Mythology Monday: Snake Chases!

Talkin’ snakes? No doubt someone will bring up a story about a friend, a family member, or even themselves, where a snake got ferocious and chased them. The person in the story was, no doubt, minding his/her own business when the snake just took off after them, unprovoked.

Snake chasing Man, by Elijah Pierce.

Snake chasing Man, by Elijah Pierce.

Hmm. I think not. Snakes don’t chase people. If we do something that makes them afraid or upset, they want to get away from us, not closer to us. In the fight or flight response with snakes, flight is the winner almost all the time. If fight is the winner, it will not lead to a chase. That being said, there are circumstances that could lead to confusion and cause someone to think a snake is chasing them, which is where this myth comes from.

In most of these stories, the supposed offender is the water moccasin (also known as the cottonmouth, for its very impressive defensive gape shown below).

Looks like cotton in its mouth.

Looks like cotton in its mouth.

I will not be the first one to say water moccasins are friendly. They can be very territorial, especially during nesting. However, do you SEE that big ol’ gape above?? THAT is how a cottonmouth expends its energy- getting all cottonmouthy on you, trying to scare you off so it doesn’t have to bite you. Cottonmouths DO NOT CHASE PEOPLE, or anything really.

A point of confusion can occur where the common watersnake (Nerodia species) is concerned. Many water snakes look like cottonmouths in patterning and size.

Watersnakes are curious creatures.  Some people will be “chased” by watersnakes, mistaken for cottonmouths, which are simply trying to give them a good sniffing. I have water snakes follow me around when I catch toads at night. At first they just seemed interested in what I was up to, then they figured out I was targeting their prey for them. Now when they see me, they come a slithering (there are 3 of them that do this) and they stay pretty much on my heels like dogs.

Whatcha dooooin'?

Whatcha dooooin’?


Watersnakes can turn aggressive quickly if provoked, which will lead to the idea they are chasing you. If you kick at them/try to grab them, they will puff up and hiss furiously, and sometimes even strike. This doesn’t necessarily make them run away, though. They are warning you not to mess with them, but they still want to give you a thorough inspection…

Some people will tell you about how snakes “ambushed” them in a boat, dropping down from a tree or charging at them and climbing up from the water. To snakes, a boat is a convenient moving island. Often they are equally as surprised to find you on a boat as you are by having them climb on. A snake tired of being in the trees might see a boat as ground and jump down. A snake in the water is actively swimming and is likely TIRED. He wants a rest, and your boat is a nice place to do just that.

Next time you hear a story about a snake chasing down a person, think about it from the snake’s side of the story. And remember…. SNAKES DON’T CHASE.