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  • Udder Snakes June 21, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback


    One of the most curious legends, one that this blogger cannot even begin to account for, is the idea that some animals and particularly snakes and reptiles like to take milk directly from a cow’s udder. Here is a selection of some of these legends. It goes without saying that there is no truth in this: that snake and cow are not physically matched to perform the operations described here. However, in folklore these ravenous milk-drinkers were used to explain dried out cows.

    Peter M. of Neirton, had a cow that came home every night without any milk, and the Ottawa Citizen says, thinking that some one was stealing milk from the cow before she left her pasture, Mr Larew recently loosed her in a field near the house, where he could readily detect any theft. The animal seemed uneasy, and soon became wild that Mr Larew returned her to her first pasture ground. The bars being let down, the cow at once galloped to an old tree stump in the lot and began to bellow loudly. Soon a black snake emerged from the stump, coiled itself around the cow’s hindquarters, and taking a teat into its mouth, began sucking the milk. After a short time the snake returned to its hole. Mr Larew sent a hired man for the shotgun. Within an hour the cow recalled the snake, and again allowed herself to milked. At a favourable moment Mr Larew shot the snake. The cow roared and pawed the earth like crazy animal, and continued to act as though mad for several days, and finally died, presumably of a broken heart. Ab Ev Ex, 7 Sep 1889, 2

    The unusual spectacle of snakes milking cow is reported to have been witnessed recently on the borders of Oxon and Gloucestershire. Mrs. Rice, living near the village of Oddington, keeps two cows, and it was discovered that the animals, although in perfect condition, were not giving the proper supply of milk that might be expected. The cowman was at first at loss to find a reason, but one day he visited the cows in the meadow and found one of the animals lying down quite contentedly, while two large grass snakes were sucking at the udders. The reptiles had evidently found milk a thriving diet, for each was 3ft. 7in. in length, and over 7 in. round the thickest part of the body, Corn 25 Aug 1910, 3

    It had been noticed [in Weierbach in Germany], for a considerable time, that a goat belonging to a resident in the town had several sores on her udder, for which the owner was unable to account. On turning out the litter one day, he found hidden in it a snake which he promptly killed. Suspecting that the snake might possibly be the cause of the sore udder, he cut it open, and found in its stomach about half-a-teacupful of what was, without doubt, milk. To prove the case still further, the sores on the goat’s udder after the snake’s death at once began to heal, and finally disappeared. Whit Gaz, 18 Jul 1913, 5

    Beach’s absolute favourite is this one because of the butter.

    A remarkable story a snake is related in a message to the Herald (Paris edition), from Rapid City, South Dakota. All summer long huge milk snake dwelt in swamp near Ivan Mikaelovitch’s farm. The snake sucked four of Ivan’s best cows four times, so that Mikaelovitch had to feed the calves by hand. Ivan organized a hunting party. Armed with pitchforks, guns and knives they invaded the swamp. Ivan found the snake swollen four times its normal size. He shot the snake. The snake, writhing in agony over its excessive meal, had churned the cream butter. Five pounds of butter were taken from the stomach! Not Ev Po, 1 Jan 1931, 5

    Other contributions: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    29 June 2015: Richard Shepherd writes, ‘Interesting to note the Slavic name of the farmer last mentioned in your post. I have friends from Bulgaria who have told me about a snake in their country that drinks milk straight from the cow’s udders. And it appears to be a widely known and currently held belief in their country. They defended the truth of it to me most firmly. They also believe that there is a snake in their country that flicks stones at passersby with its tail, although whether this is the same creature I don’t know. I imagine that there are many many strange snake beliefs held in common in various countries that would be worthy of closer study.’

    21 July 2015: LH writes Regarding “Udder Snakes”, folk in more than one country, including Britain, once believed that the elusive and wonderful nightjar sucked milk from goats during the day (in truth it sleeps hidden in leaves on the forest floor and flies about at night, eating moths and making strange noises). To this day the Russian word for nightjar literally translates as “goat-milker”. Thanks LH!

    Dustin writes, 30 Mar 2017: I’ve never heard of this, but if I can imagine it may have started because rattlesnakes in the grass probably tend to bite cows on the utters. They’re low, fleshy, otherwise vulnerable targets. If you’re a snake about to be stepped on, you’d make your one shot count. Folks back in th’ day probably assumed it was sucking milk out instead of injecting venom in. I’m sure there was a point in history where EVERYONE knew cows make milk, but no one had seen a snake inject venom yet. Or… If they did they would’ve assumed it was drool. That information would’ve passed on and shifted from “snakes steal cows milk” to “snakes steal all milk.” Now that I’m thinking of it, snakes do eat eggs. Maybe someone got in in their head that snakes just hate babies, the milk the need, and everything else about them. There’s the whole snake = The Devil thing too. I don’t know. Did the Devil ever take someone’s milk?