Copacetic with Snakes

Why are so many people afraid of a creature that’s no taller than their ankle, slower than a squirrel and as docile as a mouse? Research has shown that humans are born with an innate fear of snakes, part of an evolutionary process that helped us avoid danger. 

Showing concern for snakes is one thing. Fearing them, even hating them to the point that we kill every one we see on sight, is another.

Some snakes are venomous, and if you aren’t careful, they can bite you. In many cases, though, snake bite victims are directly responsible for their injuries. Usually a snake bite involves intentionally or unintentionally disturbing a venomous snake.

It takes a lot of poking to get bit, though. University of Georgia herpetologist Whit Gibbons conducted a study that aimed to find out just how aggressive cottonmouths really are. He and fellow researchers used a series of tests to see how much provocation it takes for the venomous snakes to actually bite.

First, they stood within a few feet of 48 cottonmouths. None of the snakes struck and more than a third fled. Next, Gibbons actually nudged snakes with a protected foot and leg and then stepped on them. Of the 30 stepped on, only one bit. He then used a prosthetic hand to pick the snakes up. Twelve bit the hand, but most bites did not inject venom. 

Although non-venomous snakes, like black rat snakes, bull snakes and various water snakes, will inflict a nasty bite, they would much rather be left alone. Every snake would prefer to slither away without harming you. That’s why the best way to live with snakes is to simply leave them alone.

Letting snakes live not only benefits the snake itself, it’s good for the ecosystem. Just as hawks, rats, bees and skunks have a role in nature, so do snakes. Snakes are a major predator of small mammals and lizards and serve as a great indicator on ecosystem health.

Of course, venomous snakes found around your home do pose a direct and immediate threat to your family and pets. Remove those if you must, but don’t worry about the ones that won’t harm you. They just want to be left alone, too.

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