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With the 3rd edition of House of Herps right around the corner, I made it a priority to go outside to see if I could find any herp-life around my backyard pond. Thanks to one of my dogs, I found a herp – but alas, it was not alive. The really interesting discovery was that this lifeless snake was tied in a knot!

I could tell that my dog had found something – I watched her gently pick it up from the ground. I was only a few feet away, and so I was able to take her prize and reward her for finding this snake for me. I had a camera in my other hand, so I did my best to document the little fella. He could not have been dead long – he was in pretty good shape and not very stiff.

The pictures show that this young snake (probably a Plainbelly Water Snake, Nerodia erythrogaster), might have encountered a predator. Blood is visible at his mouth, neck, mid-section, and tail. I am wondering if the ever-changing weather coaxed him out from his winter shelter, only to turn cold and perhaps leave him too slow to avoid capture? If so, why didn’t the predator make off with him?

I did a quick search about snakes and knots, and from what I can tell – it is possible for snakes to tie themselves into knots. If anyone knows more about this behavior, I would love to know more. Is the knot possibly a product of a death-throw? Or perhaps even the cause of his demise? And if so, directly or indirectly? Hmmm.

In this picture, it appears that the snake may have been in the process of shedding his skin. Given the freezing-warming-raining weather we have had, I wonder if the shedding skin began while the snake was alive, or after his passing? I just don’t know the answers, so I’ll continue to wonder “aloud.”

I decided to place the snake up on the top of my fence post, so that my dog would not:

  1. Roll in it
  2. Bring it in the house
  3. Bury it in my bed
  4. Eat it
  5. All of the Above

I also thought that the small snake might make a timely meal for the many birds and woodland creatures who live around my house. I’ll have to check the fence post to see if he is still there…

This is one of my beagles, Roxie. She found the snake right about there, where her nose is. I guess she thought she would revisit the scene to see if there were any more snakes. So I guess I better go see if she’s left me any surprises buried in my bed!

33 Responses to “Snake Knot”

  • That is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. If you hadn’t found him right in your backyard, I’d have thought some evil person did it.

  • It is unusual for a snake to be out and about this time of year, but not rare. Possibly a predator uncovered his hiding place. Tying himself in a knot is not that unusual either. Often snakes being attacked will do that. I once watched a snake being eaten by a coral snake (they pretty exclusively eat only other snakes), and it almost avoided being eaten by tying itself in a knot which was just almost too large for the snake to swallow. Sometimes when I have caught snakes they have done that also. The pictures were not too clear for me, but the snake looked more like an earth snake to me. Roger

    • Roger, thank you so much for the info! As for the ID, I don’t know if I have any better pictures to offer – but I will post more pics if there is a particular part of the snake that you need to see. (if I have a picture of that part…)

      Thanks again!!

  • Trying to Google for other instances of this is complicated by the fact that there is a kind of knot called a “snake knot.”

    I thought I’d just found a really good blog entry on this topic, but it turned out to be this one. 🙁

    • Joy, you and I have been doing the same thing – I also found lots of info on a “snake knot,” but not an actual snake IN a knot. Thanks to Roger, we now know much more than when we started!

  • Hugh:

    How interesting. I’ve not seen that before, but have seen a paper with a picture of a snake that swallowed itself. It ended up looking like a doughnut. I can’t find the picture online. Your snake looks like an earth snake to me too (Nerodia have higher (taller?) heads with larger eyes).

    • Now why in the world would a snake swallow itself? I understand the knot thing now…can’t see how swallowing oneself would be helpful though!

      Glad to know I have a new kind of snake around the house. Did I just say that?


      • I, too, have had a snake try to swallow itself. Snakes are not too bright, and I often use this experience as an example. The snake, a racer (which do eat other snakes), struck at the mouse I was trying to feed it and just happened to miss and grab its own tail instead. It then proceeded to attempt to eat itself until I got concerned and pulled the tail out. I regretted doing that later, as the abrasion on the inside of its mouth became infected and it died. Often if two snakes try to eat the same mouse from different ends, one will just continue to swallow the other snake. I’ve had to rescue a couple like that!

  • Very, very cool Amber (though not so cool for the snake). I think there are a lot of weird things that happen right in our own backyards but we just miss most of them. I wonder if it’s easier for a long, thin snake to get tangled up than a thick one? Kind of like skinny shoelaces making a tighter knot then thick ones.

  • You’re right about how much cool nature stuff is happening right in our backyards. All we have to do is take a few minutes to look!

  • How interesting…sorry for the little guy…Michelle

  • […] Comments ramblingwoodsHow interesting…sorry for the little guy…Michelle »Amber CoakleyDawn, thanks for visiting. […]

  • […] abounds as we try to solve the crime scene. Then, my dog helps me find a small ground snake, tied in a knot and recently deceased. Unfortunate, but apparently not that unusual. Now, I notice a leaf that […]

  • Dannette:

    I am so glad that I found this. I found a baby milk snake tied in a knot just like this on my walkway! I too wondered if someone had done this to this poor snake. As I inspected it..I noticed that right were the knot occured, there was a wound? I figured they must do this when they are hurt and are about to die? Other than that it was perfect.

    • Hi Dannette – thanks to Roger’s comments, we now know that both the snake I found and yours may have curled into a knot to try to avoid being eaten. Sounds like both of our snakes suffered fatal wounds, even though they were successful in avoiding being swallowed whole. Ahhhh, nature – right?

  • Lynn Watson:

    Today I “rescued” a garter snake half swallowed by a black racer. Before I could reach down to grab the garter snake, its tail looped and knotted around a small branch trying to keep from being swallowed! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Of course, no camera…. when my hand reached down to the snakes, the black racer let go, and just that quickly the bloodied garter snake unhitched and took off in the other direction! I found this blog because I was trying to find information on this phenomenon! Still searching! But this is fact!

  • Jeremy:

    Hey, i actually did some research and it said some snakes tie them selves in knots during the cold season to keep more heat in their bodies. The Knot will most likely be around the top to mid-section of the snake where most of its vital organs are. Truly fascinating indeed

    • Hi Jeremy – great research. That would make sense give the time of year. I wonder if the snake could have been trying to stay warm and was unable to fend of predators while in that state – maybe too cold to react quickly? We are having a really warm winter right now…think I’ll revisit the area.

  • Roger Sanderson:

    As a lifetime herper, I’ve never seen a snake tie itself up to stay warm and doubt if it would really help all that much. I would like to know the source of your research to investigate it further. Thanks, Roger

  • Chuck:

    I just discovered a small brown snake in the backyard that had tied itself into a knot, most likely from being attacked by one of the stray cats that live there. It is currently in a box (untied) next to a lamp. I trying to warm it up and see if it can be saved, but it doesn’t look good. He has several wounds that look like cat scratches. This is the first snake of the season for me, but we are having a very early spring. Interesting read; thanks everyone.

    • Best of luck to the little guy, and kudos to you for attempting to help him out. Stray cats are a menace to birds as well, still don’t understand why stray cats are generally accepted, whereas dogs are not.

  • Roger Sanderson:

    Chuck, snakes are alot tougher than you think. I’ve seen them survive being run over by cars and other equaly devastating events. I would recomend that you place it outside in a protected spot that it can hide from the cat. Most small snakes eat tiny critters that you could not supply for him. Make sure that he has access to water for a while before you release him, as he might not be able to get to a water source for a while.

  • Chuck:

    Well as I suspected he didn’t make it. The strays are a menace and a real problem anywhere people live, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Since living here we have caught and fixed nine cats, but there are a few who are wise to the traps!

  • mol:

    Just found a baby snake, 6 inches, in a knot without a head in the mulch under bush in front yard. Very weird looking. Thought it was the result of human action, glad to know it wasn’t, sounds like a natural defense.

    • hi mol, i’m glad you found the discussion helpful. this defense mechanism didn’t work out so well for these particular snakes, but at least we know it wasn’t mean people doing this to the snakes.

  • Chris:

    This is a rough earth snake (Virginia striatula), just for ID purposes. They don’t get much bigger than the one you found, so this is an adult.

    Some snakes (especially smaller species) will writhe around erratically while smearing themselves with a noxious smelling musk in order to deter predators. I’ve witnessed this personally with northern brown snakes (Storeria dekayi dekayi) and ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus). Occasionally, while writhing, they will tie themselves into knots, but it is not damaging to the snake and they can just as easily crawl out of their own knot. Of course, people should not tie snakes into knots. As an analogy, some people can bend into weird and unnatural positions on their own, but might risk injury if someone forced them into the same position. The same would apply, of course, to snakes.

    • Lynn Watson:

      ok, soooo, next time, I guess I’ll think twice or thrice before “helping” a snake in a funky situation!!!Gad!
      Very interesting though!

  • rachel:

    I too had a snake knot experience. Today I stepped on a small snake who was sun bathing. I knew I hurt it and felt bad. I pushed it to the side and later checked to see if indeed it was dead and it was tied in a knot and limp like a noodle. I assumed that it was a defense mechanism and like so many others googled it. Haha.

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