Many people have a fear or disgust of snakes, but why?
It’s scary not knowing where a potentially dangerous animal might be hiding.
All of a sudden you hear a rattling tail, or something slithers away faster than you can think!
When I bring up the idea of snakes in a conversation, the quick response is almost always a negative. My Mom used to think the same way until she decided to let go of her fears. So many people seem to have this common fear, yet only 2% to 3% actually have a true phobia, known as ophidiophobia (according to National Library of Medicine).
Studies have shown that babies and young children have a stronger reaction and awareness to snakes (when compared to animals like caterpillars and frogs), but do not show any signs of fear around them.
So it may be true that humans have developed awareness of certain animals during their evolution, but the only true fears that humans are born with is a fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. Any other fears are influenced by life experience, and, more often, the opinions of others.
From my observations, it seems that most females have learned to fear them, and most males have learned to kill them, yet in the cases I’ve seen they share that they used to hold snakes as children, without any fear or hatred, yet they couldn’t imagine doing it now.
Most people don’t intentionally teach others to fear or hate snakes, but children pay attention to the actions and comments of others and often carry that with them throughout life.
In the 13th century, when humans were beginning to classify animals and the study of herpetology (the study or reptiles and amphibians) was coming together, Vincent of Beauvais lumped reptiles, amphibians, and worms together, describing them as “monsters”. This idea of reptiles and amphibians as monsters continued for centuries, and the same ideas are still spreading. It was only in the 19th century that Latreille named the group of limbed amphibians batrachia, which separated reptiles and amphibians. This was the first step in caring about reptiles and amphibians separately, and for some disconnecting them from their title as monsters.
In my experience, most people don’t have any real reason to hate snakes. Most often those people have rarely encountered or had any experience with snakes. And it makes sense – why would someone be curious if they’ve already been told all they think they need to know? If history has already placed them as “monsters”, that’s enough to keep many away.
In other cases people do have a reason to fear them, like a negative experience as a child.
And often in these encounters the snakes are not at fault. Many traumatizing snake stories I’ve heard have involved humans harming snakes. And, under my observation, most reactions to snakes aren’t someone first thinking about the snake’s feelings. And yes more and more research is finding that reptiles, and even invertebrates can experience pain and have memory, dreams, and emotions.
It can be hard to reason with people that have no reason for their beliefs, other than to ask that they approach the world with a more open mind. It doesn’t mean you have to like snakes or any other animal. But before you use that fear as an excuse, a reason to harm or harass an animal, or even as a connecting point with others, simply be curious. Try to find the root cause of your fear (if any) and research the science behind it.
If the fear is that the snake might bite, you, you can easily learn that snakes will avoid biting as much as possible, often putting on elaborate defense displays. Even venomous snakes don’t want to waste their venom on something they couldn’t eat; they will only bite if they feel like there is no other choice. 50% of venomous snakes bites are “dry bites” where the snake doesn’t release any venom. (According to National Library of Medicine)
If you really look into it, most snakes aren’t dangerous. There are 3,971 snake species in the world known today. Out of that, there are only 600 snakes that are considered venomous, and out of that, only 200 species are considered potentially harmful to humans.
In the United States, there are 30 species of venomous snakes. There are no venomous snakes in Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Maine.
Unfortunately, like so many animals, snakes are in danger of habitat loss, which forces them to find safety in areas populated by humans, where they are often killed by misidentification. Some people think it’s okay to kill a snake because they may be venomous and potentially harmful. However, this does not actually do much of anything to keep you safe. In fact, you are more likely to be harmed by a snake if you try to kill it than if you never knew it was there. It is estimated that people only see 1% of snakes they may encounter (this study was done with multiple pythons in an enclosure, so it could be even less), and so if you see a venomous snake and let it be, the chance of you ever seeing it again is slim The only difference is that you know it might be there. And whether you are aware of it or not, there are going to be snakes. And when a snake sees a potential predator (like you), they are going to be focused on surviving, meaning they do not want to be seen or caught. The worst thing a snake could do when trying to survive a predator is attack it.
The symbolism of a snake’s ability to shed its skin can be a great reminder to let go of the past in order to grow into the future.
So be like a snake and shed your fears.
National Library of Medicine