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Debunking Common Snake Myths

Nov 02, 2015

There are many myths about snakes. Immigrants brought myths from Europe and started new myths as they became acquainted with North American snakes.

One very old myth reported that certain snakes stole milk from cows. These “milk” snakes were seen around barns or sheds where families had their milk cows. People believed these snakes drank milk from the cows. The truth was that the snakes were there to eat mice. Milk snakes are actually a kind of colorful kingsnake.

Some people claim that snakes run in pairs. This is another myth. Snakes do get together briefly in the spring to mate. But since snakes are carnivores and compete for food such as mice, frogs and fish, they tend to be loners. Most snakes seen near each other are together by chance, and are not drawn by the pleasure of each other’s company.

A peculiar myth tells of a “hoop snake” that holds its tail in its mouth and rolls downhill. No snake really does this. Claims that snakes swallow their young when threatened or that snakes cannot bite underwater–they are also false.

A common misconception is that snakes are slimy. Since snakes look shiny, they appear wet and slimy, like fish. But, in fact, snake skin is smooth and dry.

Overcome Your Fear of Snakes

  • It’s relatively easy to avoid direct encounters with snakes, and all snakes — even venomous ones — help control populations of rodents and other pests. Getting to know the kinds, natural history, and distribution of Missouri’s snakes can help you overcome your fear of them and appreciate their role in nature.
  • Contrary to popular belief, snakes do not go looking for people to bite. In fact, snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.
  • Few Missourians realize that all snakes native to our state are protected. The Wildlife Code of Missouri treats snakes, lizards, and most turtles as nongame. This means that there is no open season on these animals, and it is technically unlawful to kill them. There is a realistic exception, however: when a venomous snake is in close association with people, which could result in someone being bitten.

Learn more about snakes with the MDC’s Field Guide.

prairie_kingsnake.jpg

prairie kingsnake
Prairie Kingsnake

northern_watersnake_1-6-15.jpg

Northern watersnake rearing back in grass on land.
Northern Watersnake
The northern watersnake is Missouri's most common watersnake.

eastern_yellow-bellied_racer_closeup_1-6-15.jpg

Photo of an eastern yellow-bellied racer, closeup of head.
Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer
The eastern yellow-bellied racer subspecies occurs nearly statewide.

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