# Probing question - which scales are we counting, here?

I am in the midst of trying to learn to sex our ball pythons. I’ve watched multiple tutorials on both popping and probing by very experienced breeders (Justin at Kinova, Billy at Mutation Creation, etc.), and I’ve seen a couple of snakes popped in person. I’ve only just recently started attempting, VERY carefully, to pop myself. I’ve not quite got the popping down yet, and I have a feeling it could take me quite a while to get the coordination and movement of it just right. So, a couple of months ago, we bought a nice probe kit and I rewatched some tutorials and gave that a go.

But one thing is a little unclear to me. Which scales are we counting when we’re measuring probe depth? The videos I watched talked about the probe going in only two or three scale widths deep on a female, and around six deep on a male. But the scales along the bottom of the tail are not in even rows right at the vent - it’s like a random cluster of teeny tiny scales, and then past that, there are roughly equally sized scales in straight rows.

When someone says the probe goes in two scale widths deep, are they talking about the cluster of teeny scales, or the bigger scales beyond that? Are we measuring from the vent, or are we skipping the random cluster and measuring the probe against the more even, wider scales?

Also, on a similar note - when I was trying this out, I first checked several known males and known females, and despite not knowing exactly how the pros are measuring against the snakes’ scales, I could definitely see the difference in how deep the probe went on the males vs the females. When I felt I was getting a handle on the process, I went to check the snakes I REALLY wanted to check - a pair of twins whose popping by their breeder (and subsequently by one other breeder as well) left us a little uncertain as to their gender (they have either smaller than typical hemipenes or redder than typical lack-of-hemipenes). On both of them, the probe certainly didn’t go nearly as far as it did on our known males, but it also seemed to go a little farther than it did on our known females. Around four scale widths (if I was measuring correctly), aka basically right in between male depth and female depth.

What do people do when this happens? For these two specifically, I will probably end up doing a shed test, just to be certain. But, I’m assuming this might happen again, as it seems unlikely that I would have come across an extremely rare circumstance in our very small collection. So I would love to know what to do when you get a sort of in between result from a sexing. Do you assume male because the probe went in slightly farther than on a typical female? Or are some females just a little deeper? Did I maybe just not have the probe positioned correctly? I tried probing these two snakes several (but not too many) times to try to make sure I wasn’t just in the wrong spot, but I kept getting the same results with every attempt.

Please help me if you can! We originally thought these twins were probably either one male and one female or both females… then we graduated to thinking they were both males… and now we’ve moved on to just being completely confused. Hahaha. I would love to not only figure out what these twins are, but also learn more about sexing in general so that in the future when we hatch our own clutches, we will be able to determine the babies’ genders accurately. So any help here would be greatly appreciated!

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Just like @t_h_wyman illustration shows, there are two pockets one on either side so you would count the scales on the same side of the probe. I would still recommend popping on any younger snake, to me less of a chance of accidentally injuring the snake. The main problem people(including myself) when learning to pop is not starting far enough towards the tail with your thumb that pushes toward the cloaca so when you do pop you either don’t see anything or are actually preventing the hemipenes to come out. If you have known young males practice on them.

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Agree on the age. I choose not to probe any ball pythons under a few hundred grams. I do like to both probe and pop before every unproven animal goes out just as a quality control for my customers. I just pop before that.

For probing I am never literally counting scales. I just mark how far the probe goes in vs length of the tail. For male vs female it’s a huge difference even at a minimum. Females won’t probe deep at all unless you injure them.

I also think an important thing with probing is selecting the right size probe (not too small or too big) to reduce risk of damage. Also properly lubricating the probe and learning how to gently feel your way around the structures.

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The length of tail thing seems pretty helpful. Have you ever encountered a snake that seems to have a sort of in-between probe depth? Or is it always a pretty big difference for you, between the males and females?

How far down the length of tail would you say your probe is going, for a male? Like, in a percentage of tail length?

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Thanks for the tip on popping - I will try starting further down the tail and see if I have better success. Perhaps I was starting too close to the cloaca.

@t_h_wyman - I’m wondering about the scales in this picture. Our ball pythons’ tail scales don’t look like this, which is part of the reason I’m confused. They have a jumbly cluster of super tiny scales right past the cloaca, and then beyond those they have scales that look like the ones pictured. This is why I’m wondering if I’m misunderstanding the probing instructions from the tutorials I’ve been looking at. When measuring against scales, do you count these tiny ones that aren’t really in rows? Or do you start counting at the bigger ones?

Sorry if I did this reply weirdly - I’ve got a little tutorial type thing popping up here that says I should reply to several posts in a single comment, rather than doing multiple individual ones to each person… but I’m not getting the quote reply button that it’s talking about when I highlight part of my text, so I just used an @name for the second bit.

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Do you have pics of the belly and tail you can post? That may help for everyone to understand why the scale count is different for you. Although like @crypticoils-pythons stated:

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I will see if I can get a good picture later - that’s a good idea!

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Count the normal, regular looking ones like in the pic. Once you get the hang of it and do it a few times you will not even really need to count, you will just be able to tell by how far the probe goes in
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Nothing to apologize for. Honestly, the “tutorial” is a software construct and you can ignore it. You reply in the way that is easiest for you, we will happily answer regardless of how you reply
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Bane’s and Cryptic’s comment here sparks another thing I would like to say just in general - It is a billion times better to learn how to probe from someone actually experienced than to self-teach. It is quite easy to push “too hard” and not know it and permanently harm your animals. If you have a trusted vet that is a great source. I also advocate talking to local herp societies for experienced people. Zoo studies programs at universities/colleges are also great places.

Also, there are some species that you absolutely canNOT probe - the Psammophiid group being a great example - so please make sure you know your species before you act. Obviously balls are not a concern, but I figure someone in the future might see this topic and wonder about a non-ball species

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Why is that? Just too delicate?

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Exceedingly so. The hemipenes of my adult male Rhamphiophis are around 1.5-2cm long and maybe 5mm wide. When you sex them off sheds, you are basically looking at a couple individual thick eyebrow hairs.

You cram a probe in there and you have basically castrated the animal

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