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Rattlesnake Cucumber Smell


By jstookey - Posted on 31 August 2015

B, S, T, and I made plans to run at the Tongue Mountain Range near Lake George. It's a challenging 12 mile loop over a range of small mountain peaks. None of us except T have run the loop this year, so we all agreed to get one in before the year escapes us. The Tongue Mountain has many unique features. Foremost is the fact that it is the toughest, wildest run that B and I can get away with squeezing in before work. That's 2 hours of driving and 2-3 hours of running before sneaking into work just under the radar. As long as the hair is combed and the bleeding legs are hidden from view it's just a normal day at the office. The timing worked out for T's job and S is a school teacher with summers off and this is his last week of freedom.

The run couldn't have gone better. The four of us made good time dancing over the rooty, rocky terrain. We spotted a really nice pile of Chicken Mushroom early in the run. We tried to miss all the turns, but someone always corrected the mistake before going astray.

It was an amazing feeling to be in a group of four bounding through the woods, not a fear in the world. We took the easier 5 miles first, then the extremely steep roller coaster of peaks, and finally the long and joyous (and a little harrowing) descent. As we ran down the last long slope, I smelled the perfectly distinct, crisp, cool, smell of freshly cut cucumbers.

Me: "Hey, does anyone else smell cucumbers?"

S: "Yeah! I smelled it a few times during the run."

B: "That's my new vegan cucumber after shave I'm wearing."

(long pause as we run)

Me: "Are you seriously wearing vegan cucumber after shave?"

B: "Ah ha ha... I'll let you figure that out for yourself."

And that was the end of it. We ran back to the car, drove south, and dispersed back into our daily lives.

A few days later, I typed a quick Google query into my phone. As I started to type, "cucumber smell..." Google auto-suggested, "cucumber smell in the woods", which I selected.

The very first search result is a question starting with, "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."

Which brings me to the second of the unique features of the Tongue Mountain Range. It is well known for being a rare New York State ecosystem where large Timber Rattlesnakes thrive. B has seen them here before on a hike with his family, and others have posted youtube videos. I distinctly remember visiting the Utica Zoo on a field trip as a kid and seeing a rattlesnake behind glass. They explained to us that rattlesnakes exist in rare places in New York. I would never have believed I would ever see one (which I haven't) not to mention discover them by their smell. Of cucumbers no less!

I have since read several online discussions about the smell of cucumbers being associated with rattlesnakes (and copperheads). 95% of the comments from self-proclaimed experts say that it's a myth. While it does not prove anything, I find it hard to accept that the following three facts are a coincidence:

1) A myth exists that a cucumber smell comes from rattlesnakes
2) The Tongue Mountain Range is known for harboring rattlesnakes
3) The only place I have ever smelled random cucumber is the Tongue Mountain Range

Which leads me to believe the tiny minority, that rattlesnakes do in fact give off a cucumber smell. What's exciting (kind of like seeing evidence of Sasquatch) is that there seems to be no proof of the smell. However, here are a few comments that give some credence:

"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."

"My Grandmother swore by this cucumber smell = copperhead thing. I went with them to their summer place on French Creek many times as a kid. On one trip we arrived and as soon as she got out of the car she told my Grandfather that she smelled cucumbers and that copperhead was nearby. My grandfather mumbled some words of disgust through his lips and around the stem of his pipe and trudged off to unlock the cabin door. He came back to the car faster than I had ever seen him move. There was a copperhead curled up on the front door stoop. A good time was had by all (especially my grandmother and for a long, long time afterward). This incident became official family folklore."

"...I hate to tell you but it is true the smell of cucumbers and the smell of stinky sweet Lily of the valley. I physically have traced the smell directly to the snakes multiple times on my property. I don't care that people say it's a myth, I'm crazy, etc...I have smelled the smells and found the snakes. I wouldn't panic, I never do, it's just an extra warning to avoid that area right now. You could put a plastic owl on a stake near the areas and see if that helps."

"I was working with a USGS survey team one summer and we unearthed a nest of copperhead young (eggs and some newborns) - the whole area smelled like cucumbers. I don't know if the same would hold true for rattlesnakes or not."

So maybe it's the smell of *hatching* rattlesnakes.

Or maybe B really was wearing vegan cucumber aftershave.

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