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