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Legends and Lore: The Hoop Snake

Updated on May 3, 2019
lindseyburek profile image

Lindsey is a paranormal investigator and researcher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with ten years of experience in the field.

Hoop snake rolling towards a victim
Hoop snake rolling towards a victim | Source

The Hoop Snake

People have been telling tall tales since telling tales has been a thing. Not many stories get taller or rounder in this case, than the hoop snake. This fantastic story has been told for centuries primarily in the United States, Canada, and in some parts of Australia. Sightings tend to happen along rivers or in forest areas.

The hoop snake is described as a devilish serpent that bites its own tail, forming a hoop, and then rolling after its victim like a wheel. The snakes are different colors and sometimes look like ordinary snakes until they come barreling towards you at a high rate of speed. No matter what colors or markings they have, they all share a common feature: a sharp stinger at the end of their tail, dripping in venom.

When the snake finds an unlucky soul to be its prey, it firmly bites down onto its tail to form a circle. It then launches itself towards the victim. If the victim sees the snake coming toward them, they only have the option to run. Running fast will not get you away from the hoop snake however. A method of escape that has been told in tales is to find a tree or fence to run behind. As the snake gets within striking range, it unfurls itself and throws its body stinger first at the victim. If the victim was lucky enough to find a tree, the snake will strike the tree instead. The venom will seep into the tree, making it wither and die. The snake will be stuck in the bark and will die as well.

Rewards!

The legend of the hoop snake had intrigued people so much that some have offered monetary rewards for the capture of one! In 1906, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture posted an award of $500 to anyone who could capture a hoop snake and prove its existence.

Hoop snake illustration
Hoop snake illustration | Source

Inspiration: Science

So what exactly inspired colonial Americans and Australians to dream up the wild story of the hoop snake? Like most folk tales, myths, and legends, the hoop snake is most likely derived from situations in nature that people could not explain scientifically at the time.

When snakes are ill or injured, they sometimes will bite their own tail. This is sometimes described as a death throw for snakes, as they tend to only do this when very near death. Snakes have also been known to do this in high stress environments, such as when in a tank that is too small or too crowded. It is possible that back during early colonial days, people would see an injured or ill snake bite it’s own tail. Since they had no logical explanation, they would tell people what they saw, and those people would tell other people, and thus the story evolves.

Sidewinder snakes also may be a source of inspiration. The unique way that sidewinders move could have been misinterpreted as rolling like a wheel.

Snake biting its own tail
Snake biting its own tail | Source

Inspiration: Mythology

Another idea as to how the legend of the hoop snake came to be is through ancient mythology. The Ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a snake or dragon eating it’s own tail, has been used by various cultures throughout Europe and Africa for millennia, eventually making it’s way into alchemy and other practices. In Asian culture, there is the legend of the Tsuchinoko, a snake like creature that could roll like a wheel and jump. As people emigrate and immigrate to other lands, stories also tend to travel with them. These stories then branch into other cultures and take new roots.

Ouroboros
Ouroboros | Source

When Science and Story Meet

Whatever the inspiration was for the hoop snake, this creature is a fantastic example of when science, nature, and story telling meet.

© 2019 Lindsey Burek

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