April 18, 2013
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.
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?
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
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.
Thanks for stopping by, and as always, I’d love to hear your comments.
I know there are a lot of you out there who don’t like snakes, but tell me why.