Snakes. Personally, I am quite found of them. I like the large venomous ones that have a built in rattle. I like that they can periodically refresh themselves with a good skin shedding that keeps them looking as young and vibrant as ever. I like how their scales cover their surface like a roll of sequins. Snake fondness could be the next fad with a little help from everyone, and science can help.
I was just reading a study called “Defensive behavior of cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus)” by Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas and am reminded how we scientists can put myths to the test quite literally. It’s one thing for snake lovers to say that people shouldn’t worry about venomous snakes and how unlikely they are to actually bite a person. But people seem very confident that venomous snakes, in particular, are prone to chase a person down for a little venom therapy, just for funsies. Sure, we can say “Approximately 8000 of the 310,000,000 people in the US will be bitten by a venomous snake—or ~0.026% of the population.” Or that “There are typically 12 or fewer deaths in the US per year for venomous snakes, or ~12/310,000,000, which is 0.0000039% of the population.” Or even in our most confident voice “In contrast, there are roughly 40-50 deaths by lightning strike and 90 deaths by motor vehicle crashes each year in the US. Come on people, evaluate the risks properly.” But, nothing is quite as convincing as a nice hypothesis-driven study. And, the study by Gibbons & Dorcas (2002) suggests that you are most likely to be bitten (and therefore in some unlikely cases die) by a venomous snakebite if you pick up and harass the snake. So, I had to share the data:
They had three treatments: 1) stand beside a snake (in snakeproof boots) while touching its body; 2) step on the snake midbody without injuring the snake; or 3) pick up the snake midbody with a pair of snake tongs that look like a human-hand and arm. (Would love to see a picture of those, personally.) And these (above) were the results they found. Most of the snakes that bit were picked up with the human-like hand and had also been stepped on—so the more harassment, the more likely the snake was to bite. Even still, 60% of the snakes did not bite when picked up. None apparently chased the researchers when they were done with the study. NONE!So, if you do not want to be bitten by a venomous snake, then do not harass them or pick them up or kill them, just stand back and admire them. Every living creature could use a little more admiration. Myself included (husband, are you listening?).