April 18, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

Giacomo & Slick

Giacomo & Slick

What Are You Afraid Of?

I was reading a thriller book a while back and there were a few scenes dealing with snakes that made my skin crawl. No, not in the creepy crawly way you’re thinking of, but in shock that a writer would put such nonsense in a book. All it would have taken was a little research, or a brief conversation with a herpetologist, or anyone knowledgeable about snakes, to get it right. I understand why the author did it. Snakes are a popular target, meaning a huge percentage of potential readers will be afraid of them, which makes it easy to get the emotional juices flowing. It’s sort of like having your villain kick a puppy or a kitten. But is it fair to perpetuate these myths?

Myths and Misinformation

Where does this fear of snakes come from?

Babies are naturally born with two fears: A fear of falling, and a fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned by association and identification. Kids learn fear by parents or guardians continually telling them to “be careful,” or “watch out.” Or by the ubiquitous “don’t touch that!”

Some fear is by circumstance—you’re young and fall off a wall or out of a tree. You develop a fear of heights. That’s natural. Or a dog bites you and you develop a fear of dogs.

So I ask the question again—where does our fear of snakes come from?

Few people have ever been bitten by snakes, let alone venomous ones. Even the people who claim to have been bitten, were more than likely struck at but not bitten. In the rare cases where a bite occurs, it’s highly unlikely skin was broken. And of the very few that are bitten (see chart below) it is almost always because they were trying to kill or catch the snake.

It is embarrassing how little most people know about snakes. Almost everyone who describes a snake exaggerates the size of it, and most claim every snake is “poisonous.” (Technically, there are no poisonous snakes; snakes are venomous. Poisonous means the toxin is transferred by touch or eating, such as poisonous plants, bugs, certain frogs…venomous means the toxin is injected through a sting or a bite, such as spiders, wasps, or snakes.)

Snakes are never out to get you. They don’t see a human and decide to attack. Snakes mind their own business and like nothing more than to be left alone.

Snakes Are Not Your Enemy

We relocate venomous snakes from our sanctuary to a spot deep in the woods, miles away. We do it more for the animals than us. Almost all snake bites occur because people are trying to catch them or kill them.



My wife, Mikki, loves working in the garden. She’ll spend hours out there on a nice day. On one of those days, I walked by and noticed a copperhead was tucked under a bush not two feet from her. “Babe,” I said, “There’s a copperhead next to you, so stand up slowly and move away.”

She reacted calmly, as she always does, and then we put the snake in a bucket and took him to the woods. At any time during the few hours she was there, that snake could have sneaked over and bitten her, but it didn’t. It was more than likely terrified that she was going to hurt it. We find them in the garden all the time. We have relocated 27 copperheads so far and another half a dozen water moccasins, and one coral snake. In all this time, I’ve only had one even try to bite me. They usually don’t bother the animals either.

The pigs don’t have a problem, but the dogs do. We’ve had four dogs bitten by copperheads, but it’s because they were trying to kill the snakes, not because the snakes suddenly decided… Hmm. Let’s see. I’m 18 inches long. I weigh about 15 ounces. I can move 4-5 mph, and I can strike out an amazing 6-9 inches from where I’m positioned. Based on that, I think I’ll attack that 177 pound Great Dane. I’ll show her who’s boss.

The result was that Brie, the Great Dane, was bitten, but she shook the snake to death. I’m sure it wasn’t what the copperhead had in mind. In fact, I’m fairly certain that poor copperhead was probably just trying to make his way to the garden for a quick snack of frog or toad.

Garter snake after eating frog

Garter Snake

Tony with Texas Rat

As far as the rest of the snakes—the non-venomous ones—we let them alone. We have had a huge garter snake living in our garden for seven years, and we have several rat snakes that frequent the barn, keeping the rats under control.


Most people’s first reaction upon seeing a snake is to kill it! That’s a reaction born in fear. Why are you afraid of snakes? Have you been bitten by one? Did it hurt you?

People like to tell lies about encounters with snakes. As I mentioned above, they almost always exaggerate the size of the snake, and, it seems as if every other story is that of a “poisonous” snake. The facts simply don’t support that. Few people, in their entire lives, ever see a venomous snake outside of a zoo. And if someone tells you they saw a five foot snake, you can safely assume it was about half that. And if they say they were bitten, I wouldn’t believe them unless I saw the marks. The real facts are that snakes seldom harm anyone. And as I said earlier, you have to be trying hard to get bit by a snake, or trying to harm it.

Here are some facts on snakes…..

Only one in 50 million people will die from snakebites in the US. (5-6 fatalities per year). You are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning or stung by a bee. The graph below compares deaths from venomous snakebites to some leading causes of death, lightning strikes and other animal related deaths. Source: http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/venomous_snake_faqs.shtml


Fatality statistics

Bottom Line

The next time you see a snake, fight that urge to kill it. Walk away from it. Leave it alone. It will be thrilled, and after a moment or so, it will uncoil and wander off. If you’re really afraid, find someone to help you relocate it. We humans can’t keep killing all of our animals. It’s just not right.

I went off on a tangent here, but the whole thing started with writers. So my point was this, if you’re a writer, try to get the facts straight, especially when you’re dealing with animals. We don’t need more people hating snakes and wolves than we have already.

 The pictures below are of a few of the snakes we’ve got on our sanctuary, and those are my grandsons learning that snakes don’t hurt you. The next one is our “pet” garter snake, just after eating a frog. (see the bulge in the belly) And the final pic is one of a snake who surprised me one day when I went to my office. He/she was peeking out of my door jamb. He stayed there for two days, popping in and out, then left.
Joey and Dante with snake

Joey & Dante

Dante with snake

Dante with snake

Garter snake after eating frog

Garter snake

Snake in doorjamb

Snake in doorjamb







yellow-bellied water snake

yellow-bellied water snake

mud snake

mud snake

Buttermilk Racer

Buttermilk Racer








Thanks for stopping by, and as always, I’d love to hear your comments.






Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of MURDER TAKES TIME, MURDER HAS CONSEQUENCES, and A BULLET FOR CARLOS. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

I know there are a lot of you out there who don’t like snakes, but tell me why.



2 Responses to “What Are You Afraid Of?”

  1. I am not a fan of snakes. I don’t go out of my way to hurt them, but if they venture into my house (one did when I had indoor chicks) or act aggressively toward the dogs, they’re history.

    Now Greg, who grew up handling them will relocate them when he’s here. But if I’m by myself…it all depends how big it is or how far I have to move it.

    Oddly enough, I’m more forgiving of spiders even though I’ve had some pretty bad bites–the worst from a brown recluse.

    The only creature who gets an instant death sentence from me is the scorpion. No appeal and no mercy.

  2. Somehow I knew you’d chime in on these sweet little babies! HaHa.

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