Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Nova Scotia Rabbit Snake
Early explorers to Canada's Nova Scotia province were told, "Beware the Rabbit Snake!" Most of them laughed. They thought it was a joke. But when they woke up in the middle of the night with a seven foot Python wrapped around their waist, the fluffy rabbit head with its cute little eyes staring at them and its cute little mouth expanding to swallow their face...well, let's just say they weren't laughing anymore.
Much like the Venus fly trap and other tricksters of the plant and animal kingdom, the Novia Scotia Rabbit Snake uses subterfuge to capture its prey, which primarily consists of small predators. Lying in wait in the bushes, its distinctive rabbit head poking out of the grass or bushes, seemingly focused on a nut or berry, many a fox or baby puma has pounced, only to find itself wrapped up like a salmon avocado roll and slowly swallowed alive.
A number of Native American tribes in Novia Scotia feared the snake, and thought of it as the guardian of the underworld. A particularly brutal rite of passage for the bravest warriors involved wrestling with the snake - warriors who failed to triumph were not rescued until the snake had begun to swallow their head, which resulted in horrible disfigurement and sometimes death.
When the British and French arrived, they considered the creature to be a creation of the devil and systematically set out to destroy it, offering bounties and crafting "Rabbit Snake" hats to highlight their achievements. Wild Homme Pierre Horton, one of the great explorers and adventurers of Northeastern Canada, sported a hat with a two-headed Rabbit Snake, a snake skin jacket, and matching Rabbit Snake skin boots (all of which he claimed, after a night of drinking, were from the same snake).
Strangely enough, the snake is not much featured in literature and art, although the British painter Francis Bacon's famous painting "Rabbit Snake Swallowing a British Banker" is on view at the Tate Gallery in London, and the Wilkie Collins mystery novel Saphire Snake involves a Rabbit Snake swallowing a small child and spitting out a gem stone.