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Home --> Critter Country --> Snakes Alive! --> Culprit in the Ball Pit

Culprit in the Ball Pit

Claim:   Venomous snakes lurk in the ball pits of fast food restaurants.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

About a week or so ago, a mother took her eager 3 year old son to Burger King for lunch. After they ate their lunch the mother said that the son could go and play on the playground for awhile since he ate all his lunch.

She watched as the boy played in the tunnels, slide and in the ball-pit. The boy played for about 10 minutes when he started to whimper slightly.

The mother asked the boy what had happened and he mearly replied, "Hurt mommy." The mother assumed that the little boy had banged his elbow or something while playing.

They left to return home. A half and hour after they were home, the mother noticed some big red welts on the little boys arms and legs. Not being able to figure out what they were, the mother started to look at them closer. Could be red ant bites . . . she did not know.

An hour later, the little boy died. Come to find out, when returning to Burger King to see if there were red ants in the play area, in case the little boy had an allergic reaction. Burger King employees and herself discovered that there was a family of baby rattlesnakes living underneath the balls in the ball-pit area. She has since found out that this happens more frequently than not. The snakes will crawl into the ball pit because it is dark and warm in there. She knows for a fact that another death has occurred because of this in South Carolina. Please use caution when letting any children play in an outside play area of a fast food resturant, this could happen anywhere. Burger Kings are now building their play area's inside the buildings for more safe environment.

Variations:
  • McDonald's and Burger King are both named as places where this tragedy supposedly occurred, with the nod going to McDonald's as the most frequently cited.
  • The fatal fanging is said to have taken place in Arlington and Dallas, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Arizona; and Alabama.
  • Although the rattlesnake is the most common critter mentioned, water moccasins, copperheads, and "vipers" also stand accused.
Origins:   Despite their benign appearance, children's indoor plastic ball pits often pose health and safety hazards. Those who clean these play areas
report finding everything from used syringes to dirty diapers in them. Before letting your child loose in one, make sure the play area's maintenance staff spot clean the pit once a day and wash all the balls every week. Diapers come off in ball pits, and half-eaten candy is routinely found in there. More disturbingly, syringes and knives have turned up in there.

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 mid-1990s. It's a horrific tale of a parental nightmare — one wants to believe there are at least some places a child would be safe in. If not a supervised play area, then where?

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 Rattlesnake 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 — she doesn't wait around to make sure the young ones are all right, nor does she attempt to care for her offspring in any way. With no parents to take care of them, the newborn snakes have no reason to remain together as a family unit. Their number one priority is to scatter in search of food, not huddle with one another. (It's a neat folkloric juxtaposition, though — the "evil" family of snakes destroys the "good" family of humans.)

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 — say, a schoolyard or a department store. Such legends work to caution parents to not relax parental vigilance even in presumed safe settings.

Barbara "bawl pit" Mikkelson

Additional information:
    Burger King corporate statement   Burger King corporate statement
Last updated:   7 August 2007

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.
 
  Sources Sources:
    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 37-38).

    Ellis, William.   "Snakebite Rumor at Knoebel's Grove."
    FOAFTale News.   December 1991   (p. 12).

    Simons, Janet.   "Ball Pits' Dirty Little Secret."
The Rocky Mountain News.   22 March 1998   (p. C1).


  Sources Also told in:
    Flynn, Mike.   The Best Book of Bizarre But True Stories Ever.
    London: Carlton, 1999.   ISBN 1-85868-558-3.   (p. 52).