Monday, June 25, 2007


Yesterday, the alarm was sounded on The Compound (the cul-de-sac where I live and the neighborhood kids play). The air was filled with screams ranging from excitement to fear as daughter #2 reported a snake sighting in a neighbor's garage. The fact that the screams of excitement were emanating from my offspring simultaneously evoked feelings of pride and trepidation. I felt proud that my daughters did not fear snakes nor did they utter nonsense such as, "The only good snake is a dead snake." I felt trepidation because, due to a lack of fear, their first reaction is to handle a snake, like Jake the Greenish Rat Snake at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. They are not yet proficient at identifying the venomous snakes of South Carolina.

Based on the description provided during the initial report, the snake was almost certainly not venomous. However, since I already had on my running shoes, I made an appropriate show of urgency for those not screaming with excitement. As I arrived at the scene, the suspect (an 18" Garter Snake [Thamnophis sirtalis]) was leaving and found refuge under the air-conditioning unit. Garter Snakes feed on frogs, toads, salamanders, fish and tadpoles. Last week's rains have left water-filled tire ruts and small pools in depressions which are now filled with tadpoles and mosquito larvae. There's plenty to eat for the NON-VENOMOUS snake!

Unwarranted fear of non-venomous snakes can be overcome only through exposure and education. Without snakes, rodent, insect and amphibian populations would surely increase with consequences more unpleasant (disease, famine) than their reptilian presence.

"Snakes have provided a recurrent threat throughout mammalian evolution...individuals who have been good at identifying and recruiting defense responses to snakes have left more offspring than individuals with less efficient defense systems."--Arne Öhman, a psychologist at the Karolinska Institute and Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden (John Roach for National Geographic News, October 4, 2001)

Fear and excitement were in the air again today as the second week of summer campers made their first trip out onto the 1.75-mile boardwalk. Snakes were the topic of conversation with each group hoping for a different outcome regarding our potential for spotting snakes. In the end, we struck out...not a single snake was spotted in what must be some of the best habitat in the state. See? There was nothing to fear.

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