Things I Thought I’d Never Have To Do

. . . at least while teaching high school Latin and middle school Geography:

Use a small plastic trashcan to help corral a copperhead. Our biology teacher held a laminated copy of the Gettysburg Address behind the snake while I pushed a trashcan at it horizontally, and it was obliging enough to slither in rather than under the trashcan. Otherwise we were prepared for a rapid retreat. This happened fifteen feet outside the front door about 20 minutes after school let out, when the area was still full of children. (We’d been wondering why we hadn’t seen any skinks there for the last few days.)

The snake was only a foot long, but quite feisty, especially after the Animal Control officer got it in her lasso-stick (or whatever those things are called) to transfer it to a coffee can for transport. She promised to let it loose outside the Raleigh city limits, which is what we wanted. Plan B, if she had said she was going to kill it, was to kill it ourselves and have the Biology class dissect it. While we waited for her, we discussed possible methods of execution that would leave it in good shape for dissection. Drowning? Very difficult to fill the trashcan with water without letting the snake escape — it was quite slender. Freezing? That might not have left it in the best shape for dissection. Poison? The tentative plan, forestalled by the arrival of Animal Control, was to pour acetone (nail-polish remover) on it. Would that have worked? I don’t know, but the Biology and Chemistry teachers seemed to think so.

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3 Responses to Things I Thought I’d Never Have To Do

  1. Chun and Don says:

    Did it still have its “baby” yellow tail?

  2. Wow … that tops my ‘wildlife-at-school’ story … at least animal control came for yours. First thin in the a.m., we had a seagull with a broken wing or something on the playground. Of course, it was getting tormented by the children (and if we left it there it would probably be ripped apart by the other seagulls and/or dogs) so we put it into a milk crate and called the animal control people. Because it was a seagull, though, they refused to come (I guess seagulls are in the same category as rats) … we had to get a parent to take it somewhere to be ‘released’ out of the view of children …

  3. Alfred M. Kriman says:

    Drowning would be doubly tricky because copperheads can swim — so somehow the snake’s would have to be kept below water level. It takes an unpleasantly long time to drown
    a small animal, according to a friend of mine who did a starling (on the recommendation of a local wildlife department).

    A roommate of mine who worked on a biology research project had the task of sacrificing the lab rats. The preferred method was mechanical — break their necks.

    I imagine you don’t have to freeze it to kill it, just refrigerate. Since it’s cold-blooded, it should take about as much cooling as an equivalent amount of water. Wait until it’s very sluggish, and then carefully decapitate.

    Is it hard to find dry ice these days? In the 1960′s in my hometown you could buy it at the ice cream shop. You could toss a chunk in to keep the snake company — refrigerate and asphyxiate simultaneously. Iirc, for humans a CO2 concentration in air of something like 20-30% is lethal.

    Acetone is certainly poisonous — taken internally or absorbed in sufficient quantity through the skin, or at too high a concentration in the air. It also evaporates quickly and cools the drying surface.

    You’d want to buy acetone as acetone, of course, and not expensively packaged as nail-polish remover. I used clear nail polish when I used to practice guitar, and used acetone as a remover (if I felt like removing it). My mom (a chemist) disapproved when she heard — felt it would damage the nails. She recommended getting regular np remover in a store, which is some weaker solvent or mix of solvents, but I haven’t really looked into this.

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