So, I was thinking of making this week about three common animal-based ‘fears’ that seem to show up in fiction. It’s not too strange to know a person is scared of an animal, but these three seem to always get a bad rep. I’m not going to mention the other two even though I’m sure you can figure out one of them pretty easily. Just going right into our slithering ‘death machine’.
What is it about snakes that scare us? Even in mythology and religion, the serpent gets used as a villain. They show up very often as obstacles in dungeons and their poison is the dramatic death of choice. Many of us probably thought of quote: “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.” Those two things might really be it if you think about it. Much of our animal-based fears could go back to our prehistoric instincts since we are animals ourselves. When it comes to snakes, there are two aspects that commonly that stand out in the mind of someone they terrify.
- Snakes are very thin and can hide very easily. If there are snakes in your area, you watch out for them sleeping under the car or getting into the house. Some people are afraid of them coming up the sewer pipes and getting them on the toilet. In fact, I read an article about cobras in India getting into plumbing. Even for the big serpents, we have this idea that they can be in every shadow and are lurking. The thought of a one coiled behind a box isn’t far-fetched and it’s made worse when you consider the striking speed and the-
- FANGS AND VENOM! This is probably the bigger source of fear than their ability to get into anything. It isn’t very surprising since humans don’t have a natural resistance to venom. Other animals with this problem make it a point to steer clear of venomous snakes too. It could be worse with us because of how our minds work. We imagine getting bitten and dying a horrible death. At the very least, we are scared, lose the limb, or are left with some debilitating reminder of the encounter.
All of this is entirely logical and should make us cautious about snakes. Yet, we get it wrong to many extents as well. One way is that we sometimes forget that not every snake is venomous. I’ve read stories where a person is bitten by a python and dies a painful death, which makes no sense. Pythons are a constrictor type, which means they wrap around and crush their prey. If they’re big enough to swallow a man then they could be a danger, but the real ones would be more inclined to leave a human alone. This is obviously done to take advantage of the fear and doesn’t really do any research. I can only see it working for a fantasy world since you can mess with the fauna. When your story is on Earth then you really need to be careful of the snake breed.
Another mistake people make when writing snakes is their aggression. First, realize that snakes don’t eat as often as warm-blooded animals. Smaller ones eat maybe twice a week and larger ones can even go a few weeks without food. That means an anaconda won’t really go around devouring an entire crew over the course of a few hours. Most snakes will only eat what they need and all other attacks stem from one thing: FEAR. Like all animals, they can be startled and strike out at anything they perceive as a threat. This seems to feed the idea of a lurking danger because they rest in the sun or shade a lot to regulate their body temperature. Running into a groggy or resting snake could be easier than one realizes, but it isn’t like humans are pleasant gems when we’re startled.
Now, this isn’t to say snakes can’t be aggressive. If they’re hungry then they act like one would expect of a starving predator. For example, the following GRAPHIC scene from Planet Earth 2:
So, what do you think about snakes? Do they scare you? Do you think they’re unfairly feared? Feel free to add to the info here because I don’t live in an area with snakes. So, I’d love to see some comments from people with experience.