cucumber smell - poisonous snakes

dighappySeptember 8, 2008

I have been told by more than one person that if there is a rattlesnake in the area there will be the strong smell of cucumbers in the air near where they are resting.... I live in NJ(Southern) and beleive the only rattlesnake here is the Pine Rattler and do live in a heavily wooded area. Several times while I am out in my horse pasture I have smelled cucumbers in an isolated spot (not always the same spot) in the field. Has anyone ever heard this before and is there any truth to it.

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I have heard this idea more often associated with cottonmouths and copperheads which have musk glands near their cloaca which can emit a foul smelling fluid when the snake is threatened but I've really only noticed this smell one time when I frightened a cottonmouth that vibrated its tail and expelled musk before fleeing under a log. I have unwittingly stepped into a concentration of cottonmouths near a den before without smelling anything even though there were a half dozen snakes within a few feet of me.

Timber Rattlesnakes are your rattlesnake species in Southern New Jersey. I haven't heard this idea associated with them before. And while there is a grain of truth to the idea with cottonmouths and copperheads I can't say as though I have ever noticed this to be true other than the one time a snake expelled a significant amount of musk in retreat.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 8:20PM
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Timber rattlers are highly endangered in NJ, and indeed are the only rattler in the State. I have spoken with State Wildlife Biologists that deal with the species, and they never mentioned a cucumber smell.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 6:21AM
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Just butting in here, as this is interesting. I can understand that you might occasionally smell a musk scent from some snakes (and I have with garter snakes, ringnecks, and a couple of others), but I never thought it smelled like cucumbers. To me, cucumbers smell fresh and green, rather than musky. Perhaps it is subjective. Wayne, when you HAVE noticed a musk smell, did it remind you of cucumbers?

I've been in close proximity to both rattlers and cottonmouths on a number of occasions (nothing like you true herpers, of course) and I have never smelled anything at all. So I don't think I'll be relying on it as a good signal that danger might be lurking. And I have a nose that dogs envy, according to my husband. *grin*

Very interesting thread!


    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 1:53PM
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In my opinion, these stories are merely old wives tales. I have personally heard the same story, only with copperheads and that the smell was that of onions. I have seen dozens of timber rattlesnakes and never smelled "cucumbers" or any other smell unless I physically manipulating and processing the animals (in which they sprayed musk). I'd chalk this up to a tale and believe it has little if any credence. If you are wondering if a snake is around, use your eyes and ears, but don't put much weight on your nose.

No cucumber smell here...

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 2:06AM
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Thanks everyone for your answers......I will have to keep my eyes peeled then if there is to be no "cucumber" warning. Another sure way to tell if a snake (or anything else)is in the area is to watch the horses. They pretty much tell me when something is up. I wonder what that strong cucumber smell is coming from then. I smell it only periodically and in different parts of the pasture. Weird.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 1:50PM
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Terrific picture, Mike! Is that one of your "dozens" of timber rattlers? It's a beauty! I'm only really familiar with the ones we have here in central Florida, eastern diamondbacks and dusky pygmies.

Dig, perhaps the cucumber smell is coming from a plant? I would imagine horses would certainly begin shying and acting strange at the approach of a snake. I have often been alerted to them by the behavior of birds in the area, especially jays and mockingbirds. They will begin to mob, screeching like crazy and often dive bombing the snake. That's part of being alert, I think. You not only notice what you see and hear yourself, but you pay attention to what the critters in the area are telling you, as well.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 3:24PM
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Hi Marcia -
Yup, it is. I saw around 30 timbers last year from Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. This year has been a good bit slower and I've been focusing more on my grad work so I don't run into them as much. I am still hoping to see a pigmy sometime...I lucked out on seeing a diamondback on the east coast of Florida this spring, a lil' one but a diamondback nonetheless

I agree - I wouldn't be surprised if the smell came from a plant

Here's a shot of my favorite Nebraska timber...

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 9:09PM
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What a GORGEOUS picture! Look at all the COLOR on that guy! Lovely rusty stripe down his back, eh? And I see that black tail peeking out...beautiful!!

Thanks for sharing that. As you know, I'm sure, timber rattlers and copperheads have a very limited range in Florida, so I've never seen either in the wild. I've seen some whopping big diamondbacks, though, and plenty of feisty pygmies.

Once, when I lived in south Florida, there was a very bad forest fire that encroached on the development we lived in. Firefighters were driving tractors up and down our streets, digging firebreaks, etc, and animals of all sorts were fleeing the flames. We saw lots of stuff coming out of the palmettos, and at one point, a fire fighter came out on his tractor holding up a gigantic rattlesnake by the tail that he had accidentally run over. He hopped off the tractor and held his arm up and the head of the snake was on the ground. It was at the very LEAST six feet long, and I really think it was probably closer to seven, and as thick as my leg. GINORMOUS!!

BTW, the flames reached our backyard fence and we were loading up the car to get the heck out when the skies opened up in a torrential downpour. The first rain we had had in weeks and weeks. If you had seen it in a movie, you would have thought it was a ridiculous tale...being saved by rain at the very last minute. Too bad it was too late to help the snake, though.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 9:22PM
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It's double jeopardy, but I'll take the snakes over any cucumber.
Better run.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 11:41AM
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The copperhead is the cause of many snakebites yearly but they are rarely fatal. Bites occur when people accidentally step on or touch the snake, which tends to be well camouflaged in its surroundings. When touched, the copperhead quickly strikes or remains quiet and tries to crawl away. Sometimes when touched, they emit a musk that smells like cucumbers.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 12:15AM
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I've caught literally dozens of Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Canebrake(Timber)Rattlers over the decades, and have handled(with proper tools, of course)many more Rattlesnake species, and I have NEVER smelled anything remotely like a cucumber associated with any snake! Snake musk STINKS; it's similar to skunk musk, and some people say it's even stinkier. There is nothing about that smell that you would associate with anything remotely fresh and edible, trust me. It's purely a wives' tale that venomous(no such thing as a "poisonous" snake, btw)snakes give off a cucumber smell. That tale likely started with the fact that snakes frequent gardens,looking for rodent pests to eat, and someone saw a snake in a garden and smelled cucumbers because there actually WERE cucumbers planted nearby, but the smell and the sighting got intermingled in that person's panicked mind.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 4:42PM
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I had heard this also several years ago- Rattlers give off cucumber smell. I can't add much in favor or against this belief, but it had been told to me about 10 years ago.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 4:34AM
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