Living With Animals: Snakes On The Brain

Ken White, Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA

August 18, 2017
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Opehidiophobia. Readers will recognize the end of that word means “fear of”; opehidiophobia is fear of snakes. I just returned from a glorious week in Tahoe where, yes, snakes live and thrive (along with thousands of other remarkable plants and animals: I mean, how lucky are we to be this close to paradise?) and fear of snakes was more than once a conversation topic.

Look, I’m not one to make fun of groundless and all-encompassing anxieties. My own fear of clowns left me unable to sleep through the night after my mom, unaware of my angst, hung a truly hideous (in several ways) black velvet portrait of Bozo on my bedroom wall. But let’s consider the facts, shall we?

How many people are killed and eaten by giant pythons and boas each year? My Internet search yields an answer of 1, perhaps 2, over all time. Not per year. Per forever. Six people died of rattlesnake bite in 2015, 4 in 2014. Meanwhile 6,000 is the low estimate of people killed worldwide annually by lightening, and 650 U.S. citizens die annually related to a fall involving a bed, chair or other piece of furniture. Clearly we have far more to fear from the skies and our coffee tables than we do from snakes.  

Almost all snakes are completely harmless to humans, but the theory is that our early ancestors developed a truly healthy fear long before shoes, indoor plumbing and anti-venom made safe neighbors of even the few truly dangerous species. Today, snakes are critically important to our lives. Most snakes thrive on rodents. Less rats and mice might not only sound good aesthetically but also saves billions of dollars in agricultural and other property damage, in addition to cutting down on transmission of Lyme disease and other serious illnesses which require rodents, or rodent-borne parasites, as part of their own life cycle. (On the other hand, coulrophobia or fear of clowns is completely reasonable.)