The Deadly "Snow Snake" - Is It Real or Fake?

01
of 01

Snow Snake

Snow Snake
Viral image

Circulating via social media since 2013, a photo of the deadly "snow snake," whose bite can supposedly freeze your blood and for which there is no known medical remedy, is a hoax.

A common caption when the photo is shared via social media reads like this:

This is the deadly snow snake. It has bitten 3 people in the state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. It’s been spotted in other states. It comes out in the cold weather and at this time there is no cure for it's bite. One bite and your blood starts to freeze. Scientist are trying to find a cure. Your body temperature start to fall once bitten. Please stay clear if you have see it. Please forward this and try to save as many people as we can from this deadly snow snake.


Analysis

We are asked to believe there is a deadly reptile called the "snow snake" which thrives in cold weather, whose bite causes a victim's blood to "freeze," and for whose venom there is no known antidote. Yet, curiously, I can find no mention of such an animal in any catalog of herpetological species.

We're further asked to believe that four people have recently been bitten by this reptile in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Yet, curiously, there have been no news reports of fatalities caused by the bite of a "snow snake" anywhere in the United States. Ever.

I'll get to the point. Snow snakes don't exist. The viral photo is a prank, accomplished, in all likelihood, by spray-painting a rubber snake, arranging it just so on a snowy patch of ground, and snapping its picture with a camera phone. The most interesting thing about the image is how comfortably it fits into a tradition of jokes and tall tales alluding to a mythical "snow snake" going back more than a hundred years in the northern United States and Canada.

A fearsome critter indeed

For example, we find the snow snake mentioned among the "fearsome critters" encountered by lumberjacks in the Paul Bunyan tales of the early twentieth century:

One of the greatest dangers faced by Paul's lumberjacks was the many wild, but happily now extinct, animals that haunted the woods in the vicinity of Paul's camps. Take first the snow snake. It came across from China the year of the two winters when the Bering Strait was frozen over. They were pure white with pink eyes, and many were the young lumberjacks that were "froze still" of fright just thinking about them.

So wrote James J. McDonald in his collection of tall tales "Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox," published in the Wisconsin Blue Book in 1931. "They are bad actors," added Henry H. Tryon in his 1939 booklet Fearsome Critters, "the venom is deadly, with a speed of action second only to that of the Hood Snake or the Hamadryad [King Cobra]. Hibernating in summer but becoming active in winter, the Snow Snake coils on a low drift where its pure white color makes it wholly invisible to its prey. One strike is sufficient."

And then there's this, from Marjorie Edgar's "Imaginary Animals of Northern Minnesota," published in 1940: "My first experience with the snow snake was at Beaver Bay, in the very snowy December of 1927. A snow snake, I was told, is not large, but is active and dangerous, dashing around over the snow and biting into the hunter's boots." According to a trapper's wife she met, a snow snake was "certain death to meet." Edgar heard from some road workers that the snow snake "takes in snow though its mouth and blows it out again through a hole in its head."

None but the greenest backwoods newbies were expected to believe this stuff, of course. Then, as now, pranking the naive and gullible was one of the most satisfying forms of self-entertainment to be had.

See also:
Python Eats Drunk Man in India
Freaky Fish Found on a Tampa Bay Beach
Half-Human, Half-Dog
The Rainbow Owl