Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Sticky Situation

It never occurred to me, as I headed up to the garden for the morning watering, that I'd be spending a half hour or more trying to remove a snake from a strip of duck tape. Some things you just don't see coming, even when they are totally your fault. But, wait, let me back up a bit.

A little over a week ago, I planted some bean seeds. I do this every year and every year the mice steal and eat about 85% of them, leaving me with maybe 3-4 seedlings, if I'm lucky. So this year, I decided to take some defensive measures to keep the little thieves out of my starter pots. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I converted some of my extra potting trays into covers, knowing they would match up because all the trays were the same size. However, I needed to keep the tiny mice from just crawling through the big gaps, so I attached some metal screening to the bottoms (which would be the tops when inverted). I used duck tape to attach the screen because I've had issues with glue holding to plastic like that. When they were finished, they worked just as I'd envisioned. I was very pleased with my cleverness, which is usually the beginning of my downfall.

A few days later, I notice the duck tape was starting to peel up from the screen. All the humidity from the seed pots, which must be kept constantly moist, was keeping the tape from sticking to the screen. It held fine to the  plastic trays, but there just wasn't enough surface area on the screen material for the tape, sticky as it is, to maintain purchase and it was simply curling away.

After considering the problem for a day or so, I decided that if I put duck tape on both sides of the screen, the tape would stick to itself through the holes in the screen. After all, nothing sticks to duck tape better than more duck tape. Brilliant, eh? Unfortunately, I procrastinated actually implementing the idea. There is so much to do in the garden in spring and the screen was staying in place in spite of the curling tape. It honestly didn't seem like that urgent of a problem ... until this morning.

I stepped into the greenhouse and started watering the seed pots when something odd caught my eye. There was a snake, stretched out along the top of one of the covers, next to the duck tape. Now, snakes in the greenhouse are no big surprise. They love how warm it gets in there and I see them rustling about all the time. But usually they hide when I come in and this one was just laying there, not moving at all. And something about it looked ... off.

It took a moment before my brain caught up with what my eyes were seeing. The snake had snuggled in under that inviting curl ... and gotten stuck to the gluey side of the tape. Almost its entire body was immobilized, including its jaw, which was locked into an open position. I could tell it had been there for awhile, too, because it was starting to look very dry. My heart broke when I realized what I had done to this poor, unsuspecting creature. 

I reached down to pick up the snake and turn it loose, but I couldn't. It was really, really stuck. I was afraid of ripping its skin right off if I pulled any harder. I had no clue how to free it. Then it occurred to me that misting the seeds had caused the tape to curl. Maybe if I misted the tape around the snake, it would come loose. I misted like crazy, but no luck. The snake remained firmly adhered to the tape. 

Next, I decided to try removing the tape, with the poor attached snake, from the tray to see if that would make things any easier. I got lucky and a good portion of the tape decided to tear right along the snake's body, freeing about two-thirds of it. Unfortunately, that left a good six inches of snake, including its head, still seriously stuck.

I carried the critter, who was now extremely unhappy with me, down to the house. I put some water into one of those saucers you place under pots and tried soaking the tape and snake in it, making sure to keep its head above the water. This worked better than the mist and about half of the still-stuck skin slowly released. The snake also seemed to re-hydrate quite a bit, losing its shriveled look. It also got a LOT feistier, writhing and twisting every time I took it out of the water in a desperate attempt to free itself. It took quite a bit of effort to keep the poor thing from getting even more stuck.

Eventually, it became obvious that the water had released as much as it was going to. The time had come for drastic measures. I settled the snake as best I could in a small box, still in the water to keep it from twisting itself up into the tape, and darted into the house for some cotton swaps and rubbing alcohol. I was worried about the harshness of the alcohol on the snake's skin, but I knew if I didn't get the poor thing free it was going to die. By this point, I was running out of options. 

Over the next several minutes I alternated between dabbing the alcohol along the tape next to the snake and then dipping it back in the water to rinse it off when the snake totally flipped out. Slowly, the alcohol weakened the adhesive enough that our mutual efforts eventually freed the critter from the tape. As soon as it was loose, the snake stopped writhing and contorting and simply settled itself into my hand. After a few minutes, it calmly started curling itself around my fingers, soaking up the welcome warmth after being repeatedly dunked in cold water. 

Since the snake was now much calmer, I took a few minutes to examine it. I didn't see any serious injuries, though I'm pretty sure it lost a few scales to its sticky captor. Still, I couldn't find anything that appeared life threatening. I couldn't think of anything else that I could do to help the creature, so I took it back up to the garden and turned it loose in my strawberry bed. It departed carefully and without haste into the grass and under the brambles. Near as I could tell, the snake was fine. I'm pretty sure it will recover without any issues, though it may give the greenhouse a wide birth from now on.

Having done what I could for my hapless victim, I immediately returned to the greenhouse and snagged the covers from the seed trays. I redid all three until there wasn't even a tiny bit of glue exposed. I'm pretty sure they are safe now, but I will check them often and if they even begin to curl up again, I'll remove them completely. A few bean seeds simply aren't worth the risk.

Please, accept my apology, my dear little snake. I honestly did not realize that would happen. Be safe, little one!