Snakes, also known as slimy little rascals, are my biggest fear. I do not think you could understand how awful these things are. They do not have legs or arms, and they literally use their tube of a body to slither on the earth’s floor. Freaks of nature if you ask me, and you know they are evil, considering in Harry Potter the snake was the sign of the rival house Slytherin. Ew. As you can tell I literally would rather die than see one of these dudes, so I decided it would be a wonderful idea to hunt them, observe them, and play with snakes for my Human Ecology Capstone (HEC) project.
Nervous is an understatement for what I was feeling when I went into day one of HEC week. The first day Emma Balazs invited me to Chewonki’s Traveling Natural History Programs (TNHP), where I was able to check out Ella, the corn snake, or as some would say, the corn brute. There she was sitting, or there she was wrapped—I’m not sure the proper snake terminology—but she was there, and she obviously was thinking about how to kill me. So, I stared at her right in her soul-less eyes to make sure she knew I was dominant and that if she tried to fight me I would wrangle her. Luckily, I had my friend Ken by my side, so if she decided to cross me, I had a real man to save me: the damsel in distress. As time went by, I started to sort of warm up to her, as in, I changed from being 30 feet away to being 29 feet away. Because of my immense progress, I decided that I could definitely go on a snake hunt with Becca.
This brings us to day two. Becca and I went snake hunting. We scavenged through the forest and stone walls at the farm looking for those barbarians, yet none were in sight. I suspect it was because they were scared of me. I could sense their fear, yet there was zero way they could sense mine. As we lifted up rocks and logs I was relieved every time those limbless rats were nowhere to be seen; however, I realized that this would not always be the case. I said to Becca, “What am I gonna do if we actually find one, though?” We laughed, but I was serious. What would I do? Luckily I never had to know because clearly these heartless reptiles knew not to mess.
In addition to the snake hunt, I was able to see Ella eat. The first time she was probably too self-conscious to eat in front of me, but the second time around she probably felt more comfortable, as did I. It was fascinating to see her consume an entire mouse in one bite. I was told that Ella eating the mouse would be the equivalent to a human eating a watermelon. I wish I could do that with my food. In this moment I realized that this slippery tubed rascal and I were not so different. We both were strong independent young females, and we both love food. Nice!
Through these excursions, I began to question why these cylinders of a species made me want to shed an entire layer of skin all at once. What I found was ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes, has been proven to be an evolutionary trait in humans. In a world dominated by cunning reptiles, early mammals had to learn to survive with the daily hazard of predators such as snakes. Research shows that mammals have evolved to be able to focus on things that pose a threat, such as snakes, and emotionally respond with fear, which explains my crippling anxiety towards smooth, flexible pipes.
HEC week taught me that irrational fears don’t have to be irrational. Each day I grew fonder of Ella, and at the end of the week, she somehow became cute…ish. By day four, I reached my goal of holding her. Despite having alerted Matt Weeks of TNHP that I would vomit if she attempted to slither up my arm, I’m proud of the work I have accomplished as a herpetologist. I can’t say I’ve overcome my fear of snakes, but they aren’t the demons they were before. And while it is actually a myth that snakes are slippery, they will always be slimy little rascals.
-Molly, Falmouth High School, Maine
Ken Roberts, moral support
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Julia Tarnow for being an incredibly loyal and dedicated friend. I love you and your love for whales.