Snakes in McDonald's Ball Pit: Is Playland Deadly?

Posted on 12 Sep 2014 14:11

Beginning around 1993, there began an email, and a grapevine rumor, that a child had been playing in the ball pit at a McDonald's Playland, and had been bitten by a poisonous snake that had taken up residence among the balls. Sometimes, the ball pit was said to be at a play area at a Burger King restaurant. Carl's Jr. has also been cited as the location.

Ball pits are large bins filled with many colored plastic balls. Kids can jump into the pits and frolic among the balls. It is a favorite area at any kid play oriented establishment. If you're a parent who's taken their children to Chuck E Cheese, McDonald's Playland, or any number of play areas, you'll know that once they go in, it can be very difficult to get them to come out! As soon as kid's see all those colorful balls, they make a bee-line. Imagine if there were poisonous snakes or other dangers lurking in those innocent looking pits of fun?

Another version of this rumor said that a child was not bitten by a snake, but by a hypodermic syringe that had been discarded into the ball pit. Those syringes were claimed to be used drug syringes that had been thrown into the ball pit by people shooting up, it would seem, in the play area. Again, there is no record of this ever happening. A couple of different email versions of this needle story have been circulated, with the location being in Sugarland or Midland Texas. An email from a supposed parent in Sugarland claimed his son, Kevin Archer, after playing in a McDonald's ball pit, developed a welt on his buttocks, and indicated that part of a needle (something like a splinter) must have been there and that the son later died of a heroin overdose.

So, is this true? Was a child ever bitten by a snake in the ball pit of a McDonald's Playland or at a Burger King? Reports of McDonald's ball pit deaths, or any other ball pit related deaths, are a modern myth. It is certainly hard for parents to ignore such tales. We worry about our kids. So an email or article like one of these below would make even the most sensible parent at least a bit concerned:

Subject: You should know this!!

This is a true story…

About a week or so ago, a mother took her eager 3-year-old son to Burger King for lunch. After they ate their lunch the mother said that the son could go and play on the playground for awhile since he ate all his lunch.

She watched as the boy played in the tunnels, slide and in the ball-pit. The boy played for about 10 minutes when he started to whimper slightly.

The mother asks the boy what had happened and he merely replied, "Hurt mommy." The mother assumed that the little boy had banged his elbow or something while playing.

They left to return home. A half an hour after they were home, the mother noticed some big red welts on the little boys arms and legs. Not being able to figure out what they were, the mother started to look at them closer. Could be red ant bites…she did not know.

An hour later, the little boy died. Come to find out, when returning to Burger King to see if there were red ants in the play area, in case the little boy had an allergic reaction. Burger King employees and herself discovered that there was a family of baby rattlesnakes living underneath the balls in the ball-pit area. She has since found out that this happens more frequently than not. The snakes will crawl into the ball pit because it is dark and warm in there. She knows for a fact that another death has occurred because of this in South Carolina. Please use caution when letting any children play in an outside play area of a fast food restaurant, this could happen anywhere. Burger Kings are now building their play areas inside the buildings for a safer environment.



McDonalds, Chuck E Cheese, Discovery Zone… All places with ball pits in the children's play area. One of my sons lost his watch, and was very upset. We dug and dug in those balls, trying to find his watch. Instead, we found vomit, food, feces, and other stuff I do not want to discuss. I went to the manager and raised hell. Come to find out, the ball pit is only cleaned out once a month. I have doubts that it is even done that often. My kids will never play in another ball pit. Some of you might not be parents, but you may have nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or friends with children. This will pertain to you too. As I read the following, my heart sank. I urge each and every one of you to pass this on to as many people as you can. I cannot stress how important this is!

Hi. My name is Lauren Archer, my son is Kevin.

On October 2nd, 1999 I took my only son to McDonald's for his 3rd birthday. After he finished lunch, I allowed him to play in the ball pit. When he started whining later on, I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to the back of his pull-up and simply said "Mommy, it hurts." I couldn't find anything wrong with him at that time. I bathed him when we got home, and it was at that point when I found a welt on his left buttock. Upon investigating, it seemed as if there was something like a splinter under the welt. I made an appointment to see the doctor the next day, but soon he started vomiting and shaking, then his eyes rolled back into his head. From there, we went to the emergency room. He died later that night. It turned out that the welt on his buttock was the tip of a hypodermic needle that had broken off inside. The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from a heroin overdose. The next week, the police removed the balls from the ball pit. There was rotten food, several hypodermic needles: some full, some used; knives, half-eaten candy, diapers, feces, and the stench of urine.

(You can find the article on Kevin Archer in the October 10,1999 issue of the Houston Chronicle.)

Don't think it's just McDonald's either. A little boy had been playing in a ball pit @ a Burger King & started complaining of his legs hurting. He later died too. He was found to have snake bites all over his legs & buttocks. When they cleaned the ball pit they found that there was a copperhead's nest in the ball pit. He had suffered numerous bites from a very poisonous snake. Repost this if it scares the crap out of you!! Repost this if you care about kids!! Please forward this to all loving mothers, fathers and anyone who loves and cares for children!! What has this world come to?? If a child is not safe in a child's play area then where??


In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles, so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIV positive. Instead of posting that stupid crap about how your love life will suck for years to come of you don't re-post, post this. It's important to inform people, even if you don't drive, a family member might, and what if they were next?

A second read reveals the problem with the first one. Like most such hoaxes, it just goes too far. We are supposed to believe that not only did this happen, but that it is a common occurrence. If it were, you would have seen it on 20/20 or some other investigative report, not to mention have read about it in many newspaper articles, both in print and on the web. And somebody would have been sued by now!

toddler playing in ball pit

The only thing that loves a ball pit more than a child is a snake!
Just Kidding.

Image by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimediaImage Credit

toddler playing in ball pit

The only thing that loves a ball pit more than a child is a snake!
Just Kidding.

Image by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0 via wikimediaImage Credit

As for the second version, poor Lauren Archer and poor Kevin! Now, the first part of it is perfectly plausible and I have no trouble believing that a parent could have found such things in a ball pit. However, this is just a more detailed version of the first, naming names, adding information, and even bringing in the snake story. Although such detailed information would seem to lend credence, notice the air of desperation. Not only was a 3 year old child killed but it gets worse! And not only that but…HIV! Snakes and hypodermic needles in ball pits isn't enough to scare us, it seems, we need needles infected with HIV hidden under gas pumps too. Another version of the email has the story being reported in the Midland Chronicle.

No, there is absolutely no record of such an incident. Nor are there any records of snakes having been spotted in ball pits. Ball pits, as I've indicated, get a lot of action. A lot of rambunctious, agitating, noisy, and joyous action. It is extremely unlikely that a snake would want to hang out in one. They don't like to be around people, especially nosily frolicking people. Even Playland itself would not be very inviting to a snake. The ball pit, as well, would likely be cold, and somewhat damp, both things that snakes do not like. I suppose it is possible that a snake could wander/slither its way in to a ball pit, and then not be able to find its way back out, but there is no reason to think this a favorite snake destination, and no evidence to support it ever happening. But other things besides snakes could in among those balls.

Some of the rumors, centered in Midland, as I mentioned, cite a newspaper called the Midland Chronicle or Midrand Chronicle, neither of which exist, nor have any such stories ever appeared in the Houston Chronicle. Both the Houston Chronicle and the Midland Reporter-Telegram continued to receive inquiries about this story and both reported that it was a hoax and that no such death had ever occurred.3,4 Sure it is possible for hypodermic syringes to end up in a ball pit, although I, personally, have found no documented reference to such ever being found.

Still, with all those kids jumping in and out of ball pits every day, and as well, with irresponsible adults, at times, accompanying those kids, there are bound to be others things in ball pits that could be dangerous. Obvious dangers would be koodies. Of course, if you get koodies, you may need a koodie shot, which involves no stabby needles, thankfully.

Kids can be little germ factories. Bacterial contamination, and to some extent, viral contamination could cause a child visiting a ball pit to become sick. Do you think that McDonald's and Burger King routinely cleans those ball pits? This would entail cleaning and disinfecting the hundreds and hundreds of balls, not to mention cleaning the walls and bottom of the pit itself. If this happens, how often does it happen? How often are the balls replaced, or partially replaced? It is not a stretch to imagine that ball pits really are nasty places. And dangerous things have been found in them.

Kids pea in ball pits. Of course they do. They urinate in swimming pools as well. So, yes, expect that some or a lot of those balls, and the pit itself, will be coated with some urine. Where there is urine, there is sometimes feces. Yes, shit happens in ball pits. Sometimes in the form of discarded diapers. Sometimes outside of the diapers. Sharp pointy things are bound to show up, like eating utensils and other items. That could be quite dangerous for the kids jumping in and dancing about. Ball pits are not entirely benign places, by an means. While, perhaps, we do not need to be paranoid about letting our kids play in these pits, we are right to be cautious. It is recommended to have your child wash his hands, arms, and face after exiting a ball pit.

It seems that the ball pit stories are just updated versions of urban legends long associated with places that children go to have fun that we assume are safe. Carnivals used to be the usual location, and there have been rumors of snakes in the a merry-go-round, etc. Basically, a child goes on a ride, gets a bite or a sting, and then later dies. When water slides started appearing, there began a rumor of razor blades in the slide. Can you imagine? I can still remember those legends from when I was a child.

Burger King, in a statement dated October 23, 1998, vehemently denied any such incident having occurred at any of their restaurants, and stated that they would "vigorously pursue any and all remedies available to us against the originator(s) to the fullest extent allowed by law." Besides, Burger King, McDonald's, and Carls, Jr., Chuck E Cheeses, and Discovery Zone have been mentioned in similar legends.

1. Brunvand, Jan Harold. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Updated and Expanded Edition. Sanata Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
2. Genge, Ngaire. Urban Legends: The As-complete-as-one-could-be Guide to Modern Myths. New York: Three Rivers, 2000.
3. Emery, David. The Needle in the Ball Pit." Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <>.
4. Emery, David. "Snakes in the Ball Pit." Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <>.
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