Forum: What Makes the Best Noose?

During recent fieldwork with several graduate students, the topic of lizard noosing materials came up.  I was accused of being an old fogey for my continued use of dental floss to make my nooses.  By contrast, these young whippersnappers used some yellow stuff, pictured above.  I can’t remember what it is, but it seems all the rage these days.  I know that other people use various types of fishing line (I think the yellow stuff is one such type), and that everyone has their own preference.  Of course, lizard noosing has doubtless been independently invented many times in various places around the world with all kinds of materials.  I’ve seen local boys use blades of grass—quite effective!—in several places in the Caribbean, and once in Sri Lanka, I saw the locals using copper wire on a Calotes (not recommended).  So, given all these options, what are the advantages and disadvantages of various noose materials?

I’ll make the old-timer’s case.  Dental floss has the following advantages: first, it is cheap and readily available.  Second, if your noose goes bad, it is easy to whip out your floss container, which comfortably resides in your pocket, and you can quickly make another.  Third, waxed floss (don’t even think of unwaxed) holds the noose open reasonably well, at least for a while.  When it stops doing so, it’s time for another noose.  Fourth, floss generally hangs straight down from the pole, as opposed to having a memory for being coiled up and thus not hanging vertical.

Yes, it does wear out faster than other stuff, and that’s a nuisance.  But you just make another noose, and that’s that.  This can be a big advantage because some times you need to make a bigger or smaller noose when you encounter lizards of a different size, or when the wind picks up.  In this case, the ease of making a new noose becomes a big asset.  I’ve seen people stick with inappropriate nooses just because it’s so difficult to make a new one.

So, that’s why I’ve stuck with the floss all these years.  I’d like to hear why others thing their newfangled stuff is superior.

p.s. One last note: you’d think mint floss, being green, would be less bothersome to the lizards, as well as smelling/tasting better.  But don’t bother trying it: you can’t see it against a vegetated background.

About Jonathan Losos

Author and Professor at Harvard University
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12 Responses to Forum: What Makes the Best Noose?

  1. Rich Glor says:

    The new monofilament dental flosses have all the advantages of traditional dental floss while producing a much longer lasting noose that doesn’t fray. For the past ten years I’ve relied almost exclusively on Glide brand dental floss.

  2. Yoel Stuart says:

    Call me a young whippersnapper if you will but I am going to make the case for the monofilament fishing line pictured in this post.

    1) Unlike the floss I’ve used, the fishing line holds its shape and doesn’t droop down. This lets you approach the lizard from any direction while leading with the noose rather than the pole tip if you have to come from below or the side. With a flighty lizard, passing its head with the pole tip can scare the the lizard away before the noose even gets close.

    2a) Because the line holds its shape, you can adjust the size of the noose without having to tie a new noose. Tie a big noose at the beginning of the day and you’re set for whatever you come across. Also, this material is fairly wind resistant.

    3) A simple tug on the fishing line before tying the noose erases any memory from being wrapped around the spool.

    4) A pair of scissors on a multi-tool makes tying a new noose in the field just as easy as floss, but…

    5) Because the line takes a many uses to wear, just tie a noose the night before and you’ll be able to lizard all day long. (Admittedly, I’ve sometimes forgotten to tie a new noose after a late night of lizard processing/catching and have been frustrated with my old noose the next day.) Plus, tying the noose in your hotel allows you to be much more consistent in tying a good noose.

    6) It’s hi-vis yellow and it comes in 150-yard spools. Mine lasted me three years in spite of giving yards away to other lizarders.

    7) If you forgot to pack a lunch, you’ve already got a fishing pole and fishing line. Just fashion a hook from your pocket knife. Bam! Sashimi!

  3. Sarah Werning says:

    I’m a big fan of the high-visibility yellow Spiderwire, for all of the same reasons listed in the comment above. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive than floss (~ $10/125 yards), but it’s not like you go through 125 yards quickly, even replacing it every day (which I find unnecessary; it stays bright and unfrayed for several days). The color is more or less neon yellow, and the easiest to spot of any color line I’ve used. Some lizards are able to see it, but so far, all the ones that spotted it have tried to bite it, conveniently angling their head for easier noosing.

    This is the stuff I’m talking about, I get it in the 10/2 pound/diameter.

  4. Rich Glor says:

    With a properly tied monofilament floss, you can also orient your noose as desired. I’d also like to get feedback from the Spiderwire users about whether they feel this line causes more injuries; in my experience with this product, it left the lizards worser for wear than the floss.

  5. lukemahler says:

    Rich has a good point – I’ve found that the high-test fishing lines can be a little rough on big lizards (e.g., the size of a large trunk-ground anole, or larger). This probably has to do with the strength and (lack of) elasticity of the fishing line, as well as its smaller diameter. Despite this, I’ve always been better at noosing with fishing line than with floss for reasons Yoel mentioned, and it’s usually what I use, especially for the little guys. But I always keep an extra noose pole nearby and I carry along floss.

    Oh – and I think some of the fishing lines we’re talking about are actually polyfilament lines (I know PowerPro is a 3-filament braid). I’ve tried some monofilaments in the past, but the ones I tried wouldn’t really hold shape.

  6. Joseph Burgess says:

    I find it to be a situational item. I use the floss on larger species and monofilament on smaller. I have been using STREN Hi-Vis Gold for about 10 years, but it is extremely hard find. Not even available at “warehouse” outdoor stores. I have only been able to find it online. The great thing about it is that if you use the lower (2 lb.) test, you can even noose juveniles of small species and still have good visibility of the line. It also has a low memory, which I find to be troublesome with most mono.

  7. cybokat says:

    alright, as everything I’ve learnt about noosing I learnt from Yoel I go with the yellow fishing line too, for the above mentioned pro’s including hypothetical sushi.

    I don’t find the yellow thread to hurt anoles, but maybe my girlish pull is gentler than the masculine hunting-success driven one.
    (another pro: just as the opened noose stays open pre-catch, the closed noose stays closed, preventing post-catch escape).

  8. ogonzalez1 says:

    personally I use either grass stems or waxed cord. and they have worked for me so far

  9. 8 or 10 pound test monofilament is my preferred noose material for anoles. I attach it to either a telescoping fishing rod, or a whippy stick (there’s usually an appropriate legume sapling around in most tropical countries: no major side branches, and a slight bow–which lets you reach around a tree trunk from the side; mangrove also grows nice and straight without side branches, but is heavier and thicker). I also like grass nooses, if you can find the right species of grass. There’s a common roadside grass in the West Indies that works really well, although you do have to get quite close (blades are up to about 2 feet long); it’s just anecdotal, but I think anoles are less spooked by grass than by other nooses. There are also grasses that don’t work well at all. The seed head is the key part– you must be able to strip the seed, leaving a very thin but flexible stalk. Coconut fronds are OK too. I use the mid rib as the main support, and make the noose out of a single fiber parallel to the mid rib.

  10. I’ll add that STREN is the brand I use, too. The shape-holding of fishing line, mentioned by Yoel and Luke is something I like as well. I find my nooses eventually overtighten or get kinked, and rarely last more than a few days. The way I tie them, I can take a tightened noose and re-loop it, getting twice the usage from a single noose. And while Jon may have his floss handy, I always have my lizard fixings with me: line, tape, wooden matchsticks, and scissors.

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