice for someone, trapping reptiles for them is probably not the best plan!

Oh, and I didn't have visitors after all.
And I looked the snake up, and it was venemous, although not one of the really bad ones. I feel a bit justified in keeping it as far away from me as possible!


sarah said...

oh good grief hels. you make me scared for your life. i am most very definitely the friend-of-zoologists and not a wannabe zoologist.

please be careful!!!!!!!

Kath Lockett said...

Geez! Maybe it will make the return to noise, crowds and pollution need not as bad after all?

Unknown said...

You should take some pics and post them!! :D

Tamara said...

Hectic! Sounds like loads of fun and games. Snakes and sticks, not ladders.

Glad you and the snake are both ok!