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Archive for July, 2008

Ophidiophobia

July 12th, 2008

In case you’re new to that term, it means the fear of snakes. A learned, conditioned and entirely unnecessary phobia that tends to cause collisions with stationary objects.

We’re not born with this fear (like the fear of falling, for instance) because statistically we don’t need it, especially in modern times. In the US, the vast majority of our snakes aren’t venomous, and we are roughly 300% more likely to die of insect bite. Dogs and horses (don’t get me wrong, I love both) hurt or kill far more humans. Four times more people die of lightning strike than of snake bite. Here in Dallas, that’s mostly at golf tournaments.

As I mentioned in the previous post, even a venomous snake doesn’t want to use the venom in self defense. That’s not what it is primarily for. Indeed, it appears to be a very sophisticated concoction of digestive enzymes and complex peptides for which medical science is beginning to find all sorts of life saving uses. Kill off all the venomous snakes, and mankind suffers in several ways.

“The only good snake is a dead snake.” How many times I’ve heard that phrase of fear and ignorance I cannot begin to enumerate. My life’s work is, in part, to erase it from the vernacular of as many locations as I can. Time and again nature has proven that we need all of the food chain, even (if not especially) the parts we humans don’t care to eat.

I’ve met grown men, (big ones, most of them) who are afraid of almost nothing – except snakes. Men who could rescue you from burning buildings, raging floods, maybe even a hail of bullets – but will run screaming like a panicked 6 year old (and you’d better not be in the way) when they see a snake – any snake.

This is not that hard to understand in most cases. That big macho man was once a little boy, and some grownup that he looked up to be Superman probably saw a snake and remembered the time his own boyhood Superman had completely freaked when he saw a snake. Think about it. To a little kid, only life’s very scariest things could be capable of scaring Superman. Add a few formative years of hearing myths and misinformation, throw in a completely inaccurate B movie or two, and you’ve got a bona fide phobia. A debilitating, mind clouding, make really bad decisions every time it surfaces phobia.

There are exceptions, of course, like having cruel older siblings or their cohorts tossing snakes at you or stuffing them down a shirt. Then there are anglers who, armed with incorrect colloquial knowledge about water moccasins, have been known to abandon their boats in a crazed attempt at escape from what they believe to be active, cognizant and vicious pursuit. Military personnel who have seen active duty in far flung climates that harbor far more deadly (and prolific) snakes than we stateside types see here in the US have also obtained this phobia later in life – yet this mindset is still always better overcome than embraced. Indeed, many ophidiophobics wear the fear like a badge of honor, and seem to be almost proud of the great danger they know that anyone too close to them would be in the event of an actual snake encounter.

That snakes have no limbs does make them seem more alien perhaps (that, and a bit of bad press early on) but there is no slime layer as there will often be with amphibians and fish (many snakes are very shiny, so they can sometimes appear slimy) and only the head can do any damage to a human unless the body is so large (like native constrictors here in the US do NOT grow to be – escaped pythons in the Everglades notwithstanding) that squeezing is an issue – if you’re silly enough to wrap one you aren’t familiar with around your neck. The bite (or squeeze) of even the largest non-venomous snake in America is really no big deal.

A hard core phobic would say, “Maybe not, but I’d die of a heart attack.” Exactly my point – of the extreme disadvantage of allowing an intense and irrational learned fear to continue unabated. The cure for an acquired phobia is always knowledge – especially if you can impart it with a generous helping of humor. In large part, that’s what my show is all about. Faced with the facts, rather than all those silly myths that keep hanging on somehow, plus the genuine realization that a particular animal is not only beautiful but gentle, graceful and extremely well adapted to its place in the ecosystem – the fear melts like ice on a warm day.

So if you suffer from this type of phobia, try to catch my show sometime. If that’s not practical, start with a cute stuffed fuzzy snake and work your way up to a more realistic Taiwanese Vinyl Snake, and finally visit a zoo or nature center where a docent can let you take all the time you need to work up the nerve to reach out and touch a little Ball Python or Corn snake. Both are great with petrified people, and will enchant and amaze you if you’ll give them the chance.

I Specialize in The Truly Petrified…