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Snakes: What Should You Know about Them?

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Snakes: What Should You Know about Them?

Sam Sumrall and Nan Sincero, Naturalist Center Interpreters at the California Academy of Sciences took time out of their busy schedules to answer the following answers about snakes. The Academy is currently running a special exhibit on both Snakes and Lizards, called the Summer of Slither.

Q: What are some of the free benefits snakes provide to their habitats?

A: As predators, snakes play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling the populations of their prey, many of which may be pests or carriers of disease, like rodents and other small mammals. Snakes also serve as prey items themselves for larger animals. They are very much part of the food web.

Q: Why do people fear snakes, even though most are not poisonous and not dangerous?

A: Snakes have gotten a bad reputation from movies and other stories. Humans may also be hard-wired to be wary of snakes through encounters with them early in our evolution. Yes, snakes can bite, but so can dogs and small children. More people die from dog bites in the United States each year than from snake bites. The irrational fear of snakes leads people to engage in some odd behavior, including killing them for no reason.

Q: Is there any reason to be optimistic that more public awareness will dissolve the fear and aggression towards them?

A: One time, we had a middle-aged visitor at the Academy who was terrified of snakes. However, she came across one of our live snake handling programs and worked up the courage to touch it. It was the first time she had ever touched a snake in her life. Afterwards, she had tears of joy because she’d finally overcome her fear and done something she never thought she could do. I think more public awareness and education around snakes will show people that these animals are to be respected, but not feared.

Q: Are snakes, like the world’s frogs, in danger of going extinct because of human activity?

A: The potential threats they face today include habitat destruction, hunting by humans (for food and leather), and climate change. About 22% of all reptiles are listed as threatened species (i.e., critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List). It’s unclear what this percentage is for snakes specifically.

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Read more: Conscious Consumer, General Health, Natural Pest Control, Nature & Wildlife, Pets

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1:13PM PDT on Sep 25, 2012

I have an obvious question as a homeowner whose plumber cannot get the plumbing done as a huge rattler discovered there. If I can hlp it, I do not want to see it hurt because it does serve its own &, possibly my purpose, for ridding the area of rodants common in the desert who destroyed the plumbing under my home...

If this snake cannot be safely reached, is it likely to remain there or will it move on now that it knows humans are nearby?

If it cannot be reached, what can I have placed under there to make it move on to a more rural area? I heard mothballs, but won't they be toxic in smell permeating into my house? Or to my dogs? I certainly do not want my dogs bit!

11:32AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

What is so essential about venomous snakes, is the medicinal qualities that can be extracted out of their venom. Not just anti-venom, but medications for treating arthritis, high blood pressure, blood clots, and neurological diseases. Venomous snakes are one of the most important animals in pharmaceutical prospecting.

9:58AM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

Very nice article

9:51PM PDT on Sep 15, 2011

Sorry ... snakes still give me the creeps.

6:08AM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

Thank you

4:31AM PDT on Jun 20, 2011

Noted with interest.

3:07AM PDT on Jun 7, 2011


6:23PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

It is wonderful that this article was created, as it helps to end the misconceptions about these beautiful creatures. Thank you. :)

7:08PM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

People absolutely need to be more informed about snakes! They really AREN'T threatening to many in the US. Its fine to have a healthy fear and take basic safety precautions. It's also important to remember that there are really only 6 species of poisonous snakes in the US and if you learn to identify them and understand how to protect yourself--we don't need to have an irrational fear. I am frustrated by the ways Hollywood presents snakes as menacing and horrific.

2:29AM PDT on Jun 1, 2011

Thanks for the information. Snakes do look scary.

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