Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Snakes...Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

Marina used to be afraid of snakes. Terrified. When she was two and we took nature walks, I had to carry her over tree roots that jutted out of the ground because they looked like snakes to her. A trip inside the Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo often meant leading her past the snake exhibits as she kept her eyes tightly shut. She was that scared. Over the years, as she's learned more about them, she is much better. You might say she has a healthy respect for them.

What is it about snakes that strikes such terror in our hearts? So much legend, folklore, and mythology revolves around this legless reptile: the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the hideous gorgon Medusa, the python of Delphi, the story of the girl who warmed the viper in her coat, Quetzalcoatl, Ishtar, Cleopatra's asp. The world over, snakes have developed a reputation for cold hearted power, danger, and evil.

But are snakes evil? Granted, many people have died of snakebites. There have even been cases of people getting trapped in the coils of a constrictor. Let me consider the venomous snakes first. The poisonous snakes use their venom to catch their food and to defend themselves. I accept that a snake needs to eat, and since it has no arms, it must eat as if it were in one of those pie-eating contests. Not pretty to watch, but necessary for survival. Now suppose you are a creature with a lot of tail. What would your first concern be? Living with cats, I've found that cats who keep their tails curled close to their bodies when they sit or sleep have been stepped on less than the cats that allow their tails to splay out straight behind them. I used to have a garter snake when I was a kid. I loved watching it coil itself up. They are so good at squeezing themselves into small places. It occurs to me, that like the cat, snakes try to avoid being stepped on. If a clumsy animal were to step on them, it could do a lot of damage to the snake. The snake bites out of fear of getting squished. If you think about it, most snakes attack people because they are afraid of us! We are bigger than them, we could hurt or kill them if we wanted to. The snake bites because it can't say, "Hey! Watch where you're going you big clumsy oaf!"

Pythons and constrictors are a different matter. Many times, people assume that because they feed the snake, it is their friend. They get lax about taking precautions around these dangerous creatures. In the story of the girl and the viper, she learns the hard way that it is the nature of the snake to bite. It does not understand friendship or promises. It doesn't think like a man, and it is foolish to imagine it does. All creatures deserve respect. Some demand it.

Snakes are beautiful creatures. Their patterns and colors have inspired the art of many cultures. They help control the population of many creatures that are considered pests, like mice and rats. And when they are around, we must remember to step carefully and be aware of them. What a wonderful gift they give us! We must be present minded and aware of our surroundings, because other creatures share this world with us.

Jungle World snake
And so, the next chapter in our series, "You can learn a lot by watching animals:"
Watch your step!


Mom said...

Add to snakes of legend: the symbol of the Slytherins and "he who must not be named"!

Anonymous said...

LOL!!! Did I ever tell you the story of how my spouse keeps a hunting knife on top of our fridge just in case our largest constrictor gets a death grip? He used to keep it (and may still at times) in his back pocket while working with this large snake. One day, I freaked out because the snake had wrapped his tail around the handle of the knife, had removed it from my spouse's pocket and was weilding it at him in a threatening manor!

Turns out the snake had no ill will in mind as regards to using the knife. Just a balancing mechanism...wish I had the fore though to have gotten a picture but not something I'd ask him to pose for lol... You are SO right in 'people assume that because they feed the snake, it is their friend'.

Snakes don't have that type of thinking! Touch a mouse then handle them without washing, you WILL get bite!

Vicki ~ the reluctant snake charmer

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