Snakes: Learning to Love 'Em
“Mommy, mommy! I want to see the snakes!”
From my desk in the Friends office here at the Nature Center, I always give a little cheer when I hear a little girl or boy in the lobby begging their parents to visit the reptiles and amphibians at Appalachian Station. When I was their age, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about critters that crawled and slithered.
Like a lot of kids raised in North Carolina, any announcement that I was going to play outside was generally followed with: “You kids watch out for copperheads out there.” Those deviously camouflaged snakes were lying in wait, I was led to believe, for any unsuspecting little girl to come traipsing through the field or climb over a big pile of rocks, poised to strike at any moment. Now, I knew that black rat snakes were great pest-control in the hay barns, and that gardener snakes (I learned later they’re really garter snakes) had beautiful colors and were a special treat to see racing across the yard. But, more or less, snakes were to be feared, not admired.
My attitude toward snakes was drawn from the stories and warnings from those around me. But some studies have shown it’s more than that. While we aren’t really born fearing snakes, we are born with the instinct to avoid threats. And we learn to fear snakes as a threat very quickly, and at a very young age.
And that fear isn’t totally unfounded. Some snakes can be dangerous, of course. But for all there is to fear about them, there is just as much to be fascinated by. Take the copperhead I was in constant terror of when I was little, for example. Did you know that they’re social snakes? They like to hibernate in dens with other copperheads—or even other snakes like black rat snakes.
Now, I don’t mean for you to run out and try to cuddle up with a copperhead. But I do mean to invite you to look beyond that ingrained fear and explore all that there is to love about our native reptiles. The Nature Center is a great place to safely enjoy and learn about a great variety of snakes found in our Southern Appalachians—and great place to let some of those little kids’ enthusiasm rub off on you. I know it’s done wonders for me.