Snakes Mistaken for Worms

A boy mistakes venomous snakes for fishing worms and dies from their bites.

Legend:   A boy mistakes baby snakes for fishing worms and is fatally bitten by his bait.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1994]

A sheriff is patrolling the county one day and sees a boy fishing by the riverside. To be neighborly, the
sheriff stops and asks how’s the fishing. The boy says “the fish aren’t biting, but the worms sure are.” The sheriff laughs and drives on. Later, he starts to wonder what the boy meant, so he goes back to check on him. He finds that the little boy’s arms are covered with snake bites. The worms were baby copperheads!


  • The snakes the doomed boy mistakes for worms can be water moccasins (cottonmouths), rattlesnakes, or copperheads, depending on who does the telling.
  • The victim is always a boy.

Origins:   Once


again, another fearsome snake legend proves, upon examination, to be long on lore and short on plausibility. Worms and snakes look markedly different, and even baby snakes are going to appear many times bigger than a fullgrown earthworm. Northern copperhead newborns, for example, begin life 8 to 9 inches long, and rattlesnakes at 10 inches.

As for how old this tale is, one of our readers recalls hearing it back in 1957.

The legend gains credence through a popular misconception that snakes are slimy and damp-feeling, and it’s another entry in “the world is a dangerous place” collection of folktales that combine unsuspecting youngsters engaged in recreational activities and silent, invisible danger in the form of snakes, with tragic results.

Barbara “baited (last) breath” Mikkelson

Last updated:   16 April 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (p. 28).

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