Friday, June 17, 2016

Blowing Vipers and Exploding Snakes

My husband is full of stories, some of them believable, some not so much.

His stories about his family's pet crow seem reasonable and true. Jimmy, as the crow was known, came to them as a baby that Larry's father brought home from the woods after he'd been out on a hunting trip. They raised the crow on an eyedropper and watered down milk and it eventually grew to full size and full of nuisance and entertainment. Jimmy, for example, liked to ride around on the back of their old hound dog Drum, and Jimmy loved to devil the hogs, dive-bombing them unmercifully.

He also liked to divebomb the redheaded neighbor kids, which led to them striking at him with a baseball bat and breaking Jimmy's legs. Larry's mother bandaged the poor legs with popsicle sticks and tape, and while they were healing Jimmy rode around on Drum.

There are lots of other Jimmy stories and I believe them. But a snake that swells its head up, and then falls over stiff on its back and looking dead?? No way.

And a snake that explodes? Not even.


Another friend told us this week about a snake his uncle (or was it his father? I can't remember!) found. The snake raised up and its head looked just like a cobra. When his uncle didn't run, the snake stiffened and fell flat on the ground, looking dead. The uncle picked it up and threw it in the back seat of his car to take and show someone a half hour's drive away. Every now and then the snake would raise up, and he'd holler at it to quit that! The snake would go stiff again and fall over, until finally they reached their destination.

Sound crazy? I thought so too. But Larry said yes, he'd seen such a snake and it scared the life almost out of him. I sat there looking at the two of them as if they were a two-headed circus sideshow, sure that they were conniving to trick me into believing this weird tale.

And then  looked it up. Larry called it a "blowing viper" so that's what I searched. And lo and behold:

By Bladerunner8u - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Eastern Hognose snake, I learned, acts somewhat like a cobra when threatened. It flattens its head and rises up looking menacing and as if it is about to strike. If that doesn't scare away the threat, the snake then falls over and plays dead. It's a real snake! It has lots of names too--Wikipedia lists the following: Eastern hog-nosed snake,[2] spreading adder, hog-nosed snake, adder, bastard rattlesnake, black adder, black blowing viper, black hog-nosed snake, black viper snake, blauser, blower, blowing adder, blowing snake, blow(ing) viper, blow snake, buckwheat-nose snake, calico snake, checkered adder, checquered adder, chunk head, common hog-nosed snake, common spreading adder, deaf adder, eastern hognose snake, flat-head, flat-head(ed) adder, hay-nose snake, hissing adder, hissing snake, hog-nosed adder, hog-nosed rattler, hog-nose snake, hog-nosed viper, hissing viper, (mountain) moccasin, North American adder, North American hog-nosed snake, pilot, poison viper, puff(ing) adder, red snake, rock adder, rossel bastard, sand adder, sand viper, spotted (spreading) adder, spread nelly, spread-head moccasin, spread-head snake, spread-head viper, flat-head adder (spreading) viper.

And it comes in all kinds of colors and patterns, sometimes resembling a black snake, other times looking like a copperhead, which is what Larry saw. So. True, not pulling my leg.

But the exploding snake?

Larry said that he and his Daddy were going berry picking one July day. They had their lard cans hooked through their belts and they were deep into a patch when they heard the unmistakable sound of a rattler's warning. Now, they had Larry's little dog Blackie with them. Blackie ran over to the snake and began barking and running around it in circles.


Larry was terrified because the snake kept striking at his dog, and he loved that little dog. Blackie kept just out of the snake's reach. The rattler twisted and twisted, striking at the dog and then one strike went off target--the fangs sank deep into the rattler's own body.

Now here is where it gets strange. The snake began to swell up where it had bitten itself! It swelled and swelled and then Larry's Dad got a big stick and hit it, and the snake exploded! No way, I said! A snake can't be allergic to its own venom, can it? That just doesn't make sense.

So tonight I looked it up. What happens if a rattler or copperhead bites itself? Will they die from the venom?

No, the experts say. The snakes have an immunity to their own venom. Except...if the venom is very fast-acting. It takes a bit for the immunity to kick in, says one snake expert, and it is possible for the snake to swell in the area of the bit. And if the snake was struck on that spot? I didn't find any answer to that, but it seems reasonable enough that if it was swelled enough, yes, it could explode. Sort of like when a doctor punctures a stoved up toe or finger and the blood spurts out in a huge fountain. TMI, I know.

So, I guess my hubby is not telling tall tales. This time.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


  1. I love these stories especially the bit where the man yells at the snake in the back of his car:) Just brilliant!

  2. I had a pet pigeon that sounds a lot like Jimmy. He used to stand on my head, my shoulder, my arm. Loved that bird!

    That snake story is crazy!


  3. This is all true my Dad and brothers have seen them and they usually kill it. And yes they called it a blowing viper also

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  7. A neighbor who was watching my house warned me about a "deadly snake" he saw close to my house sunning itself... one bite and I would be deader than dead!!

    He called it a 'spread nedder': when I Googled it I found references to the Eastern Hognose 'or spread-adder and that they were non-poisonous...


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