The Dreaded Pennsylvania Hoop Snake

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Back in the late 60’s my parents still owned a lot of property, in fact they owned over 350 acres, and milked roughly 75 cows per day. One summer day I encountered something that I will never forget, in fact almost 40 years later the incident still remains strong in my mind.

On a lazy August afternoon I was out in a field with my dad, watching him work on the PTO shaft of a tractor, when all of a sudden my dad hollered for me to come to him. He had me climb up on the tractor, and listen to something. Hear that whistle he said, listen…. sure enough I soon heard what sounded like a wolf call, like when the teenage boys see a pretty girl go by, they whistle at them, will, this sorta sounded like that. The noise seemed to be coming from the top part of the field, which was a pretty steep hill. Dad, said, they do that a few times to try to lure people out in the open, or to come closer to them, before they attack.

What is it? I asked dad, a hoop snake, he replied. I’ve seen them twice in all of my years here on the farm. They grow up to 5 feet long and are thicker than a normal snake, they crawl to the top of fields and lay there silently watching for farm animals or even humans to wander into the fields below them. Once they spot a target they will start a series of whistling that can mimic a humans, this often causes the target to wander closer to the snake to investigate the whistling source.

Then the snake will tighten it’s muscles and will bend it’s self into a circle or hoop shape, and being to roll down the hill using its body and gravity to propel it’s self towards the intended target. As the snake is near the target, it leaps and thrusts it’s tail at the victim, on the end of the snakes tail is a very sharp hook or barb that can pierce through a piece of wood. Inside this barb is a strong poison, even stronger than a diamond back rattlesnake.

Dad and I listed and we clearly heard 4 distinct whistles coming from the field above, soon we could see a snake come rolling down the field in our direction. Dad started up the tractor and waited a bit as the snake got closer, as it neared us, Dad moved the tractor forward just as the snake passed by and flung it’s self in our direction. It missed both of us but the barb on it’s tail had become deeply embedded in one of the large tractor tires, punching a hole into it, allowing air to escape. Dad was quite upset, because the tires were very expensive and often were difficult to patch, so he climbed down off the tractor and killed the snake with a rock, while it was attached to the tire. He pulled out his pocket knife and cut off the barb, for me to see. It resembled a spine I had seen before in bullheads and catfish.

I have never seen a hoop snake after this incident, but to this day some folks around this area still mention them. I believe they are now very rare and seldom seen. Just like the small green grass snakes that live here, my brother and I saw one years back, but never again. Some folks say there are no such things as hoop snakes, well they are wrong, I seen one first hand, and I still have the barb that was embedded into the tractor tire back in the summer of 1969.

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