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Legends and Lore: Hoop Snakes

Updated on February 21, 2018
husslindsey profile image

An artist and writer from Pittsburgh, Lindsey has been a scholar of the dark and creepy since childhood.

Hoop Snake Cartoon
Hoop Snake Cartoon | Source

Hoop Snakes

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” to famously quote Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Snakes are wriggly creatures that are both harmful and helpful and strike both fear and love into the hearts of millions, not necessarily at the same time.

As scary as regular snakes are, hoop snakes are a lot worse. The hoop snake lives in North America or Australia, depending on the story. They don’t move the same way as traditional snakes. Hoop snakes bite the ends of their tales to form a hoop. In this hoop form, the snake rolls itself like a wheel or a hula-hoop to get from place to place. While some fear a snake wriggling towards them in the grass, seeing a snake

in the form of a wheel rolling towards you at a fast pace is all the more terrifying.

Origins

The origin of the hoop snake isn’t completely clear, but stories have been told in the United States since the early 1700’s. According to legend, the snake bites its tail to form a hoop. It launches itself towards its prey. The only way to escape is to jump over a fence or hide behind a tree. The snake unfurls itself at the last minute and stings its prey with its tail. The prey then promptly dies of the poison.

While no one is really sure how this story started, there is something that could have sparked this legend. If a snake is stressed, sick, or lacking food, it will begin to eat its own tail. This is not a typical behavior of snakes. Perhaps witnesses saw a snake exhibiting such behavior and had no way of explaining it?

Stressed snake eating its tail
Stressed snake eating its tail | Source

Encounters

There aren’t many stories about the hoop snake other than old tall tales. One story goes a farmer was working in his field when a hoop snake came rolling towards him. The farmer used his hoe as a shield and the snake’s stinging tail got stuck in the hoe. When the farmer returned at sundown to reclaim his hoe, the snake was dead, still stuck to the handle.

Another story tells of a man walking through the woods. A hoop snake came barreling towards him at a high rate of speed. Thinking quickly, the man jumped behind a tree. The snake’s tail struck the tree and it became stuck. The snake died trying to free itself. The man observed the snake and saw the tail was full of poison.

In 1905, the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture actually offered a $500 reward for anyone who could prove the existence of the hoop snake. No one ever came forward for the reward or with evidence.

In Pop Culture

Hoop snakes are one of the few legends that do not typically appear in popular culture. The best example is the Pecos Bill stories. Pecos Bill uses a snake as a lasso, similar to the hoop snake.

A robot was modeled after the hoop snake to mimic its movements, bringing some modern life to the old legend. The rolling robot is helping pave the way for other robotics experiments.

Cartoon of a hoop snake
Cartoon of a hoop snake | Source

Watch Your Step

The next time you find yourself out in the woods or in the Outback, make sure you look down so you don’t step on a snake. Also make sure you look up occasionally, just in case a hoop snake is rolling towards you. And don’t forget to hide behind a tree!

Research Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoop_snake

http://blog.al.com/strange-alabama/2012/04/hoop_snakes_are_no_hula_hoops.html

http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/stressed-out-snake-eats-itself/

https://www.livescience.com/20980-robot-rolls-hoop-snake.html

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    • husslindsey profile image
      Author

      Lindsey Huss 2 months ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it! I'd never even thought of the ouroboros. That could very well be what started the story, as has happened with many other stories.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 2 months ago from the Ether

      Maybe look into the symbol Ouroboros. It is literally a snake eating it's own tail. Sometimes a dragon eating its own tail. It was used by the ancients in Egypt and in Europe to represent the never-ending cycle of life/death/rebirth. Perhaps this legend of the "hoop snake" was another means of scaring pagans out of their old traditions so they'd take on the new religious ones? Very cool article...I'd never heard of hoop snakes but automatically thought of ouroboros!

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