The Snake in the House

Netlore Archive

Green Snake
Don Farrall / Getty Images

If you think those little green grass snakes are totally harmless, you've got another think coming!

Description: Viral text / Urban legend
Circulating since: Jan. 2001 / Earlier
Status: False (see details below)

Email contributed by John C., Jan. 17, 2001:

Green garden grass snakes can be dangerous. Yes, grass snakes, not rattlesnakes.
A couple in Rockwall, Texas had a lot of potted plants, and during a recent cold spell, the wife was bringing a lot of them indoors to protect them from a possible freeze. It turned out that a little green garden grass snake was hidden in one of the plants and when it had warmed up, it slithered out and the wife saw it go under the sofa. She let out a very loud scream. The husband, who was taking a shower, ran out into the living room naked to see what the problem was. She told him there was a snake under the sofa. He got down on the floor on his hands and knees to look for it. About that time the family dog came and cold-nosed him on the leg. He thought the snake had bitten him and he fainted. His wife thought he'd had a heart attack, so she called an ambulance. The attendants rushed in and loaded him on the stretcher and started carrying him out.
About that time the snake came out from under the sofa and the Emergency Medical Technician saw it and dropped his end of the stretcher. That's when the man broke his leg and why he is in the hospital at Garland. The wife still had the problem of the snake in the house, so she called on a neighbor man. He volunteered to capture the snake. He armed himself with a rolled-up newspaper and began poking under the couch. Soon he decided it was gone and told the woman, who sat down on the sofa in relief. But in relaxing, her hand dangled in between the cushions, where she felt the snake wriggling around. She screamed and fainted, the snake rushed back under the sofa, and the neighbor man, seeing her lying there passed out tried to use CPR to revive her.
The neighbor's wife, who had just returned from shopping at the grocery store, saw her husband's mouth on the woman's mouth and slammed her husband in the back of the head with a bag of canned goods, knocking him out and cutting his scalp to a point where it would need stitches. The noise woke the woman from her dead faint and she saw her neighbor lying on the floor with his wife bending over him, so she assumed he had been bitten by the snake. She went to the kitchen, brought back a small bottle of whiskey, and began pouring it down the man's throat.
By now the police had arrived. They saw the unconscious man, smelled the whiskey, and assumed that a drunken fight had occurred. They were about to arrest them all, when the two women tried to explain how it all happened over a little green snake. They called an ambulance, which took away the neighbor and his sobbing wife. Just then the little snake crawled out from under the couch. One of the policemen drew his gun and fired at it. He missed the snake and hit the leg of the end table that was on one side of the sofa. The table fell over and the lamp on it shattered and as the bulb broke, it started a fire in the drapes. The other policeman tried to beat out the flames and fell through the window into the yard on top of the family dog, who, startled, jumped up and raced out into the street, where an oncoming car swerved to avoid it and smashed into the parked police car and set it on fire. Meanwhile the burning drapes had spread to the walls and the entire house was blazing.
Neighbors had called the fire department and the arriving fire-truck had started raising its ladder as they were halfway down the street. The rising ladder tore out the overhead wires and put out the electricity and disconnected the telephones in a ten-square city block area of south Rockwall along Texas State Route 205.
Time passed .......... Both men were discharged from the hospital, the house was re-built, the police acquired a new car, and all was right with their world .....
About a year later they were watching TV and the weatherman announced a cold snap for that night. The husband asked his wife if she thought they should bring in their plants for the night.
She shot him.

Analysis by Peter Kohler: Okay, folks... So I emailed this text to our favorite herpetologist (one who studies reptiles and amphibians) to get the opinions of a real expert:

PK: Doug, have a look at this.

DB: What a wacky story!

PK: Sure is. But tell me about the snake.

DB: Well, here's the herpetological scoop on this one. First of all, I'm pleased to see a story involving a snake where the reptile is not the antagonist; people's irrational fears are the antagonist. As to the critter itself, the only green snake in northeast Texas is the rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus). Among its vernacular names are grass snake, garden snake, green snake, and vine snake. This story combines three of these names to come up with the "Green Garden Grass Snake."

Rough green snakes are relatively small snakes (2 to 2 1/2 feet), and are the most arboreal of Texas's snakes. They prefer to remain in the branches of bushes and low trees, pursuing the caterpillars, grasshoppers, and spiders that make up much of their diet. While one could well be found in a potted plant, once brought in the house it would likely remain in the plant. If it were shaken loose from the plant, it would head for the nearest cover and then stay there; remaining still is their primary line of defense. The most unlikely part of the story, herpetologically, is the snake keeps coming out from under the couch despite the room being full of people. An Opheodrys (or most any other snake) seeking refuge under a couch would most likely wait until the room was empty to venture forth.

PK: Poor little snake.

DB: It happens all the time. In popular culture snakes are frequently misunderstood and suffer an unjust reputation as being malicious, as being specifically out to get people. This reputation flies in the face of the actual behavior of most snakes, which are gentle creatures just trying to get by from meal to meal.

PK: I see. I had no idea. I've never harmed a snake, Doug. Really. I've even held a few, and I liked them....

DB: Also, I would certainly hope nobody believes the officers of Rockwall's police force are so profoundly stupid that they discharge their firearms at harmless snakes inside people's homes.

PK: Well, that's something we can be pretty sure about.

DB: You think?

PK: I highly suspect so, yes. As we've noted, it's a wacky story.

DB: True. So now it's your turn. Tell me what you know about it.

PK: Okay. Some elements of this story have been around for decades if not even longer. For instance, the dropped stretcher bit has shown up numerous times in similar stories of accidental hilarity, one good example being "The Exploding Toilet."

A variant of the very tale we're discussing appeared in Jan Harold Brunvand's 1986 book, The Mexican Pet (W.W. Norton):

A large bushy potted palm is delivered to a private home. The lady of the house signs for it, and the deliveryman departs. As she takes it into the kitchen the woman screams when she sees a snake slither out from among the leaves. Her cry brings her husband running out of the bathroom, where he has been showering. He has only a towel draped around him.
"There! There! Under the sink!" the woman screams. Her husband drops the towel as he gets down on his hands and knees for a better view under the sink. Then the family dog — excited by all the commotion — comes into the room to investigate. Seeing its naked master in this odd position, the dog curiously puts its cold nose against the man's rear end. The man starts up abruptly, banging his head on a pipe and knocking himself out cold.
His frantic wife is unable to revive him. Thinking that he may have had a heart attack or have been bitten by the snake, she calls an ambulance. As the paramedics load the unconscious nude man with the bumped head onto the stretcher, they ask her what happened, and when she explains the whole thing they laugh so hard that one man loses hold of a corner of the stretcher. Her husband is dropped to the floor and breaks his leg [arm, neck, collarbone, etc.]

These stories and anecdotes are often made up strings of accidents and mishaps and foolish maneuvers by the persons involved, which render them quite entertaining, not to mention improbable. The butt of the situation is almost always a man, a hapless journeyman or family man who has bumbled into a ridiculous situation from which his best efforts fail, sometimes hilariously, to extricate him. We certainly saw a lot of this type of storytelling in the films of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Little Rascals, and more contemporaneously in the very successful TV sitcoms I Love Lucy and Home Improvement.

These are all situation stories, and while hopefully the innocent little Opheodrys aestivus will not often become the vehicle that sets the mishaps and fun in motion, this type of story is sure to be with us on into even the next millennium.

DB: I still say it's wacky.

PK: So do I.