| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Snakes are like the Rodney Dangerfield of the animal kingdom — they don’t get no respect.
Sure, you probably know people who don’t mind snakes, or even love them. But it’s certainly not hard to find people who would scream at the sight of one (this author included) or avoid them at all costs. Snakes are among the most feared and despised creatures on Earth.
Suzy Lyttle, an interpretive naturalist at the Forest Preserve District’s Plum Creek Nature Center, said she frequently asks visitors why they are afraid of snakes. Oftentimes, the answer is that they don’t know why, they just don’t like them. She has some theories, though, as to why so many people seem to dislike snakes. To start, snakes throughout history has been depicted negatively in literature as well as cultural and religious stories. And fear can be a learned behavior, Lyttle said, so parents who are afraid of snakes may unintentionally or unknowingly pass that fear onto their children.
And because some snakes are venomous and dangerous to humans — although none that live in Will County — the fear may be human nature. “Humans have natural fight or flight instincts when it comes to things that could be dangerous to us,” Lyttle said.
Finally, snakes are so unlike humans that they may just be too difficult for some of us to relate to.
“Snakes can’t blink, have no arms, no legs and nothing fluffy,” she said. “I think humans do better when they can relate to an animal, and snakes at first glance can be hard to relate to.”
Whatever the reasons, the negative connotations and attitudes about snakes make it more difficult to advocate for their protection and conservation, according to Advocates for Snake Preservation. It’s harder to garner support for animals that aren’t cute and cuddly or widely celebrated or at least understood.
And snakes sometimes pay the ultimate price for the negative attitudes and perceptions about them, Lyttle said.
“The really unfortunate thing is that we still see snakes that get killed just for being a snake,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking to me that this happens.”
So, with that in mind, it’s time to flip the narrative on snakes. Instead of dwelling on the negative connotations, let’s focus on the positive.