Popular (?) sentiments regarding snakes; teaching moment

Yesterday night coming back from my run I saw a family on their driveway crowded around a snake they had found, wondering how it got there and what they were going to do about it. I walked up to see and it was a DeKay’s brown snake, barely seven inches long. So I picked it up and spent about ten minutes holding it and explaining how it wasn’t a baby snake (they thought a bigger snake had a nest on their property) but rather an average size for the species, how to tell nonvenomous from venomous snakes, the evolutionary origin of the fear of snakes, and that snakes typically strike as a last resort, opting instead to lie low or hide at the presence of danger.

They were grateful and interested in what I had to say, but they still asked me to move it off their lawn. I proposed to keep it around as it would hunt slugs and stuff like that, but they weren’t comfortable with it less than three lawns down the road. Neither did they want to take a closer look at it, as all three said they were afraid of snakes. I didn’t want to argue so I just left it at that and promised to move it well away from their house.

In the middle of this exchange, one of them asked how I knew so much and I said, “It’s an interest of mine, and it’s good to know your snakes just in case you see one in the middle of the woods or something. It’s a old cliché, but knowledge is power.” And one of them said this: “I understand that, but I’m just not interested enough to learn all that.”

In response to this my mouth said “I understand,” but my mind said, “Why would you not want to at the very least try and build some knowledge about your fear?” Snakes aren’t an everyday thing where I live; in fact seeing one is a very uncommon occurrence. But still, if something struck that much of a response in you, wouldn’t you want to at least try and understand it? As I was walking away with the snake, I wondered if anything I said left an impact. If they truly were as uninterested in learning about snakes as I was led on to believe, then does that mean they went back to having this ignorant blanket view of snakes the moment I left? Thinking about it now kinda depresses me.

I get that I’m just one guy they talked to for ten minutes, but everything I do regarding nature and animals I always try and make into an impactful teaching moment because stuff like that is important in my opinion. We as people need to respect nature and our environment naturally, but there’s also so much good in branching the gap between humans and animals and making them seem tangible, relatable, knowable. God bless presenters like Steve Irwin, Jeremy Wade, and Coyote Peterson who do this stuff for a living, but television screens and books can only go so far in my view. There’s nothing more substantive than organic interactions in the real world, where all the senses are engaged and animals can enter in and out of your reality at whim.

If you made it past this paragraph dump, thank you very much. Anyone else have thoughts about this, or experiences like this?

38 Likes

I’ve had similar experiences with animals including snakes. Either the person has a genuine curiosity about something they know nothing about or they don’t. Or perhaps their fear gets in the way. You can’t necessarily fix that.

I might feel the same as your neighbors if someone tried to educate me about, say, the fashion industry or some video game I’d never heard of. Fear wouldn’t be a factor but my eyes would surely glaze over.

8 Likes

Some people just don’t care. I don’t understand that either, but I think the approach you took was the one that usually works out for the best. One thing I will say is that, while it may not have seemed like you made an impact at that moment, you never know what effect 10 min with a snake in the driveway may have later in life. Especially with kids, little experiences can have large effects down the road. Maybe the next time they see a snake they’ll feel a little less scared (even if they’re still somewhat scared) and slowly change their perceptions or gain an interest. Even if not, if you take that approach (explaining patiently and non-judgmentally), you’ll win some folks over in the long run.

In the game of outreach, hitting lots of singles over the years is probably more effective than the occasional home run, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’ve won any major victories and you may not get many “Aha” moments that give a ton of gratification. Keep up the good work!

20 Likes

I definitely have experiences like the one you describe - more than I can count, in both professional and casual settings. Before I toss in my own thoughts, I want to say that I’m impressed with how you handled the situation (both in the type of information you provided and how you were able to “keep your cool” and meet the family where they were rather than trying to force them to suddenly like snakes).

perhaps their fear gets in the way. You can’t necessarily fix that

As jnstuart said above, we don’t have much control over what others are afraid of. Still, the fact that they stayed and engaged in conversation is an encouraging sign.

“I’m just not interested enough to learn all that”

I wouldn’t worry too much that that undermined the impact of your words. To my ears that is them saying they aren’t willing to take the time & effort to learn on their own, not that they weren’t listening to the information you volunteered. There’s a big difference between going out of your way to learn something and engaging with an unexpected encounter - your situation seems to fall in the latter camp. Probably not every piece of information stuck, but them seeing your passion/interest and comfort around the snake is probably more important than any of the facts anyhow.

8 Likes

The thing is their response is instinctual at routes, humans are very good at spotting snakes and as with everything that is an actual danger they really like following its actions, it doesn’t always evolve into real interest in them, though I agree it’s unfortunate and snakes are one of the coolest groups to meet.

2 Likes

Oh, don’t be depressed. You were planting seeds. Hopefully, the seeds will lie dormant and then be awakened to blossom into understanding later.

6 Likes

Hey, Nick. I am very much an outdoors person and an animal lover. However, I will admit the one creature that freaks me out and gives me the creeps is a snake. I know how beneficial they are, I know how harmless they usually are, I know venomous snakes are generally uncommon - but I still detest them. I know this is unreasonable, but it isn’t something I can control. I’m not making excuses for these people you were trying to reach, but sometimes we just have unreasonable fears we can’t explain.

2 Likes

Right? For me it was vacuum cleaners. :wink:

8 Likes

Yeah, phobias are a thing - and hard to get rid of. My Daughter-in -law is phobic about spiders and insects, so I don’t send her photos of them. As an ex psych nurse, I came to see that ‘feelings’ are not always rational. I can feel depressed or anxious, and rationally know I don’t need to, but the feeling is independent of the rational thought that I don’t need to feel that way. Similarly, I don’t like maggots, even though I know rationally that they are fine.
The fact that the folks looked at the snake for 10 min makes me think they are not phobic, just don’t like them and don’t want to learn. Although as some people have said, that planted seed may eventually take root.
In my experience, people are afraid of things they do not understand, and the further life forms get from humans, the less they like them. I don’t think it is accidental that Animal Rights/Welfare people sort of draw a line between mammals and birds and the rest of Life.

4 Likes

I feel the same way about most house cleaning appliances… :grin:

7 Likes

I have a relative who has a deep fear and revulsion of mice and rats. It goes back to post-war Europe when rats were a major issue in many homes and this person’s fear took root as a child with various encounters with the rodents. I can’t say they’re being irrational. Those of us who don’t have such fears of animals are simply fortunate we didn’t have bad experiences with them as children.

4 Likes

cthawley is right all you can do it provide the information and maybe it will open some doors in their mind that could make them think about snakes slightly differently in the future. Even if they were scared at least you showed them a new way to look at a snake.

I had an experience last year where I was sitting down on the ground to get some pictures of some Common Garter Snakes and the snakes moved very close to me. A little girl walking past with her mom seemed deeply concerned for my life and asked her mom “Aren’t the snakes going to bite her?” In this case her mom was able to explain it to her, but it’s tough when even the parents have the same phobias/fears.

2 Likes

And the thing is, the person feeling the fear can know that it is not rational, yet feel it anyway. How many cars drive across that scary bridge every day without going over the side? Yet thinking about that does nothing to make the bridge less scary. Fear happens in the cerebellum, whereas reason happens in the cerebral cortex – there is physically a disconnect between them.

3 Likes

But it is what irrational is, that is why most phobias occur: something happens to a child, often infant, same as getting bitten by a dog. But in the end therapy can help with that.

2 Likes

Apart those folks who, ignorantly, believe that every snake can be dangerous and it is right to kill it, I think that institutions should make much more in order to inform people on snakes and, in particular, that not every species is dangerous and that also those that are venomous can be useful and have their right to live.
In this light, such institutions together with fundations could support projects or informations campaigns aimed at demystify those stupid as well as possibly widespread among people and dangerous clichés on animals and plants (e.g. ivy kills trees, a healthy wood is a wood without understory, it is good to plant Carpobrotus on dunes, etc…).

3 Likes

“Depress” was 100% the wrong word, I apologize. I try not to use “depressed” as a synonym for “feeling down” or similar words/phrases, but sometimes I slip up

2 Likes

I should have and want to make it clear that I don’t kill snakes when I encounter them. As I stated, I fully realize their value and worth in our ecosystems. I simply don’t like them and give them a wide berth.

I didn’t infer from anything you said that you did kill them. Your statement was fine!

1 Like

That is exactly what I said. If it was unclear, I apologise.
The cerebellum may seem physically separated from the cerebrum, but they are intimately connected. As an example, motor function is largely regulated by the cerebellum, but intent is generated in the cerebrum. The intent to pick up a book comes from the cerebrum, but the smoothness of that movement is governed by the cerebellum. There is so much about brain function that we still do not fully understand.

4 Likes

Of course we all have different experiences which shape what we find interesting or what we fear based on misinformation or lack of experience. I had my first pet snake when I was about 7 — a harmless Eastern Gartersnake —that my family and I found on a hike. My parents encouraged our keeping of odd pets. As an adult I kept rattlesnakes for a while. These are very different experiences than most people have with these animals. Most of us here are outliers when it comes to our comfort and familiarity with such creatures.

4 Likes