Some of you may remember my serpent-related panic the first year we moved to Florida. You can read all about it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/07/the-great-snake-chase/
Time passes. I have seen a snake here and there over the past several years and we have firmly dispatched all of them- one way or another- to a place (either physical or metaphysical) far away from our house. Since that first snake, none have made it inside any location within my residence. They have all been tiny and, I believe, non-venomous. In fact, they have been basically harmless except for severely increasing the amount of cortisol in my bloodstream.
This all changed the other day when I was out spraying Round-up on the weeds around the house. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a colorful strip of evil incarnate poised at the doorway to our lanai. It was about 16 inches long and made up of bands of red, black, and yellow. When it realized I was close by, it slithered away towards the wetland behind our house. I was relieved to see the back end of him without having to actually confront him. The thing is that this snake was either a coral snake or a king snake. Both are similarly colored. Both are found in Florida. The difference is… wait for it… the king snake is harmless and the coral snake is deadly.
Since moving to Florida, I have heard all kinds of adorable rhymes composed to help hapless souls like myself know the difference between king snakes and coral snakes. One popular one is “Red on black, okay for Jack. Red on yellow, kill a fellow.” I remembered that one when I spotted the alarming serpent, but I have to admit that I didn’t really understand to what it referred. I have since learned that the colors mentioned in the rhyme refer to how the colored bands on the snake are arranged. If the red bands touch only black bands, it is a king snake and harmless. On the other hand, if the red bands touch yellow bands, it is a coral snake and is extremely poisonous.
It didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand the context of the snake mnemonic rhyme. I wasn’t getting close enough to analyze the bands of color. I also didn’t have the presence of mind to process exactly what I was seeing. Also, I don’t think I would have trusted the rhyme anyway. Who relies on something that sounds suspiciously like a nursery rhyme for their personal snake safety? All I knew was that I had a visceral, loathsome reaction to the beast. I made a very odd, guttural sound the second my brain registered the fact that I was standing less than 2 feet from a snake. It was something between a gurgle, scream, and hiccup.
Later in the day, after I stopped shaking, I consulted Google to try to identify the snake. Unfortunately, I had not thought to take my phone out of my pocket and take a picture when I saw the snake. I think I was too intent on not taking my eyes off it for even the instant it would have taken me to fumble around with the phone. Still, I thought if I saw pictures of king snakes and coral snakes, I might recognize the band pattern on the sinister reptile by my lanai. Unfortunately, my mind must have been so frozen by fear that it turned off automatically. I had no powers of recall. I did learn that coral snakes have extremely poisonous venom, but they also have an extremely inefficient venom delivery system. Apparently, a coral snake doesn’t inject venom with its bite in the same way most snakes do. One source indicated that a coral snake would basically have to gnaw on me like a dog with a bone to kill me. That was a little bit comforting, but it also left me with a disturbing image burned into my brain.
In my research about coral snakes, I learned that they are very solitary and reclusive creatures. I learned that, far from wanting to gnaw me to death, they want nothing so much as to get away from me. It is the old “they are more afraid of you than you are of them” axiom. I seriously doubt that, but I get the idea. The venom can kill a person, but nobody has died from a coral snake bite in the United States since the development of the anti-venom many decades ago. Many hospitals don’t actually have the anti-venom on hand, but it apparently takes about two hours for the poison to get into a person’s bloodstream. I guess that is why God invented helicopter medivacs.
All in all, it isn’t a great idea to get bitten by a coral snake. Still, I learned that it is unlikely that I will get bitten by a coral snake if I keep my eyes open and don’t go around stepping on them. Should I suffer a coral snake bite, it is even less likely that I will die of it unless I ignore the whole incident. I’m pretty certain I would not be ignoring a coral snake bite. Or any snakebite, for that matter. I tend to be a bit dramatic about such things.
I don’t know why I have the reaction I do to snakes. This is an argument I have had with myself frequently. I love animals. I love interacting with domestic animals. I even love observing and interacting with wild animals, in a respectful and safe way. There just seem to be certain animals that I can’t help but loathe. Snakes, rats, and mice are at the top of that list. So, basically, snakes and snake food. I know it makes no sense whatsoever to discriminate between animal species in my level of attachment.
I know I can’t be the only one who animal loves with such irrationality. I used to listen to a radio talk show in California that featured two hosts who frequently discussed various absurdities of life, politics, and human nature. This question of why we react much more sympathetically to some species of animals than others came up now and again on the show. The hosts agreed that there is definitely a hierarchy of animals, though no one can really give any logical basis for it. I tend to agree. The snakes, rats, and mice have to be pretty low on that particular totem pole.
Maybe it all boils down from that fall from grace in Eden. Genesis 3:15 tells us God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
I’m a pretty passive, nonconfrontational person for the most part. I’m not usually known for having enemies or crushing heads. However, when I see a snake, I’m afraid I definitely feel the enmity.
How about you? Are there any animals that you make your skin crawl? Why do you think it is that we can coo over a bunny, yet shrink from a rat? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a cuddly day!
6 thoughts on “Snakes. Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?”
My sister has a phobia of snakes. She says it is because as a young girl my family lived in Panama, my dad being in the service. They were driving down a dirt road in the jungle sightseeing and a large snake dropped from a tree onto the hood of the car. She was standing in the front seat as most young kids did in her day and from that day forward she has been terrified of snakes.
I can understand that! I don’t think it will hurt her to spend the rest of life without the company of snakes. My mom had a bird phobia because there was a superstition that a bird flying into a room meant someone would die. My mom accidentally let a bird into the house and her father died. I think the sandhill cranes were her least favorite part of Florida!
Snakes are a bit scary. I remember in Arlington TX, when we lived on a 33 acre campus for our church, we had rattlesnakes and I could step over them in the rocks along a path. I wasn’t afraid of them but I was only about 9 or 10 years of age. They are not something to play with for sure.
Yikes, Lois! We’re lucky you made it past childhood alive!
I feel the exact same irrational fear and loathing for snakes that you have described.
I have never had a bad snake experience, but I grew up afraid of the picture on the cover of “Bible stories”, showing a snake, open-fanged, lurking under a hammock where a man lay asleep. My arms and legs never dangled off my childhood bed-they still don’t!
We bought our home here a year ago, and I was vaguely aware that there were more snakes in Florida than in VT where we had spent the prior 21 years, but I wasn’t to be deterred-I seriously wanted to bid New England winters farewell. I knew the pythons were in southern Florida, so I wasn’t too worried about snakes until a few new neighbor-folks told me there were coral snakes in this area. Gulp.
Upon the day of closing on our “slight fixer upper” Florida house I asked my husband to pull up the corner of the carpet in the master bedroom closet-the carpet was ominously gray along that wall, and my concern was for mold. We found a small mold patch and a very flat and very anemic-looking plant root AND a live baby black snake slithering under the carpet. I said “we’re filling this closet with cement” and I meant it that day. Tile flooring replaced every inch of carpet in this house and I have been reassured that all of the outdoors is permanently sealed out.
We have caulked everywhere on our front outside entry porch after having numerous small black or ring neck snakes greet us out there. I think we’ve won this porch battle. Finally.
We have rat-sized sticky traps on the garage floor on either side of the automatic door. Yes, we catch those things on occasion. I got pretty excited seeing a gray pattern on one once, but it was just a harmless (physically, anyway) rat snake.
I saw a huge black snake fall out of the palm tree in front of the picture window awhile back. Since I was “snake-crazed” for awhile after all the porch snake encounters I thought I had imagined it, but there he was complacently laying in the tan mulch below the tree when I ran out to see.
I deal with my weeds around the yard when I absolutely have to, but I consider it with the same forethought one has before going into battle.
One final note-we spent a week in Maine last September, in a rented country house near an orchard and plenty of civilization. On our first night my husband found a live baby garter snake in the hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom.
We are in the same page. When we found the first one in the garage, I called the critter abatement guy. He pointed out a batch of broken eggshells by the garage door. Some lovely mamma snake chose our front yard as her maternity ward. We’ve done the sticky traps, replaced the screen door in the garage, reinforced all possible entry points with steel wool, littered the yards with mothballs, and pursued numerous other anti-serpent strategies.
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