Giant Pennsylvania Snake

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Large Snake of south-central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.

Variant names: Big snake, Boss snake, The Devil, Devil snake, Heap big snake, Log snake.

Physical description: Length, 15-20 feet. Diameter, 8-10 inches, or as thick as a stovepipe. Black with some gray, dark gray with yellow markings, or dirty tan with variegated markings. Huge mouth.

Behavior: Sometimes blocks rural roads. Coils its tail around a tree branch and swings its head to and fro. Said to be able to move with its head and neck erect. Hisses or groans. Eats roosters and cats.

Habitat: Forests, mountains, rocky areas. Distribution: Southern Pennsylvania; northern Maryland.

Significant sightings: Emanuel Bushman's brother and six others saw a Devil snake on Big Round Top, south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in April 1833. Other reports place the snake in Devil's Den. It was probably gone by the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, but the name "Devil's Den" may have originated with this creature rather than Confederate sniper fire during the battle.

A black snake 25-35 feet long was seen in the vicinity of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1870 and 1871, catching and eating roosters and cats.

A 15-foot "anaconda" was reported around Hall's Springs, Maryland, in the summer of 1875. Its track was measured at 11.5-15 inches wide. It swallowed pigs, a turkey, and a chicken in a trap set for it, but it eluded capture.

Present status: Possibly the same as other Giant North American Snakes reported elsewhere. Possible explanations:

(1) The Black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) is the largest snake in Pennsylvania, growing to 7 feet in length. It is solid black with faint traces of a spotted pattern.

(2) The Northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) is the second-largest snake in Pennsylvania but does not grow much longer than 6 feet and is more slender than the rat snake. It is bluish-gray to black on top, with some white on the chin.

(3) The Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), a yellowish colubrid snake with dark blotches, grows to over 8 feet long but is only found in isolated pockets in the East.

(4) A large, unknown subspecies of bullsnake, suggested by Chad Arment. Sources: Emanuel Bushman, "Big Snake,"

Gettysburg (Pa.) Compiler, August 12, 1875; Thomas Turner Wysong, The Rocks of Deer Creek, Harford County, Maryland: Their Legends and History (Baltimore, Md.: Sherwood, 1879), p. 38; Salome Myers Stewart, "Reminiscences of Gettysburg," Chattanooga (Tenn.) News, October 30, 1913; Annie Weston Whitney and Caroline Caulfield Bullock, "Folk-Lore from Maryland," Memoirs of the American Folklore Society 18 (1925): 193; Jon Baughman and Ron Morgan, Tales of the Broad Top (Saxton, Pa.: Jon Baughman and Ron Morgan, 1977); Jon Baughman, Strange and Amazing Stories of Raystown Country (Saxton, Pa.: Broad Top Bulletin, 1987); Chad Arment, "Giant Snake Stories in Maryland," INFO Journal, no. 73 (Summer 1995): 15-16; Garry E. Adelman and Timothy H. Smith, Devil's Den: A History and Guide (Gettysburg, Pa.: Thomas Publications, 1997), pp. 11, 141; Jeffrey R. Frazier, The Black Ghost of Scotia and More Pennsylvania Fireside Tales, vol. 2 (Lancaster, Pa.: Egg Hill, 1997); Patty A. Wilson, Haunted Pennsylvania (Laceyville, Pa.: Belfry Books, 1998), pp. 37-41; Chad Arment, "Giant Snakes in Pennsylvania," North American BioFortean Review 2, no. 3 (December 2000): 36-43, http://www.strangeark.com/nabr/NABR5.pdf.

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