15 May 2009

It ain't nothin' but an enlightened hoop snake (with a strong swallowin' response)

A few days ago, Budak of annotated budak put up a link on his facebook page to the blog of the Maruyama Zoo in Sapparo, Japan, where it seemed one of the resident snakes had been photographed in the process of swallowing its own tail*.

Photo from Sapparo Maruyama Zoo.

This snake had obviously figured out that the surest way to achieve Zen enlightenment was by thoroughly knowing one's self and the only indisputable way of thoroughly knowing one's self was by, well, eating one's self.

I couldn't pass the opportunity to forward this bit of profound reptilian achievement to several of my friends. One of them, Carl Christensen, responded with his insightful observation that the subject snake was a legendary hoop snake. For more information, I resorted to Clifton Johnson's What they say in New England (1897):
It is bad enough to have a snake in your stomach, but you are even worse off if you meet with one of these hoop-snakes. Let one of those chase you, and you are a goner. They ain't afraid of a man no more'n nothin', and they can run faster'n any horse goin'. The way the snake does is to pick its tail up in its mouth, and then whirl over and over like a hoop. His tail is sharp-pointed and hard like a spike. When he catches up with you, he just takes his tail out of his mouth, and jabs it into you. Oh, I tell you, you'd better swallow a dozen snakes rather'n get one o' these hoop-snakes after you.
Butch Norden, on the other hand, who is an expert on snakes and related creatures, offered a more erudite explanation: "It happens with captive snakes from time to time. They are at the stimulus-response level of behavior, and they can get confused, especially when kept in forced contact with others so that scent is transferred from one body to another. They do have sharp teeth, and this must hurt, but the swallowing response is very strong."

Now we are all enlightened.

From What they say in New England

*After I complained to Budak that I couldn't read Japanese, he thankfully posted a link to this brief English summary.


Anonymous said...

Wikipedia says there's $10,000 sitting in a bank somewhere for the first person to document a hoop snake. Where do we go for the money?

Carl Christensen


Before we qualified for the prize, we would probably have to demonstrate that this snake indeed had tendencies to chase New Englanders down country roads.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Hilarious! But -- poor snake. "Ouch! - swallow. Ouch! Swallow. Ouch! ..."

Cindy said...

Weird! I love the colloquial 19th-century explanation. And I feel kind of sad for the snake. I'm wondering if it was ever able to reguritate its tail, or did it die like that? I clicked on the link to the Japanese zoo, and the pictures suggest that the snake swallowed quite a bit of itself.

John said...

I much prefer Clifton Johnson's explanation.