As a snake handler, one of the things I often hear from people is “I won’t use a tong because it will crush the snake!”. Today, I want to take a few minutes to address this statement because I think that a lot of people are missing out on a great tool.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of snake tongs is the higher level of control that tongs offer a handler versus using a snake hook. Hooks are great, and they have their purpose, but one thing they lack is a true ability to control the animal. On a hook, a snake has the freedom to move and can quickly get from the hook end to the shaft or even slip off the hook altogether. Snakes can be injured by falling from a hook to a hard surface. “Tailing” helps to control the animal, but that requires placing your hands on the snake. Having your hand on the snake increases your risk of bite and may also expose you to dangerous substances on the snake such as venom or feces. Tongs eliminate the need for a hand on the snake because tongs act like a hand in that they can grip and hold the animal wherever you choose to place the tool. Used correctly, tongs will hold even the wiliest of snakes safely and humanely.
Not surprisingly, as tongs have increased in popularity, there has been a flood in the market of cheap, poorly constructed knock-offs of reputable brands and even outright counterfeited product. Let me be clear, the dollar you saved buying these products is the dollar you spend at the vet or worse, the Emergency Room. These tongs are cheap because they are largely made overseas from substandard materials by unskilled laborers. The last thing you want is a tong made today by a guy who was assembling kick-scooters the day before. At Midwest Tongs, for example, we employ highly skilled machinists and assembly technicians, all of whom have first-hand experience working with snakes and reptiles. Further, we test each design both mechanically and then functionally on our own animals to ensure they work flawlessly. We don’t want our animals injured any more than you would yours.
Materials are very important in the construction of a well-made snake tong. Steel, aluminum, magnesium and titanium are all used in the construction of our tongs and other items. These materials are cast, cut or fashioned into the pieces that make up our products and then these pieces are brought together under the tightest tolerances to ensure that the fit and finish are professional grade. If you hold a snake tong, it should feel tightly put together with no slop or play in the moving parts. Rivets should be tight and uniform. The edges on every part and surface should be smooth and free of any sharp edge. Sharp edges can lead to injury of the animal or the handler. The finish should be neat and without blemish or fade. Grip materials should be tough, durable and weather resistant to ensure long use.
Cheap tongs are like cheap guns: dangerous. A cheaply made tong has the high possibility of failing under stress. Also, cheap tongs are more likely to risk injury to the animal due to inconsistent performance or quality issues. When you are considering purchasing a tong, think about what you intend to do it. The construction materials, size and customizations all factor into the experience you will have. The tong you buy to move an irritable Corn snake is significantly different from the one you would want to move a Gaboon Viper.
Proficiency with snake tongs is a lot like developing skill with a firearm. If you want to become a skilled marksman, you take the weapon to the range and practice. It is unrealistic to assume that you could be an expert shot with a weapon you never touch. Similarly, using tongs correctly on an animal takes practice, especially for people who are not used to working with them or who don’t typically work with snakes. One way to build skill is to practice moving a fragile object like a raw egg or water-filled balloon. You will be surprised how quickly you can learn exactly how much to squeeze the grip in any given situation. Also, it is important to remember that tongs, like hooks, are designed to move an animal from one place to another safely and quickly. They are not intended to hold the animal for long periods of time, like while a cage is cleaned. Get the animal placed or moved quickly and you will reduce the risk that it or you will be injured.
Tongs are a great tool to have in your collection and if properly used can enhance the experience you have when working with snakes. These tools are used by millions of professional herpetologists, veterinarians and animal handlers throughout the world every day in the course of their work. The myth that all tongs are dangerous or inhumane to snakes is simply not true. Returning to the firearm analogy, it is not the tool but the user that causes harm. If you have additional questions about if a tong may be right for your situation, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help guide you to the right tool for your needs.