The Snow Snake

The above photo has recently been circulating on social media purporting to show a "snow snake". A caption provides this warning:
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.

The usual skeptics are saying that the creature in the photo is really just a rubber snake, and that there is no such thing as a snow snake. Perhaps.

Or perhaps we can turn to more authoritative sources of information, such as Henry H. Tryon, author of Fearsome Critters (The Idlewild Press, 1939), who offers the following information about the Snow Snake.

Aestatesomnus hiemepericulosus

During the year of the Two Winters, when the July temperature dropped to -62°, these pink-eyed, white-bodied, savage serpents crossed over from Siberia via Bering Strait. They are bad actors; the venom is deadly, with a speed of action second only to that of the Hoop Snake or the Hamadryad.

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. Mankind is not often bitten as he makes too big a mouthful. But sometimes a Snake will get over-ambitious. When this does happen, tanglefoot oil is the only known remedy.

"I was treed by a Snow Snake" is still a much-used explanation of a late home-coming.

From newspapers, we also learn that the snow snake has long been considered to be the bane of skiers. As reported in the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980:
Although zoologists disagree on the exact origin of the snow snake, knowledge of his habits is invaluable to every level of skier. These albino serpents tend to breed and overrun beginners' hills, abrupt drop-offs and large moguls...

He is a skier's scapegoat for stumbling, falling down and looking stupid on the slopes. Skiers can — and often do — blame his attempts to attach himself to a ski or pole for what might, otherwise, be mistaken for the skier's own clumsiness.

Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980

Because of their remarkable camouflage, snow snakes have rarely been captured, or even photographed. But in the Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965 - we find some information about how one might try to capture a snow snake:
About the only way to capture these elusive creatures is to trick them into making themselves known. One method is to buy some black cough drops and lay them on the snow in a likely place. Then, when the snow snake takes the cough drop, it disappears. All you have to do is grab where the cough drop was but isn't and you have a snow snake. That is, you have one if you are quick enough at grabbing where the cough drop isn't.

Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965

Animals Folklore/Tall Tales

Posted on Wed Mar 05, 2014


The 1939 article contained an error; hibernation occurs during the winter, a creature which sleeps through the summer is aestivating.
Posted by Robert Baker  on  Sun Oct 18, 2015  at  06:01 AM
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