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Snake Pit

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"When he had been taken and cast into prison, his guilty limbs were given to serpents to devour, and adders found ghastly substance in the fibres of his entrails. His liver was eaten away, and a snake, like a deadly executioner, beset his very heart. ... The executioner beheld him beset with poisonous beasts, and asps gorging on that heart which he had borne steadfast in the face of every peril."
Gesta Danorum, book 9: the death of Ragnarr Loðbrók

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. Compare Creepy-Crawly Torture. For a wetter version of this trope, see Shark Pool.

Not to be confused with the film The Snake Pit.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Hoshin Engi, Dakki builds a huge pit filled with snakes (and a few alligators) called "Taibon" (Great Bowl) as a fancy way to execute the slaves of the Qiang tribe as a punishment for Taikobo's attempt to save King Chu and kill her. Much later in the manga, Hiko Ko claims that he once saw Dakki inside the snake pit, devouring the remains of the victims in there.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: JoJolion: Starter Villain Ojiro places several poisonous snakes on the balcony of Yoshikage Kira's apartment, in order to keep him from escaping via that route. Josuke is bitten by one of the snakes during the fight, but is able to take an antivenom from Ojiro before dying.
  • Medaka Box: In the General Affairs Manager's Battle during the Kumagawa Incident Arc, Zenkichi and Kumagawa fight on a net platform over a pit of poisonous vipers. They are pretty high up at the beginning, but since the platform they are on is unstable, every sudden movements may lower the platform bit by bit until both of them are within striking distance of the vipers. In the end, Zenkichi had to stomp the net platform sending them both to the vipers.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In the Don Rosa Scrooge McDuck story "Treasure of the Ten Avatars", Scrooge and Donald run into such a Death Trap. They manage to escape from the cobras by pressing a button on a statue which causes it to rise up from the floor as a pillar, leading to the exit.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Tigra Tropica drops an unconscious Steve Trevor into a tiger pit to try and escape from Wonder Woman while Diana rescues him. The rescue takes far less time than Tigra was hoping for, though the reader is treated to the amusing view of her being lassoed off of a running tiger's back right as she reaches her front gate.

    Fairy Tales 
  • 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 eponymous Good Woman saves herself from being executed by throwing moss at the king's feet, making him fall into the snake pit and die.
  • 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."
  • In Asbjřrnsen and Moe's "The Twelve Wild Ducks", -a variant of "The Seven Ravens"- 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.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 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.
  • Gunga Din features a pit full of cobras.
  • In the James Bond movies:
    • In Live and Let Die, Bond knocks one of the voodoo priests into a coffin full of snakes.
    • In Moonraker, Hugo Drax throws James Bond into a snake pool—a swimming pool where slithers a gigantic reticulated python. Python reticulatus is an excellent swimmer.
  • Nightfall (2000): The rooms uncovered by archeological dig has become home to hundreds of snakes in the centuries since it was inhabited by humans.
  • 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 Sadist, Charlie falls into one while chasing Doris during the climax, and is bitten to death by the snakes.
  • In There Was a Crooked Man... (1970), bandit Paris Pitman, jnr, played by Kirk Douglas, hides his loot in a snake pit.

  • The first installment of the Sorcery! saga have you entering a Manticore's lair to find a kidnapped girl, loaded with all sorts of traps, one which is a pit of snakes which opens up right below you. You can either use your magic to hold the snakes at bay or fight them, but even if you survive you'll be stranded in a hole filled with dead snakes and starve anyways (unless you can still pray to your Patron Goddess, Libra, to bail you out of said pit).

  • "The Bamboo Trap" by Robert Lemmon features an accidental case where scientist John Mathers accidentally falls into a hole that is home to the spiders he is studying. The primary danger for him is that the hole is flooding sure to Russian rainfall, and the spiders, unable to maintain purchase on the slick walls, after attempting to use him to stay above the water.
  • 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.
  • Discworld
    • 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.
    • Lord Vetinari is said to have a scorpion pit, but it's only for mimes and other street performers.
  • In the Chinese epic Investiture of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi), the tyrant King Zhou have a pit of serpents which he used to dispose prisoners, political dissidents, and his own advisers whom have failed him. Keep in mind that was only one of the many cruel execution methods his twisted mind approves...
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In CobraKai Season 3, a flashback to when John Kreese was a POW in Vietnam, he and his teammates are forced by the Vietnamese to fight over a pit of cobras. When it came time for Kreese to fight his captain, the camp was bombed by American planes, but Kreese pushed his captain into the pit anyway, adopting the captain's philosophy of "No Mercy" which became the foundation for the Cobra Kai dojo.
  • 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 Slasher Season 1, The Executioner kills Trent by luring him into a pit, where he breaks his leg in the fall. Then, The Executioner starts dropping poisonous snakes into the pit.
  • Tropical Heat: In the episode "Fowl Play", Nick Slaughter is trapped in a container with snakes.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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."


    Video Games 
  • Sunless Sea: While exploring the Vault of the First Emperor in the Empire of Hands, you and the Daring Adventuress come across one of these, with only a thin beam as a safe way across. The Adventuress crosses it easily, but for you to do the same, you need to pass a Veils challenge. Succeed, and you cross it safely. Fail, and you fall onto plenty of dead snakes since there was no way made to feed them, though you gain some Terror from the experience.

  • Parodied (link SFW) in Oglaf. A criminal is sentenced to be thrown into the snake pit... where the snakes judge him for not being a snake, and ask him to either snake up or leave. And there's no way out of the snake pit, because snakes hate ladders, so the criminal and the snakes just sit there in uncomfortable silence.
    King: Yesssss! Experience the awkwardness of... the snake pit!
  • In PepsiaPhobia, Phobia and Gastro get thrown into a snake pit by a shapeshifter.
  • During a pyramid exploration story in Sluggy Freelance, Torg and Riff nearly fall into one of these. However, since Bun Bun stole all their food before they left for the trip, they end up using the snakes for food instead.
  • Parodied in the xkcd entry "Presents for Biologists". A villain is lowering James Bond and a biologist into the snake pit, and while James Bond is swearing "You won't get away with this!" the biologist is excited about all the snakes and is asking to be lowered into the pit faster. The Alt Text reveals that most of the snakes are non-venomous, and the biologist is willing to let the villain know which snakes got confused for venomous ones.
  • One of Captain Bimbo's traps in Zortic.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • In Drawn Together, Xandir's girlfriend is being lured into a pit of cobras when Xandir calls her to tell her he's gay.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: When Timmy wishes his life was an action movie, he wakes up the next morning and is immediately thrown into a pit with cobras. Of course, that was only one obstacle. The Walls Are Closing In was present, and they were covered in Spikes of Doom. And he had to pull an Indy Escape after making it out of the pit.
  • One appears in an episode of Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures, and in India no less.
  • Toward the end of one Rocky and Bullwinkle storyline, the ruler of Jaipur sentences Bullwinkle to be thrown into a cobra pit for refusing to surrender a treasure he'd found which the ruler believed belonged to the city.

    Real Life 
  • 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.