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Snake Myths and Truths

Many people have an unfounded fear of snakes (this is called Ophidiophobia), due to myths and other untruths that are prevalent in our society. Below you will find the truth to stories and tales we have been told through the years. Many of these tales have been passed down from generation to generation.

  • You can tell the age of a snake by cutting it in half or counting its rattles
    • The only 100% way to tell the age of a snake is if you are there when the snake is born - live birth or hatched from an egg. Many snake people are able to look at the size of the snake to get a good guess but it's just that, a guess. Snakes come in all shapes and sizes and in their own family. Counting the rattles on a rattle snake does not determine the age of a snake. Rattle snakes gain a "button" every time they shed their skin. Cutting a snake in half will only KILL IT not tell you the age. Cutting a tree in half allows you to learn the age of a tree not a snake.
  • Black Racers Chasing down People
    • Many people have heard that these non-venomous snakes are able to chase down people. This is not true. This snake, along with many snakes like it, look very fast when in the brush and leafs. Now, trying to catch this very fast snake is a talent. Snakes do not chase people normally, you just happen to be going the same way the snake was going. You were both trying to get away.
  • Biggest/Largest Snake vs. Longest Snake
    • These mean two different things. The Biggest snake in total weight and diameter, round like someone's belly, is the Anaconda. The longest snake, referring to the length from head to tail, would go to the Reticulated Python which can reaches length of 25 - 30 ft. long.
  • Dead Snakes & Dead Snake Bites
    • You may have heard someone say that a dead snake can still bite and this is Very True. The nerves in a snake have been recorded to still be active up to 9 hours after a snake was killed. The length of time had much to do with the snake type, and situation in which the snake was killed. In Old-School it was a common practice to cut the head off of a venomous snake but to understand that snake's head can still bite and still inject Venom into it's victim. Just because a snake looks dead doesn't mean the nerves are too.
  • Eggs vs. Live Birth
    • Not all snakes lay eggs and not all snakes give live birth. Water snakes and venomous snakes here in the United States give live birth. Our rat snakes, black racers, ring necks, king snakes and many others do lay eggs.
  • Some snakes, such as garter snakes, swallow their young in times of danger in order to protect them
    • Garter snakes bear their young alive, as do some other kinds of snake. When born, the young are independent and they move away from their mother rather quickly.
  • Snakes can Hypnotize its prey by staring at it
    • Some people believe that you can be hypnotized by snakes or able to hypnotize the snake yourself. Many would believe this to be true of the cobra. This is not true. The cobra appears to be "hypnotized" when distracted by another object in front of it. This is how Cobra Entertainers are able to touch/kiss the cobra on the back of their head/hood. when a prey item seems "hypnotized", it's more likely just frozen with fear at the sight of the approaching snake.
  • Cobra Like Behavior or Playing Dead
    • Yes, such a snake does exist. The Hog nose snake can flatten it's head and lift it up to mimic a cobra, they can also hiss very loudly. When all else fails, they will roll over on their back, stick out their tongue, and spray some musk so they look and smell dead. The snake is not dead, only playing dead until the threat leaves the area then the snake will go about it's day.
  • Mothballs keep snakes away
    • Many have been told that spreading mothballs around their property will keep snakes at bay. This is partially true. The mothballs actually get rid of select insects/critters/rodents that would normally be around. These animals that the snakes prey on would also move on if their food has done the same. But no, spreading mothballs around your yard will not guarantee the snakes will leave.
  • Man-Eating Snakes
    • Some have heard that their are snakes so large that they are called "Man-Eaters". This is true but these snakes are either Reticulated Pythons (longest snake) or the Anaconda (biggest snake). They do not normally go after any humans but in rural/remote places on earth people have been killed and some even eaten by these large reptiles. When food sources are low for these reptiles they will result to other food options. Neither the Reticulated Python or Anaconda are native to the US naturally. There are some in the wild in Florida due to people illegally releasing their pet snakes.
  • Figuring out a Snake's Gender
    • Figuring out the gender (male/female) of a snake is not like looking at a dog. But there are several ways to determine the gender. One- you can do what some snake breeders refer to as "popping". This is when you take newborns or young snakes and press down on both sides of the cloacae (butt scale) to see what "pops" out. NOTE-this can cause serious damage to the snake if not done properly. Two- you can compare the tip of the tail to the cloacae of the snake to another snake the same size, but this isn't very accurate. The length between the two points can help to determine. Three- you can "probe" the snake. This is done with a tool designed for determining the gender of snakes. Again, you can injure a snake if you don't know what you are doing.
  • Mouth Birth
    • Some people have been told that there are snakes that give birth through their mouth. This is not true. What may have happened is they mixed up the snake with an amphibian. Their are some frogs that after giving birth do transport and carry their young in their mouth. But again, snakes do not give birth in or through their mouth. When born or hatching, young snakes are fully independent and will go off on their own nearly right away.
  • Hearing/Ears?
    • Snakes do not have ears like animals do. They do however have internal ears that pick up vibrations and touch. Screaming at a snake will only draw attention to you, not the snake. The snake doesn't hear your scream. They react because you are freaking out around them. You are a giant with limbs (arms and legs) and scare the heck out of them. A snake's tongue is very important to the snake for sending information to the brain.
  • Rattles on a Rattle-Snake
    • Many people were told growing up that counting the rattles (buttons) on a rattle snake would tell you the age of the snake. This is not true. Those "buttons" are grown every time the snake sheds. A Rattle Snake can shed many times a year and more frequently when it's younger. These buttons also break off often when they reach over 8 buttons or more. Only way to be 100% sure is to be there when the snake is born.
  • Milk Snakes sneak into barns and barnyards where they suck milk from cows.
    • A milk cow would hardly stand still for having a Milk Snake's teeth clamped to one of her teats. But Milk Snakes do enter barns sometimes in pursuit of mice and other small rodents.
  • Snake Suicide
    • Some of us were told when we were young that if a venomous snake were to bite itself the snake would die. Well, this is true. A coral snake that bites it's own tail can die. Most of the time the snakes don't release the bite. Other venomous snakes (pit vipers) will also die if they bite themselves.
  • Training a Snake?
    • Yes, it is possible to train a snake just as it is very possible to train alligators and other wildlife and such. Many venomous keepers train their venomous snakes to go into their "hide box" when the cage is to be cleaned or the snake is to be transported. Usually the training consist of a repetitive tapping sound (vibration) on the cage. A snake can be trained within 2 months if not sooner.
  • A snake is venomous if it has a Triangular head.
    • There is still a widely believed tale that snakes with triangular heads are venomous. This is not fully true. Yes, some venomous snakes do have what appears to be a triangular shaped head (such as rattle snakes) but there are also non-venomous snakes that have that same characteristic (such as Red Tailed Boas). Many water snakes have the ability to flatten their head to mimic the characteristics of a water moccasin. Rat snakes can also have what appears to be a triangular shaped head. The venomous snakes with the triangular heads normally get that from the venom sacks located on the sides. There are also many venomous snakes that do not have a triangular head, such as Coral Snakes.
  • Snakes can't swim or bite under water
    • All Snakes can swim and bite underwater. Some, such as water snakes, are very good at it and spend more time in the water then on land.
  • Venomous Snakes being eaten
    • Yes, there are snakes that eat other snakes and venomous snakes as well. Cobras and Coral snakes are venomous and will eat other snakes. King Snakes and Indigo Snakes are non-venomous and will eat other snakes, including venomous snakes.
  • Venom Sacks on Snakes
    • Some people have been told that snakes, before they drink water, "release" their poison into a sack then after drinking they retrieve the sack. If they don't find their sack they kill themselves. This is not true at all. Snakes can control the venom they inject as they are older but the venom sacks can not be removed (unless surgery). Snakes drink water and eat their food fine without any problems from their venom-sacks.
  • Pools & snakes
    • If you have a pool, why do you see more snakes then others in your neighborhood? Your pool is perfectly climate controlled and reptiles love the fact they can escape the heat under your pool slab and gain the warmth during the cooler month from the heated water before it cools.
  • Pregnant Woman/New Born Babies
    • Another "Tall Tale" is that black snakes will chase pregnant woman, this is not true. The only reason a snake would look like it is going after a pregnant woman is if they were both going the same way. Also, snakes are not going after new born babies. The reason for this tale maybe that new born babies look like an injured animal when put on the ground vs. a grown human freaking out over the snake.
  • Hoop snakes are dangerous snakes
    • When surprised one of these snakes will grab its tail in its mouth, form a "hoop" with its body, and roll away. One version of the myth says that the hoop snake will chase a person in this manner, but a conflicting version says that the hoop snake uses this means to escape from a threat. Yet another version has it that the snake will roll down a hill killing anything and everything in its path.'''
    • There is no such thing as a hoop snake. You won't find one in a zoo, you won't find one in a museum. And you won't find a record of a hoop snake observation that has been verified by an independent, second observation.
  • Glass Snakes
    • Also known by their true name, the legless lizard. These reptiles are actually lizards and not a snake at all. These legless lizards have the ability, like many lizards, to detach their tail and re-grow a new one.
  • Snakes travel in pairs. If one snake is killed the other snake seeks revenge.
    • There is no evidence to prove that snakes travel in pairs. If there is good habitat for a particular snake a person may see more than one individual in a small area. Also males follow females closely during mating season. And finally, there is no evidence to show social bonding in snakes.
  • A snake's skin is slimy and yucky, disgusting to touch.
    • A snake's skin is dry and mostly smooth. Edges of the scales may make it seem a little rough. Many people find it pleasant to touch. They feel no different from an alligator or snake skin purse or wallet.
  • Snakes have stingers on their tails with which they can poison prey or a person.
    • Some snakes have pointed tails but they do not have stingers like bees and wasps. Also, snakes produce and store venom in their heads, not their tails.
  • Snakes can strike only from a coiled position.
    • Snakes can strike from any position. If a person grabs a snake's body the snake can turn extremely quickly and bite the hand that holds it.
  • Hognose Snake, sometimes called a puff adder, can mix poison with its breath and kill a person at a distance of 10 or even 20 feet.
    • There are NO snakes that can kill or even hurt others by mixing poison with air and blowing it out. The closest thing to this is the Spitting Cobra, which can spit a stream of venom a few yards when threatened.
  • Jumping Snakes
    • Snakes cannot jump. They may fall from a ledge, soil bank or tree, but they do not jump.
  • Beneficial Snakes
    • Some snakes actually are beneficial to humans because they prey on insect and rodent pests and without snakes, we would be overrun with disease carrying mice and rats. Some non-venomous snakes, such as King Snakes, will also prey on venomous snakes.
  • Removing a Snakes' Fangs
    • Removing the fangs of a venomous snake does not make that snake harmless. A new pair soon replaces the lost fangs.
  • Venomous Snakes in PA
    • Most snakes found in PA are not venomous. Still, there are three snakes in PA that are venomous, and therefore are dangerous. They are the Northern Copperhead Snake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (endangered), and the Timber Rattlesnake.
  • It has to be a rattlesnake, I heard it rattle!
    • This is actually false. While rattlesnakes are the only snakes with an actual rattle, there are several non-venomous snakes, such as Corn Snakes, that will vibrate their tails when threatened in order to mimic a rattlesnake. If their tail is against a dry leaf at the time, it will sound much like a rattlesnake. They do this to scare away possible predators by trying to sound like a rattlesnake.
  • Ever hear the rhyme: "Red and Yellow will kill a fellow. Red and Black Your Friend Jack" that is used to distinguish Coral Snakes from other snakes?
    • This only applies to distinguishing the Texas Coal Snake from other North American Snakes. The rhyme does not apply to snakes native to areas outside of the USA.
Page last modified on January 08, 2012, at 05:05 PM Edit Page | Page History

 

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