Snakes, superstition and sulfur dust

There was a dead mouse hanging from inside the wire trap she was holding. The mouse was the bait. She was the local pest removal expert trying to catch the snake in my neighbor’s garden yesterday.

This is not the snake they're looking for.

Not the snake they’re looking for.

For the past week, my neighbor here in rural Hong Kong has been liberally sprinkling a popular local snake deterrent — sulfur dust — around the perimeter of his property. Two days ago, another neighbor ringed his house with yellow sulfur powder. Another snake sighting on the street? (Or defensive paranoia?)

Sulfur powder sprinkled to deter snakes.

Sulfur powder sprinkled to deter snakes.

It is believed by my neighbors that snakes will not cross sulphur. (Query: if a snake is already in one’s garden wouldn’t the sulfur then keep it from escaping?)

This is what one Hong Kong snake expert, Goatee Tony, has to say about sulfur:

“I tried [sulfur] out myself. I sprinkled some sulfur on the floor and a snake glided right over it. The only thing that might happen is that the snake might get some sulfur between its scales and feel itchy.” (Source: this HK Magazine article)

So now my neighbors have itchy snakes in their gardens.

I should mention that my husband found a snake in our living room a few weeks ago while I was still in America. It was the length and breadth of a wide shoelace with a head the size of an almond. It was extremely docile and he easily coaxed it outside.

Someone later told us that it is very lucky to find a snake inside one’s house. This same person asked my husband why he didn’t “pop it,” meaning to quickly kill it by grabbing its tail and slamming its head against the ground. She said this would kill the snake but not the lucky blessing.

Is this the snake they're looking for? The lucky one we found indoors?

Is this the snake they’re looking for? The one found in our house?

I asked my husband why he didn’t call a snake removal person to take it away from our house, as some snakes in Hong Kong are actually poisonous. He said the snake was not aggressive and, “There could always be a snake in our garden, so it doesn’t really matter.” I replied, “Yes, but now we know there is a snake in our garden because you put it there.”

But, despite my apprehension, we haven’t seen the small brown snake since it slithered off.

It seems, however, that our neighbors have. Is this tiny thing the snake that they’re trying to rid themselves of? If so, I hope it scurries back off to the jungle before anyone has the chance to “pop it,” trap it or strike it with a shovel.

18 responses to “Snakes, superstition and sulfur dust

  1. Snakes are ok. We used to catch gartner snakes (sp?) when we were kids. I don’t know how much fun and games they are in Asia though. In TW even the inch worms and catapillers are poisonous. But since its in your garden I think you can breath easy. That little guy has probably been gone for weeks.

    • I suppose I need to take the time to look up and remember which snakes are actually poisonous in HK. Probably not really that many. So long as they’re relatively docile, I don’t really mind having them around. My neighbors certainly do, though! Two new batches of sulfur powder were sprinkled today. No news on whether the trapping was successful.

  2. I remember 2 years ago when a snake suddenly appeared in the living room in our old apartment, I was screaming like it was the end of the world and my husband was out of the house in less than 5 seconds LOL Luckily our neighbor helped us get rid of it because my husband would not get near it at all!

    • You must be referring to Vanilla Housewife’s double-snake sighting?

      My snake is completely non-ephemistic. But perhaps my neighbors are reading a double-meaning into their snakes?

  3. Uck! I am not a fan of snakes. I never saw any in Hong Kong, but I have friends who did, and I saw several in Taiwan. Was always worried because they were poisonous! Thankfully, I lived on the 4th floor (although apparently the fourth floor was also bad luck? Because “4” sounds like death in Mandarin?…) Anyway, around here we have rattlers. I’m not a fan of them, either. :/

    The comment about sulfur and a snake with itchy scales made me laugh! Oh, superstitions…

  4. This is hilarious! Ugh though- I would panic for sure! We are out in Tai Po and I have yet to see any. BUT we were in Sydney for a year and a half and home of the top 10 poisonous snakes. LOVE your blog and your posts. 🙂

    • One week on and from the depth of the sulfur powder being sprinkled around, I think my neighbors are still not satisfied that their gardens are free of snakes. As for me, I still haven’t seen it.

  5. This must be a Chinese rather than HK thing as we live in Singapore by a little bit of jungle and occasionally get Equatorial Spitting Cobra or King Cobra coming out (personally don’t get close enough to check the difference). You know when one has been seen as they put sulphur down on the sides of the path (picture in my recent post linked).

    We lived up mid-levels of HK but never saw this probably way too populated.

    • So you have itchy snakes in Singapore too? 😉

      The sulphur is spreading along my street, so there must have been more sightings. I spoke to my neighbor: whatever it is is pretty small. I still haven’t seen it.

      Thanks for the link to your blog!

  6. Pingback: Friday Digest | Expat Dad SG·

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