But if you don’t fear these slithering reptiles, carry on reading to learn about what type of snakes you can find in Korea, some folklore about snakes, and which snake poses the most risk.
If you believe in the creation story, then Snakes have been around since the dawn of creation. Throughout most western cultures, Snakes have had a bad rep. Portrayed as cunning and vindictive in the Christian tradition, they’ve symbolized evil since life began. As you already know, all this stemmed from the time when the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. Since then, in many western cultures, some people have grown up thinking snakes are inherently bad.
However, this is not the case in other parts of the world. In other cultures, they venerate snakes. Take, for example, Mucalinda who guarded and protected Buddha during his enlightenment. In Hindusim, they revere snakes as they symbolize transformation and healing.
In Korea, there is an interesting folklore called, “Gimnyeongsagul.” It’s a good story to see how snakes are viewed in Korean culture.
The author sets the story near a vast cave called Baemgul on the island of Jeju. It’s a thing of legend, but also deep sadness.
Each year the locals offered a human sacrifice to the snake. The sacrifice had to be a maiden- a youthful woman who predominantly came from a lower social standing. Why did they pay with blood? Locals feared for their livelihood. If they missed the sacrificial offering, the snake would slither out and destroy the yearly crop yields. As a result, a great famine would ensure, which meant certain death for everyone.
Years passed, but it became came apparent to some that this deathly ritual had to end. Seo Ryeon, a respected Judge, felt like it was his duty to stop this senseless slaughter. He devised a plan. The plan involved sweets and a sword. He would butcher the serpent.
As the days rolled into months, Seo Ryeon had come up with an elaborate plan. He picked his day and prepared.
Seo and his comrades draped Korean delicacies, such as rice cakes and traditional teas across the opening of the cave. They then dangled a poor maiden as bait. This was it. The time had come.
With spears and swords at the ready, Seo and his fellow soldiers hid in the long grass and waited. As time ticked by, the serpent slowly emerged and slithered out to devour the drinks and sweets. He looked around and fixed his mesmerizing eyes on the maiden. With his mouth open wide, he snapped at the girl, but just before he took the bite, Seo Struck down with a tremendous blow.
The snake was dead.
A local Shaman emerged from behind Seo. He warned Seo and his soldiers that they must return to the security of Jeju fortress and never look back. The cohort galloped back to the vicinity of the castle, but just before one of Seo’s soldiers cried out in fear. The sky had now turned a blood red. Surely, the solider thought, the serpent was coming to take its revenge.
Seo looked back with a look of disbelief. He reached out and scorned his solider for telling lies. The serpent was dead; he exclaimed. He had felt the scales and bones crack with his mighty blow. His eyes, he thought, didn’t lie.
But to Seo’s amazement, the solider was telling the truth. Just as the Shaman had warned not to do, Seo did. He looked back.
In an instant, he and his comrades dropped dead. The snake had taken its revenge.
To this day, the legend has it that snakes are abundant on Jeju Island from the rain that crashed down that evening.
This story is a myth of legend, but what it shows is that snakes were feared in Korea.
What’s more, a little over 10 years ago in Korea, and maybe still now, it was considered healthy to consume snake in the summer. People believed enhanced one’s virility. Snake poaching and smuggling are now punishable under Korean law, so you are unlikely to see it on a restaurant menu. But I realise that Koreans still revere snake as a superfood as people believe it enhances one’s energy.
Snakes in Korea
With over 3,000 species across the world, one on every continent except a few countries like Ireland, these slithering reptiles are abundant.
In Korea, you can find over 20 species of snakes. I’ve stepped on one while I was hiking. Thankfully, it wasn’t a Mamushi pit viper-the most venomous snake in Korea.
Where to find snakes in Korea
If you are wild enough to go out looking for snakes, you can find them in abundance in the mountains that line Korea. You can also find them in swamps, rocky hillsides, meadows, and open woodland.
Snakes are cold-blooded so you are likely to find them under objects that are excellent conductors of heat such as logs and rocks.
Types of snakes in Korea
Viperidaes are the most poisonous snakes in Korea. Six species of this snake roam the Korean wilderness, including the Mamushi pit viper. This the most poisonous snake in Korea. The pit vipers venom is mostly made up of haemolytic toxins which cause the tissue to liquefy- potentially fatal. Although bites are very rare, it is still it’s good to know what it looks like so you can stay clear of this one. Look at the snake facts website for an accurate description.
The snakes that slither around in Korea usually belong to this species. For example, the Asian Keelback is plentiful in Jeju. Other snakes such as the beauty rat snake and the slender race snake also belong to this species. These snakes pose little danger, as their bite is non venomous. But there is one exception. The Asian Keelback. Like the pit viper, bites from this snake are poisonous but rare.
A few sea snakes belong to this specious such as the annulated sea snake. The snake is venomous but rarely attacks. It mainly feeds on various groups of fish.
Snake bites are very rare in Korea. Unless you go swimming in the tall grass or turn over every rock on a mountainside, you’re unlikely to encounter one. When I nearly stepped on one, it was because I had gone off the beaten path and started scrambling up a hillside.
If you have any pictures or stories of snakes you have seen or encountered in the Korean wilderness, please leave me a comment or email. I would love to share your story and add it to the post.