Snakes: From Hatred to Appreciation

Ask me a year ago what I thought of snakes, or even just mention the word “snake”, and I would recoil and tell you how much I hated them! I’m happy to say a lot has changed in a year; education, exposure, and a few different one-on-one experiences worked to change my deeply-rooted hatred of snakes.

When I was growing up, I was told snakes were a sign of the devil, probably like most of us who’ve attended church for any period of time. Subconsciously, that notion stuck with me all these years and even my few encounters with snakes in the wild did nothing to change the fact that their slithery behavior just creeped me out. But there are two very specific instances that really set me off on my hatred of snakes.

Back in my younger years, about elementary school age, a HUGE ball python came to our school. I can’t say I remember a word of the presentation, but I do remember how I felt when we got to go on stage and touched the enormously large snake that was bigger than me. I hated the feeling of its scales! It was cold and weird and was nothing like the furry animals I was used to.

In my college years, I had to take herpetology for my biology degree, which was fine until my experience at Repticon. After a very pleasant trip to the Everglades in Florida with my herpetology class, we stopped at the famous Repticon Convention. I should’ve known better than to go into an extremely large building that was full of snakes! Of course, there were other reptiles, but all I saw were the SNAKES. At first, I was slightly excited; I thought maybe that it was finally the time and place to get over my snake fear! Boy, was I wrong. After about ten minutes of moseying around, I decided to hold a baby snake (or at least that’s what they told me it was). Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was just a big worm, but either way, I felt like I had made a huge step toward being somewhat okay with snakes. And then to my absolute horror, a gentleman with yet another snake that was larger than me tried to place the snake around my shoulders. I think you can imagine what happened next. I spent the rest of the day crying in the university van while my classmates enjoyed their time inside. Needless to say, my hatred toward snakes was reinforced that day.

Fast forward a few more years. and here I am working at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. For those of you who don’t know, we have a bunch of education snakes in our library that the public can see when they come into the Center. When I first started working here, I was not enthused about the library, especially because part of my job was to educate the public on each of the education snakes stories. Months and months went by; each day I had to walk by Severus and Albus’ enclosure to get my lunch, and I was regularly pestered by staff members about my dislike of these “wonderful” animals. I am a big fan of Harry Potter, so the names certainly helped, but still, I was pretty terrified of these creatures.

I remember asking Raina, one of our outreach coordinators, why she loves snakes so much. Her answer changed my perspective on snakes completely. I remember her telling me how she loved the way they moved and the beauty of their scales. And for the first time, I began to see these creatures in a new light. Raina described how snakes “walked” and the muscles it takes to be a creature that gets around simply by slithering on the ground or up trees, as in Greenbean’s case. Greenbean is a Northern Rough Greensnake who was an education animal at a nature center in Virginia for nine years. When the nature center closed, Greenbean came to live at the Wildlife Center. If you don’t know Greenbean’s story, I highly suggest you get to know her! She is the biggest reason why I really enjoy snakes now.

Raina also put my mind at ease when she told me snakes don’t hate me and the first thing they want to do is NOT bite me. Clifford, another one of our education snakes, was named after Clifford Hillhouse Pope, an American herpetologist who is known for saying “snakes are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.” When I thought about all of those things instead of all my negative experiences with snakes, I slowly began to see them not as the creepy, nasty, ugly, slimy creatures that I once saw them as, but as the beautiful, unique, charismatic creatures that they are.

The first day I decided to get over my fear and actually hold a snake, I figured Greenbean was a safe choice. She’s about the size of a pencil and is the most beautiful shades of green I have ever seen. I knew I should start small, and she was the perfect candidate. I remember feeling embarrassed because I was sweating all over and I’m sure Greenbean wanted to be anywhere but in my sweaty hands. She tried to slither up my sleeves and through my fingers and she didn’t even try to bite me! It was a great experience and I always look forward to my next handling session with her.

For all of you who truly dislike snakes, I suggest you take the time to see them differently. Start small, maybe put a picture of a snake by your toothbrush, or buy a calendar that features a different snake each month. You may never get the chance to actually hold a snake, but to appreciate them for all the good they do is what they need. Snakes are very misunderstood creatures and I’m guilty of wanting to rid them in every aspect of my life. They should NEVER be harmed or killed simply because you fear them or because they are in a place you think is inappropriate.

Snakes are an important part of our ecosystem and are necessary creatures to have around. Think of them as nature’s pest controllers; they eat a large number of rodents and help keep those pesky animals out of our homes. The next time you find a snake in your home, stop and think, “why are they in here?” Are they hunting rodents? Or are they sheltering from the cold weather? Either way, if you find a snake in your home, please don’t kill it or put it out in the cold (especially in the winter months) because you’re afraid of them. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is always a great place to call when you need advice on snakes or any wildlife situations.

I can honestly say that I do NOT hate snakes anymore! They’re awesome in so many ways and I’m grateful to work at a place that could change my attitude toward these creatures. I know I’m not ready to handle bigger snakes just yet, but at least I don’t cringe when I’m asked how I feel about snakes!

—Amanda R.
Development Associate