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Behind Ophidiophobia: Why People Fear Snakes



If the sight of a snake’s tail slithering through the grass makes you shudder in horror then you are not alone. According to some researchers, a full one-third of adults across the world suffer from ophidiophobia – that is, an abnormal fear of snakes.

What Is a Phobia?

A phobia is more than just being afraid of or nervous around something for good reasons. For example, if you would not go near a rattlesnake due to worries about getting bitten but would be happy to pet a harmless non-venomous grass snake, then you do not have a phobia – you are just sensibly cautious around dangerous animals.

In most cases, someone with a phobia is not just upset when they see or come close to the object of their fear. Even thinking about or seeing a TV program about their fear is enough to make them anxious, frightened, or even trigger a panic attack.

The big difference between a phobia and a normal fear is that it is irrational and uncontrollable. For most people with a phobia, it will develop during the pre-teen years.

Why Are Snake Phobias so Common?

Why is it that so many people find snakes repellent? One type of theory, called an evolutionary theory, makes the argument that phobias develop in order to protect us from dangers.

According to some researchers, fear of snakes may even be something that is innate to certain people. According to this theory, early mammals evolved in an environment that was dominated by dangerous reptiles. Therefore a fearful response to reptiles like snakes would help to keep them safe. This fear was then passed down to humans as we evolved.

However, there are other theories. Noted zoologist and author Gerald Durrell has mentioned in his books that he believes that fear of snakes is a learned behavior. Through his work at his zoo and in wildlife education, he saw evidence that young children are naturally curious and interested in snakes, but that reactions of disgust and fear from parents and other adults lead to similar fears developing in the children.

Living With A Phobia

A fear of snakes is not the most debilitating phobia out there. However, if you are a veterinary surgeon, want to work in a zoo, or just want to be able to stay in the room when a snake comes on the television then you will want to do your best to beat your phobia.

In some cases, certain phobias can be treated by a type of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. This sort of therapy helps to identify and change behaviors that are causing you problems in your life.