I’m sure my intense fear of snakes stems from an encounter with a huge snake when I was around 5 years old.
We lived near a rice field in the province of Bulacan (Luzon island in the Philippines).
While I was in the outhouse (an outdoor bathroom) by myself, the snake crept inside through the gap between the bamboo door and the dirt floor.
I froze in fear, and then let out the loudest scream I could summon. Shortly after, I heard my mother running towards me and then right outside the outhouse door.
I was too frightened to move and unhinge the door, so my mother had to break the door to get to me — and not so easy to do as she was in the late stage of being pregnant with my brother.
Perhaps because of my screaming, or maybe it was really interested or following something else, the snake was gone by the time my mother got through the door.
Since venomous sakes — including the Philippine spitting cobra, one of the most venomous snakes in the world — often hunt for rodents in rice fields near where we lived, a group of neighbors, with their machetes firmly in hand, formed a line at the rice fields behind the outhouse to look for the snake. I can’t remember if they caught it.
Many decades later…I am (understandably!) still afraid of snakes. I am not fearful of spiders, or bees or most bugs really…but when I think of snakes and sharks...the feeling of fear is immediate.
And it turns out that even people without a conscious fear of snakes are wired to react fearfully to snakes because snakes were among the earliest threats and predators to human beings.
A few days ago, my 9-year-old grandson Jun found a 2 1/2 foot long snake skin in the backyard. Fascinated, he was holding it stretched above his head when he came over to show me his find.
And this morning, as I was coming from the driveway, here is what I encountered…
I now know that snakes are important to our ecosystem...so instead of running away and screaming, I grabbed my camera and took a photo (thank you zoom lens) so I could learn more about this snake living near our home.
A visit to the California Herps website’s picture gallery made it easy to identify the snake.
It is a Pacific Gopher snake and harmless to human beings. It is found in a wide range in the state of California, as shown in red shade on the map at left.
Because gopher snakes are sometimes mistaken for more dangerous rattlesnakes, they are killed unnecessarily.
The California Herps website notes:
It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes as shown in these signs.
Unless you have experience handling venomous snakes, you should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.
Here are some interesting snake facts:
- Snakes are found in every continent except Antarctica (see Life is short, but snakes are long blog post on the most widespread snakes in the world)
- Most snake bites occur in agricultural and tropical regions
- There are 3,000 known species of snakes — of which, only 15% are considered as dangerous to people.
- Most snake related deaths occur in South Asia, with India reporting the most deaths of any country (this would make sense though, as India is the most populous country in South Asia).
- Worldwide, snake bites are most common during the summer when people are outdoors and when snakes are most active
In the USA from the wanderingherpetologist.com…
- There are more casualties in the United States due to car accidents (37,594), lightning strikes (54), and dog attacks (21) each year than from venomous snakebites (5).
- Approximately 7,000-8,000 people are envenomated each year in the United States but there is only an average of 5 casualties
- In Texas alone, there were more casualties in 2005 from drowning (308), firearms/hunting (79), and venomous arthropods (16) than venomous snakebites.
- CaliforniaHerps.com– a guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California is a super website with loads of information, pictures and useful links. Visit the page on what kind of reptiles and amphibians might live near your home and how to encourage them to stay there, by clicking here.
I am less fearful of snakes since I learned that most snakes are NOT dangerous to humans, and that most snake bites to humans are caused by snakes that are NOT venomous.
Remember though, unless you are a snake expert, it is best to leave lots of room between you and any snake you may encounter…and don’t kill snakes!
Further reading and resources:
- Ecology of Snake Sheds (from the blog Life is short, but snakes are long)
- California Herps – A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California and specific page on Pacific Gopher Snake (Pitophis catenifer catenifer)
- Patrick Briggs’ website for gopher snakes, pine snakes and bull snakes
- Why We Are Afraid of Snakes (research report brief from The Wall Street Journal)
Related post about animals (and endangered animals) from Lola Jane (click on photo to link to article)
…It is comforting to know the little frogs survive in our backyard, despite the large presence of big business agriculture in our county (Monterey is the only county in the United States with more than 1 BILLION in annual vegetable sales).
Photo by Austin Don Perez for Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula, via post by Iloed.C at www.skyscrapercity.com
On the critically endangered and magnificent Philippine eagle (Photograph by Klaus Nigge – www.nigge.com) ...the Philippine Eagle, pithecophaga jefferyi – and referred to as “haring ibon” or king bird. It is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world. In 1995, it was designated as the national bird as well as an official symbol of the Philippines.
Post about Sharks!
The photo is of a 4,000 lb shark tagged in Santa Cruz, California and caught by accident in the Sea of Cortez area, Mexico. Photo Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, contributed by Sean VanSommeran.