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  • Snakes and Sleeping Humans March 15, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

    Beach has been wondering more about the legend of snakes as milk stealers: the satisfyingly bizarre idea that snakes suck milk both from nursing mother’s breasts and from cows’ and other ruminants’ udders. Beach has given examples of this belief and also speculated about the origins of this belief: was the idea Paleolithic or Neolithic or is it more recent? However, today, Beach found himself wondering what were the practicalities behind the way that snakes are cast as milk-stealers. First, though this should not be necessary, it is worth remembering that snakes drink (of course) but that they do not suck, and that there is no evidence that they drink milk. There is no way that snakes do what is claimed of them by tradition: they are not milk stealers. Is it possible though that snake habits could have got them this bad name?

    Beach recently visited an animal centre where his elder daughter handled a snake. The instructor explained that snakes enjoy warmth and so the snake travelled through elder daughter’s clothes and eventually wound its way up to her hair where it managed to get stuck: a tense minute followed and in the end the snake had to be cut from elder daughter’s hair.  But back to the task in hand… Is it possible that snakes so love warmth that they seek out, say, the warmth of sleeping humans, or sleeping cattle and are found their later by witnesses who come to their own conclusions?

    Beach didn’t have much luck looking for references to cows and snakes seeking warmth. But there are dozens of pages describing snakes cohabiting with sleeping people. Much of this is friend of a friend woke up with a rattlesnake in his sleeping bag: in other words, the kind of evidence that cannot be relied upon, the kind of thing that might even be urban legend. But there are some pages by zoologists and doctors that are more interesting. A mechanism suggested on this page is that snakes come to beds in the night because they sense warmth, but they then bite when the human occupant moves, sensing a flailing arm or leg as an attack. It seems credible enough. Does this stand up to examination: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com Is this the origin of the milk-stealing snake

    Ruth in WA: Well, don’t know about them seeking warmth, although that is a possibility, but what I found was that snakes will crawl in shoes, down couch cushions (assuming they have escaped from a cage in a house), etc, because they resemble “dens” where snakes tend to live. I know scorpions and spiders will do the same. My brother was stung as a child by a scorpion that hid in a pair of his pants in a dark closet. My MIL once found a Copperhead (very poisonous and bad tempered snake) in a closet in her house. My husband and I didn’t live near her then and her neighbor had to get it for her, he had stronger nerves, or was drunk, one. A childhood friend of my husbands was at a Girlscout camp and her sister came up with a handful of “worms” there once, a batch of baby Copperheads! Quickly dispatched, I suspect. Anyway, yes, I come from a “snakey” area, as I’ve said before. As far as I know. this habit could be the genesis of that old wives tale, though it’s too old to say for sure. Snakes will seek warmth, but like to den up if the weather is cool.

    Bruce T 30 Mar 2017: snakes in houses: As a boy I once found a shed rattlesnake skin on my way down the hall from my room when heading to breakfast. Eight rattles meaning it was a fairly good sized. We never did find that rascal, but they tend to hide out until the new skin sets and go on their way. My Grandpa told me not to worry, “Why, when I was a boy they would crawl in bed with you at night and rock you to sleep.” In a world of full of it grandfather’s, I had the champ. I was the envy of all of my friends with those rattles on my key chain when I got back to school. “Kilt ‘im with my bare hans!”, I would say. The apple doesn’t fall far from the ancient tree, Beach. I knew an older lady in the 90s who had retired, returned to the state and moved into her parents old house. The place had been vacant for a half decade or so. Rattlesnakes had moved into the crawl space under the house during that period to den up. Exterminators wouldn’t touch it, the place had to be demolished.  As this region averages well over forty snakes an acre, snakes in the house aren’t uncommon. A black snake in the house was said to be good luck. I suspect it has something to do with their rodent killing skills. The cats get the ones running loose, the snake gets the ones under the house and between the walls. It’s interesting you mention milk snakes. Old ladies used to leave little saucers of milk out for the black snakes as they were said to like it and it kept them around. Snakes getting in sleeping bags happens all the time. As 98% of the snakes around here are non-venomous it’s a funny thing to hear that late night yowl and the “snake dance” that happens to many novice tent campers. Check your tent well and zip the flap before sacking out. In fact throwing a black or garter snake in someones sleeping bag is a common prank among boys of all ages. Beware if you’re the new guy. And stake your boots and shake them out in the morning. One of our more common venomous snakes is the copperhead. They tend to run under 18 inches long. That warm stinky boot of yours is a dandy place to take a safe night time snooze. They have a necrotic venom, you could lose your foot.

    James H, 30 mar 2017: Christ!