From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Snakes !!!
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2000 21:33:13 -0400
> I will be going on my first camping (car camping) trip alone next week
> in the Beckey, West Virginia area. I will be hiking the New River Gorge
> National River area.
> My coworker today warned me about snakes. She was raised in that area.
> She said that if you smell "cucumber" to be very careful, there is a
> poisonous snake in the area.
As an amateur herper who used to capture and "farm" rattlesnakes for
their venom (to make anti-vennin), I can tell you authoritatively
that this is utter BS. No snake on the US continent has any
inherent odor. Some nonpoisonous snakes, the corn snake being the
worst, will fling foul smelling feces at an attacker but the odor is
nothing like cucumber.
> I would apprecriate your suggestions and advice. Thanks in advance !!!
Well, you could carry a snake stick and loop and pick 'em up and
look at 'em. Maybe let 'em crawl around your shoulders
(nonpoisonous, of course).
The advice is the same now as it always has been: don't step over
obstacles where you can't see your landing spot, ESPECIALLY if the
sun is shining on the other side. A snake may be sunning himself.
Don't reach into areas where you can't see. Keep an eye open.
Snakes like you even less than you like them. Given a chance, they
will detect your vibrations and leave. The one exception is the day
or two before and during molting. They're blind and tend not to
move unless provoked. Of course, they tend to not choose open
trails as a place to molt.
The fact of the matter is, in the East, an encounter with a
poisonous snake is very rare. Most snakes in the woods are harmless,
though many look like their poisonous kin. Poisonous snakes are
only a bit more common in the west.
IN THE US (but not elsewhere in the world), there is a fool-proof
way to tell if the snake is venomous. All US venomous snakes have
slit pupils in their eyes like cats. All non venomous snakes have
round pupils like us. This is easy to see from a distance. Also,
venomous snakes have short stubby tails while non venomous snakes'
tails come to a slender point. Finally, if you turn a (presumably
dead) snake over, the scales after the vent (anus) break into two
overlapping rows while those of a venomous snake remain one single
row of scales all the way to the tip of the tail.
One of the really nice things about venomous snakes is, they KNOW
they're the baddest mutha in the jungle and so don't get in a hurry
to flee or to panic like some animals will. Even if cornered, they
won't strike unless provoked or they're VERY hungry (not just the
urge to eat but a wide spread famine/drought condition) or they're
molting. They'll pretty much just coil up and sit there and look at
you. I could usually pick a rattler up on a snake hook and never
have him strike at all. He'd just hang there looking at me,
thinking "juuuust a little bit closer, buster and you're mine!"
Snakes can only strike over a distance of about 3/4 of their length
and then only when fully coiled so there's no fear of one 10 feet
away flying through the air to bite you. In water, they can't
strike but they can bite something that bumps up against their
So go out in the woods and enjoy yourself. If you're lucky enough
to see a snake, just take a good look as he slithers off. If one is
napping or sunning on the trail, simply tossing some sticks or rocks
near him will wake him up enough that he'll leave. FerGodsake don't
kill him. He eats many times his weight in vermin each year. You
can thank the snakes, among others, for being able to camp without
being overrun with rats or mice.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Snakes !!!
Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000 01:57:48 -0400
> I appreciate the info. I grew up in West Virginia and I can tell you
> the cucumber smell is pretty common wisdom although I had heard it
> applied specifically to copperheads. Since I was never able to find
> confimation in any text, I tossed that bit of info in the bin along
> with hoop snakes. I know this is a long shot, but have you ever seen
> this specifically debunked anywhere?
I don't know how to debunk it other than to say, based on
experience, it doesn't happen. I've caught and moved to safer
places many a "copperhead" (almost always a water snake but I
digress) in an effort to keep the screaming person involved from
killing the thing. I have NEVER smelled any odor other than a mild
"snake" odor on the hands after handling one for awhile.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture for a moment, think of
the Darwin implications of an animal fairly low on the food chain
having a strong, distinctive odor. It would warn off its prey and
help the predator find it easier. Not the way to sustain the gene
pool. If you're the biggest, baddest mutha in the forest, your odor
doesn't much matter - exhibit A: bear. But if you're not, it does.
Even a skunk doesn't smell when he's not recently sprayed. I had
that demonstrated yet again a couple of weeks ago when a nice female
skunk walked under my RV and practically between my legs as I was
sitting outside reading under lantern light. She was followed a few
minutes later by a very amorous male. Not a whiff of a odor from