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Old 11-28-03, 12:24 AM   #1 (permalink)
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A very stupid thing..

I was not even going to tell you all this, but after I thought about it, I would hate for anyone to make the same mistake.
As some of you probably know, I'm quite new to keeping snakes, and this year was my first year brumating them. I had a trio of ribbon snakes, and I had put them out in the garage with a light to keep the temperature constant. Well, they were always a little bit responsive when I went to check on them, and remained that way for about a month. Then one day, one of them started acting a little bit... different. I kept finding him underneath his water, and I was scared that he was going to drown, even if he was in brumation. It was my first time brumating after all, and I wasn't sure what to be looking for. I removed him from the water, and they were fine. After going out and checking on them, I noticed one of them wasn't responsive at all. I got pretty worried, and decided to bring them all back up to normal temperatures. After all, they've been chilled for a while already. Well, as they were warming over a period of a few days, two of them became very active, looking for hotspots and moving around. One did not. She (the largest female) was very limp, and her body felt very soft. I shone a light in her eyes and there was absolutely no response whatsoever. She also had a large lump where her heart was. I picked her up, and she just hung there. I knew she was dead. I waited a while with her at room temperature, but she didn't move. I figured mabye she died very recently, so I began masaging the heart and lung area, just hoping that mabye her vital functions would kick in and she would be ok. After that failed, I inserted a small tube into her mouth and a little ways down the trachea, and blew a small bit of air in it, hoping that mabye she would start breathing again. Nothing. Her vent looked dry when I checked, and her eyes were a bit glazed. Definitely a very dead snake.

I was pretty upset that my first brumation had ended this way, and I was sad for the loss of a life and such a beautiful young animal. I decided to do a dissection to make sure there were no obvious causes such as undigested food or parasites. So, I did the dissection, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. No undigested food, nothing. I decide to go through again and just double check, and I look at the heart.

... It is beating. I didn't know what to think. The first time I checked her over, I didn't see any beating. I was so freaked out that I might have dissected a snake that was still alive. But I don't know for sure... After all, this snake was by all appearances very dead. I even left her at room temperature for a while, and still no sign of life. But now, to have her heart beating and apparently functioning normally, this was a bit scary. I didn't want to be the one responsible for killing her. It was beating pretty fast now, and I didn't want the snake to suffer, if in fact it was still alive. So, I cut the heart to stop all the blood flow.

Now... I don't know. I personally don't think she was alive. I think that because of me dissecting her, some blood may have started moving when I cut something, and that may have started the heart again. But if the heart could have been started from that, would she still have had a chance to be saved? The other option is that she was deep in brumation, and didn't wake up with the heat. But if that is the case, why were the other two snakes perfectly fine? And why was she so dry and limp? Her body was like liquid, no support at all. I don't know what to think now. Even if she was dead, if her heart had started from that, I think she could have been saved. But I don't know what to think.

That was my first time brumating, and I feel so bad knowing that either way, her death was my fault. I wasn't even going to tell you all, because it's so dreadful and embarassing to make such a mistake, but I didn't want anyone else to make the same mistake. If your snake looks dead, you better try everything you can to get it to live, before finding out the cause of it's death.

I still don't know what exactly happened. If anyone has any knowledge to share, please let me know. I just feel so bad. Losing a snake is hard, but knowing you may have been able to save it is worse. That's why I'm telling you this. If you are doing anything that you havn't done before, be careful. Make sure you know all you can know before trying something new. I hope no one else makes this mistake.

Tammy Rehbein
-You can search all day for something and never find it, only to see it in the most obvious of places after you've stopped looking.-
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Old 11-28-03, 12:51 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Wow, what an aweful story. I am soo sorry.
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Old 11-28-03, 12:56 AM   #3 (permalink)
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snakes have been known to come back from a near freezing with no signs of life (ask grant vg about his experience with this). sad you lost your snake in this manner.
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Old 11-28-03, 01:20 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I have a friend(Potts, he posts in the blood forum) that found a garter snake in the snow once and decided to bring it home and thaw it out, well low and behold the thing came back to life. :jawdrop: I am sorry that this happened to you. Dont beat yourself up over it. You just did what you thought was best. Give it a proper barrial(sp?) and move on. Im sure it freaked you out but Im sure you will get over it. I wish I could offer more advice but I dont know much about brumation.(still learning) Once again Im sorry for your loss.
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Old 11-28-03, 01:32 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Sorry to hear about that. I don't think it was your fault at all. You did what you thought was right, and from reading your post you seemed very smart about taking care of it. I'm not sure if she was in deep brumation or not... that is very weird. I would think she would "wake up" if you warmed her up a bit or something.

I know a time at the vet's office, his savannah monitor died and I went back to watch him do the necropsy. Well it turns out he stimulated the heart just by rubbing it! It freaked me out, totally! I think you did something to stimulate the heart in a way that it started beating.

Just don't beat yourself up over this. It was definately not your fault, and also your first time brumating.
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Old 11-28-03, 04:06 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Hi Tammy Ė

Iím sorry about your experience. And I know how you feel. Itís kind of like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story, isn't it? Since I donít have much experience with brumating temperate climate snakes, nor have I kept many garter snakes, I really canít evaluate your particular set-up. But for future reference, I do know that it is quite common for some snakes to hibernate under water. Itís not just an amphibian or turtle thing! So weird as it looks, if you see that again and all your other conditions are okay, just trust that the animal has made a natural choice.

Iíll leave it to a veterinarian to explain, because I really cannot, but the heart of a reptile can continue to beat even though it is essentially dead. I know that sounds like a complete contradiction. Letís just say that it can be exceeding tough for even the most experienced person to determine when a snake has finally died. I have cut open more than one snake for necropsy and observed the heart still beating. I knew those animals were dead by any other definition, had no possible chance of recovery, and did not make any observable response to painful stimulus. Nevertheless, if I find a ďpetĒ snake dead now, I tend to leave it alone for an additional length of hours to give myself a cushion so I donít have to second guess myself when I cut into its body. You can find the position of the heart fairly easily on a healthy snake by turning it over and watching for the heartbeat. Youíll notice it doesnít beat very fast! When it is very close to dead (or very chilled), minutes could possibly elapse between beats.

I can remember the first (and only) time I fully opened an incubating python egg which I was positive had gone bad, and found a delicate, perfectly healthy-appearing embryo with a beating heart and no chance now of survival. But I learned a valuable lesson.

I can see youíre turning it over and over in your mind. Try not to. Youíll never know for sure what happened, but the fact that the other two became active is a good indication that something was way wrong with the one that didnít. You were doing what you thought was best.

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Old 11-28-03, 10:31 AM   #7 (permalink)
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That sounds like a bad dream to me, i am sorry to hear about your snake. But like 'Bigplaya' said, don't beat yourself over it to much, we all here know that you did what you thought was the best for the animal, your intentions were clearly pure's not your fault.

Take care.
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Old 11-28-03, 10:48 AM   #8 (permalink)
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What a sad story ..but don't be so hard on yourself, your intentions were in good faith.....I have had snakes that were dead but their hearts were still beating for an hour after...I think it is because of primitive neurologic systems.(?)......Keep doing what you do/feel and cheer up..!

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Old 11-28-03, 11:04 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Eep. My heart jumped just reading that story LOL... I remember a few times when a "very dead" water dragon or beardie would get tossed in the garbage at work, only to have someone walk in to the room later in the day to see the little monkey sitting on the edge of the garbage. I have learned never to believe reptiles are dead until rigomortis sets in I don't know what happened in your case, hopefully your snake was indeed dead. I'm sorry I cannot give more input in to that situation, but I am truly sorry for your loss
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Old 11-28-03, 03:30 PM   #10 (permalink)
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So sorry to hear what you had to experience and know how stressful it must have been for you, as I have had a similar experience. I echo the advice of other's here - the fact that two animals came out of brumation without problems indicates that there was some individual problem for this snake.

Reptiles have very different nervous and circulatory systems compared with other animals. Given your description of the snake before you opened the body (the flaccid body, the failure of eye pupils to constrict with bright light) the snake was brain dead or very deeply unconscious. It would not have felt pain in that state and it is probable it would never have recovered to normal function. The fact that it did not respond to coming out of brumation indicates it had serious problems!

The heart muscle of a reptile can be stimulated to contract even hours after it is removed from the body if it is kept damp in a saline solution. Any electrical and often a mechanical stimulation (touch of a sharp instrument) can be enough to jolt the nerves and stimulate beating. Heart function cannot be used as an indication of life in reptiles and your evaluation of brain function was a good basis for considering the animal dead.

I appreciate you sharing this experience for the rest of us and am very sorry that your first experience with brumation had to end this way,

mary v.
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Old 11-28-03, 03:36 PM   #11 (permalink)
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garters frozen is common, they revive every year, good lesson to you, don't worry about it, you did what you knew
Old 11-28-03, 07:03 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Thanks guys. From what you say, I'm pretty sure she was dead.

I don't know if this means anything, but when I first got these snakes, they were housed together, and I don't know if their nutrition was right, because they would sometimes do these little head twitching things. This is supposed to be a symptom of a severe vitamin (B1 I think it is) deficiency. But, soon after I had got them, they stopped doing it. I figured the problem was fixed, and never looked back on it.

Anyways, this is all a learning experience, and you have to take the bad with the good. I'm not going to be upset about it, but learn from it and try to do a better job next time.

Hey joan, thanks. It was actually the male snake that was found under the water. I did some research, and now I know that they often do that as they don't have to breathe very often at all in brumation. I tried to disturb them as little as possible, but I didn't know better than and figured it was for the best.

On a lighter note, the male and female that did well are now together, and the male is showing definite interest in her. He flicks his tounge along her body and follows her around, but no actual mating yet. The female is definitely big enough, but the male is a bit smaller than I think he should be, and he may have to wait till next year. But he is sure trying hard! Hopefully I end up with some babies on my hands this fall. And the female has a very red-coloured back stripe, instead of the usual yellow, so i'm hoping that when she does have babies, some of them end up with this trait.

Thanks for all the reassurance. I'm glad you all are so supportive.
Tammy Rehbein
-You can search all day for something and never find it, only to see it in the most obvious of places after you've stopped looking.-
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