Rock and Rolling Hoop Snake of Doom
Mayfair North Carolina - Mary Delfitch was just 10 years old in 1968 but she'll never forget the day that her father saw a hoop snake. Jerome Delfitch was filming his daughter in the backyard of their home with his new Super 8mm film camera when he saw something go by in the background.
"Daddy stopped filming and just started looking past me." Mary told me. "Just then I saw my cat start running off behind me. Dad took off after it too and managed to grab the cat. Right in front of him was this black snake laying curled up in the grass. When we got up to it, it crawled away into the woods. Dad told me he had seen something roll behind me and thought it was a bicycle tire. When he saw the snake on the grass then he knew it was a hoop snake."
Hoop snakes were first reported by settlers in the North Carolina area in the 18th century. According to these old tales a hoop snake could grasp it's tail with it's mouth and roll down a incline as a way of moving. Hoop snakes are also said to have a fang in the tail which allows them to sting while in this peculiar rolling motion. One popular myth had a farmer being chased through the woods by a hoop snake. As it went to strike him, he dove behind a tree and the snake imbedded it's fang into the bark and died. The next day the farmer noticed that the tree had enlarged to twice it's normal size from the swelling of the poison. Needing a shed for his cows, he cut the tree down and made a barn with the wood. Over the next week, the poison dried out from the wood and made the shed he built grow smaller and smaller. Finally he was forced to build another shed for his cows and use the first one as a dog house.
David Bakersfield of the North Carolina Wildlife and Game Commission laughed when I asked him if hoop snakes were real. "Hoop snakes aren't nothing but mud snakes. Sometimes a mud snake will sun itself on the bank of a river and coil itself into a circle. When early settlers saw this they thought that these snakes moved like that. In reality they don't. And no snake I know of has a fang in it's tail."
Jerome Delfitch says he knows what he saw and filmed that day. "There wasn't nobody out there but me and Mary. If it was a bicycle tire or something like that then why didn't I see it when I went over to where I saw the snake? You can see it in the film rolling behind her. Even the cat noticed it."
Of course science has been wrong before. Before 1979 there was a wildly held belief that no animal processed wheel like locomotion. Then Roy Caldwell, an animal behaviorist at the University of California at Berkeley discovered a small crustacean called Nannosquilla Decernspinosa. This very small prawn lives at the edge of the ocean's water and is often washed ashore by waves. To get back to the water it will roll it's long slender body in a hoop and roll backwards. Also recently discovered is the caterpillar from the Mother of Pearl Moth. If it is threatened it will push off from the surface with it's front legs and tuck it's body up as it goes backwards, making itself into a rolling wheel.
phone interview with Mary Delfitch, May 9th, 1998
phone interview with Jerome Delfitch, May 8th, 1998
phone interview with David Bakersfield, May 10th, 1998
"Mother Natures Rolling Pets" Animal Science magazine, volume 12, issue 15, June 1986
quicktime footage courtesy of Jerome Delfitch