Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Venomous snakes lurk in the ball pits of fast food restaurants.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]
Yes, ball pits have their dangers. But snakes aren't one of them. That part is pure lore.
(A made-up cyber story about a child who supposedly died after being pricked by a heroin-filled needle found in a ball pit is also nothing but lore. Our Kevin Archer page gives details about this particular tale.)
People have been reporting hearing the 'snakes in the ball pit' tale since at least the
Though this legend has gotten around, there are no real life incidents that correspond to it. No children have been bitten by venomous snakes lurking in ball pits. Though injuries and one death have occurred in such play areas, none were snake-related.
It's no wonder: A ball pit is one of the last places an animal such as a rattlesnake would choose for a residence. Just as we dislike snakes, they likewise don't much care for us. A rattler will avoid people and inhabited areas whenever possible. As well, snakes are cold-blooded and depend upon their environment to regulate their temperature. Therefore, they seek out places that will keep them warm when the weather is cool, and vice-versa. Snakes tend to burrow under things like rocks and sheets of metal that provide shade when the weather is hot and offer surfaces for basking in absorbed or reflected heat when the weather is cooler. The bottom of a ball pit doesn't see the light of day and thus is much too cold and damp an environment for a rattlesnake.
Also, snakes do not live in "families." The female rattlesnake gives birth in a nest and continues on her way
This legend of a child's fatally encountering a venomous snake in an amusement area is closely related to a similar tale about a wooden carousel horse. A little girl rides the merry-go-round to her death as her mother discovers all too late the painted hollow steed was home to a nest of vipers that bit her daughter throughout the ride. Similar tales abound of snakes nesting in roller coaster cars just unhoused from winter storage and bad-tempered venomous vipers fanging any hand carelessly trailed in the water of an amusement park's Tunnel of Love.
The message is clear: danger lurks amidst the gaiety, and a wise parent never takes his eyes off his kid. The juxtaposition of venomous snakes and amusement areas makes an even stronger statement than if these selfsame snakes were putting the chomp on youngsters in less carnival-like settings
Barbara "bawl pit" Mikkelson
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