What do you experience when you think of snakes? Fear? Fascination? Ever since the biblical serpent led Eve into temptation, humankind has had an ambivalent relationship with snakes.
In some cultures, snakes have been venerated. Nag Panchami is a Hindi holiday honoring a serpent deity. In other cultures, the snake's behavior of periodically shedding its skin is linked to medicine. For example, the Rod of Asclepius is a staff with a single snake coiled about it, the symbol of a Greek deity associated with healing. The caduceus, a rod with wings and two intertwined snakes, is associated with the Greek/Roman god Hermes/Mercury and is also sometimes used as a medical emblem.
On the other hand, some people associate snakes with poison and death. Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) is among the most commonly reported phobias, affecting an estimated one out of every three people.
But what exactly are snakes?
Snakes are legless, scale-covered reptiles with unblinking eyes and forked tongues. Some have fangs. They play an important role in maintaining healthy, biologically diverse ecosystems. Snakes eat a variety of animals, including rodents, reptiles, birds, and frogs, and they serve as natural pest control agents by feeding on squirrels, mice, and rats. In addition, snakes are prey for other predators, including eagles and hawks.
Worldwide, there are approximately 3,000 species of snakes. The vast majority are harmless. In the United States, rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and cottonmouths (also called water moccasins) are the four primary types of venomous snakes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7,000 to 8,000 people in the U.S. are bitten by venomous snakes annually. The bites result in approximately five deaths per year. For people who have been bitten by a snake, seeking immediate medical care is vital.
If you're in central Virginia, consider attending a free presentation to be held at the Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Mike Clifford, co-author of Snakes of Virginia and educational committee chairman and past-president of the Virginia Herpetological Society, will present "Snakes in the Heart of Virginia." His talk will include live specimens, replicas, and other visual material. The evening's goal is to help people better understand these important, albeit often misunderstood, members of healthy ecosystems.
About Pier Press
Pier Press seeks to facilitate informed conversation at the intersection of science and spirit by promoting Biblical and scientific literacy. This article, along with additional links to resources for learning more, appeared in the March 10, 2017 issue of Observations: A Pier Press® Newsletter. Subscribe today to have future issues delivered directly to your inbox.