Well, I just got out of the snake room, and I realized I have not discussed palpating at any real length before.
So here it goes.
Palpating is the art of squeezing a gravid female to count the eggs or follicles (depending on the cycle of development within the female).
It is not easy.
It is a learn by doing process, and although I am going to attempt to explain it with writing, the education will be incomplete at best.
So let us begin.
You should first make sure you are palpating a female.
Yes, I realize that this is a duh obvious statement, but trust me when I say that some people that I have worked with trying to teach them how to do it didn't recall this most important of rules.
Second, make sure it is within the breeding/development cycle. You will not feel anything correctly if there is nothing to feel. You may feel fecal matter, but that isn't what you care to count, I'm assuming.
The most difficult part of feeling the follicles is early on in the cycle, when what you are trying to feel for are small. We're talking pea or pearl sized bumps.
You need to feel for what you are looking for at the middle end, towards the vent. Begin there, and move down, with the snake slithering thru your hands.
Now let me stop and address the slithering issue. I basically take the female, put her head into the tub where she is housed, and let the rest of the body hang in my hands. You want her to move towards the back of the tub, so you want to make sure she only has one way to go.
Otherwise you will have a tangled female somewhere in somewhere and no follicular count what so ever, and more than likely some frustrations.
So... close the tub as much as you can to facilitate roaming towards the back of the tub.
Secondly, you want her limp. You want her to not tighten up her muscles at all, because that will prevent any ability to feel unless you want to squash her body. This is done by being patient, and letting her realize that its an easy trip back into the tub, and that she isn't going to fall.
So when you have a limp head covered snake, you may continue.
Take your thumb and your index finger and place it in a "C" around the body of your snake, the thumb on the spine, and the index finger in the crook of the belly.
Let her roam thru this "C", and put enough pressure on her belly to feel insides. Now this is different for everyone, but in general, exert enough pressure for a solid grip, but not enough to damage the body of the snake.
You should feel something between the middle of the animal to the vent.
Again, depending on the development, it may be a small jumble of tiny pearls, or large bumps that are around four inches of bump each.
Count the bumps.
If you have someone else in the room, they can watch your fingers to see the bumps as well. Joel helps me with this on occasion for verification.
Now, you can miss the first or the last, so unless you have much practice, I suggest writing your guesses down, and seeing what you end up with in the end.
And let me touch on fecal matter. It is lumpy as well, but it will move, be squishy, and it will make noise (gurgles and such). Most gravid females will not be full, so that may not be an issue, but remember that most fecal matter will be closer to the vent. If you feel bumps in the middle, and a pause, then more at the vent, the vent area is more than likely fecal matter or urates.
Again, this will require practice. Maybe you can compare it with a male who will be passing matter soon to help you distinguish.
As I have said, it is an art...
And I hope that this has helped you out there that are trying to perfect your technique. It is a practice makes perfect form of divination, so... practice.
Have a fantastic weekend, my friends.