A Snake Pit is the terrestial cousin for Shark Pool: a pit or container full of venomous or otherwise dangerous snakes, other reptiles, arachnids (commonly spiders or scorpions), rats, or other nasty creatures. The victim is supposed to get killed by multiple angry animal bites or stings. While this is a very nasty and historically plausible way to get killed, it is also fairly impractical.
This trope plays on the often irrational fears many people harbour towards reptiles and arachnids. It likes to pretend that the little crawlies are tiny monsters programmed by nature to attack humans, and therefore will swarm in droves upon a hapless victim if given the chance. In reality, most such creatures avoid humans; stinging or biting us is exclusively a defensive behavior... though, if the pit is too crowded to keep a distance, a defensive bite is probable.
A subtrope of Fed to the Beast.
- When the Ogress in Charles Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty" finds out the cooks have not carried out her order to kill Sleeping Beauty and her children, she orders a large tub to be "filled with toads, vipers, snakes, and all sorts of serpents" as a means to execute Sleeping Beauty, her children, and the disobedient cooks. But the king returns before the execution is carried out, and the ogress throws herself into the pit to be "instantly devoured by the ugly creatures she had ordered to be thrown into it for others."
- A similar method is used in Charlotte-Rose de Caumont La Force's fairy tale "The Good Woman". This time, it's an evil king ordering the execution. The titular Good Woman saves herself from being executed by throwing moss at the king's feet, making him fall into the snake pit and die.
- In "The Twelve Wild Ducks", the heroine's Wicked Stepmother-in-law kidnaps each baby she has and throws it into a snake pit, making it look like she ate them. However, the snakes were less vicious than she thought, and wouldn't harm the children. When they're found again, they're still alive, and even playing with the snakes.
- Gunga Din features a pit full of cobras.
- A natural Snake Pit occurs in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the heroes fall in a dried-up well full of various snakes.
- In the James Bond movies:
- In There Was a Crooked Man... (1970), bandit Paris Pitman, jnr, played by Kirk Douglas, hides his loot in a snake pit.
- Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid might have the scariest version to date—a snake pit completely filled with giant anacondas, all huddled together in a giant mating ball. And the MacGuffin just so happens to be right above the pit, so the main characters have to crawl across a slippery tree trunk to get there.
- In the Cheng Pei-Pei movie The Golden Sword, the cruel women of the Dragon Palace lower male slaves into a snake pit as punishment for infractions such as trying to escape. Sometimes they just do it to scare the men; other times they let the snakes kill them.
- Nightfall (2000): The rooms uncovered by archeological dig has become home to hundreds of snakes in the centuries since it was inhabited by humans.
- In Norse Mythology:
- In the legend of the Niflungs, King Gunnar of the Niflungs is thrown into a snake pit to die by his treacherous brother-in-law Atli. Related in Prose Edda, Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga.
- After the famous Viking conqueror Ragnar Lodbrok has been captured by King Aella of Northumbria, Aella has him thrown into a pit of vipers to die (as told in "Krákumál", Gesta Danorum, and The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok).
- Loki's less-than-pleasant final fate involves being chained underground while a snake drips venom in his eyes. Not all the time though- his wife holds a bowl to catch the venom, but when she moves away to empty it, the venom lands, and Loki's spasms cause earthquakes.
- In Sourcery:
- The Grand Vizier, after learning that all their other methods of execution are out of order, reluctantly has Rincewind thrown into the snake pit. It turns out to contain one snake, which hides in the corner. It's the snake pit, not the snakes pit.
- There's also Lord Vetinari's scorpion pit, but it's only for mimes.
- Redwall: The searat captain Gabool the Wild keeps a scorpion pit in his castle. While every main character is arguing about who has more cause to kill Gabool, he ends up falling into it.
- Invoked and Lampshaded in The Belgariad's prequel novel Polgara the Sorceress. To rally nations against a common enemy, Polgara conjures up hallucinations of the war crimes the enemy would inflict on them, only to find that one ruler is only really afraid of snakes. Somewhat shamefacedly, she makes up some lurid and wholly inaccurate snake-pit scenes to bring him on board.
- In Vikings, King Aelle of Northumbria has one of his captains who has failed him in fighting Ragnar Lothbrok thrown into a snake pit to die. Many In-Universe years later, in the fourth season, Aelle gets to do it again, this time throwing Ragnar himself into a pit.
- Tropical Heat: In the episode "Fowl Play", Nick Slaughter is trapped in a container with snakes.
- The episode "Halloween Knights" from MacGyver has a snake pit as part of a deadly obstacle course that Mac and Murdoc have to complete in order to free Murdoc's sister.
- In the 2006 Robin Hood series, Robin at one point is lowered into a pit of venomous snakes... that were clearly harmless boa constrictors.
- In The Far Side, a panel shows a family in a living room that inexplicably has a circular hole in the floor about three feet across, and is full of snakes. The dad is in the process of grabbing his kid, who is careening toward the pit on his tricycle, while the caption reads, "That was too close! Billy was headed straight for the snake pit when I grabbed him."
- One appears in an episode of Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures.
- In Drawn Together, Xandir's girlfriend is being lured into a pit of cobras when Xandir calls her to tell her he's gay.
- In Batman Beyond, the terrorist organization Kobra often executes members by throwing them into pits full of snakes. One mook willingly throws himself into one rather than get caught by Batman.
- While normally solitary, when autumn arrives, garter snakes gather by the hundreds in a cave or pit to hibernate for the winter. These places are known as hibernaculums. Once spring arrives, males will mate with females and then they leave to become solitary once more.
- Other species of snakes, such as some rattlers, have also been observed hibernating together. Of course, a hibernaculum isn't a very good example of this trope, because the snakes would all be too sluggish to do any damage to anyone who was thrown in.