Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Not an Insect

As you all know, I am rarely scared of insects, even the kinda gross ones like the roaches and earwigs. I’m a little squeamish about some spiders and really hate centipedes, but this is about my worst nightmare:

rat snake

Black rat snake

Black snakes are THE most disturbing thing I have ever encountered. They disturb me to the very depths of my soul. However, when this black rat snake slithered out of the brush along the path, I didn’t feel my breath catch in my throat or my heartbeat increase instantly. Nope, I thought, “Wow! A snake! Something to photograph!” and actually went running after it to get a better shot. Apparently having a camera between me and a snake makes me entirely fearless!


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37 thoughts on “Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Not an Insect

  1. My daughter is terrified of snakes, and when we encountered a large black snake right beside our hiking trail, she shook with fear. The snake was lying very still, hoping that we wouldn’t notice him. I have been protecting snakes from humans all my life, and I know that they are not evil, they just want to live in peace. If we leave them alone, they will run away from us, as yours is doing in your picture. Even poisonous snakes won’t attack us unless we threaten them. Snakes have been demonized for centuries, and many humans are unconsciously influenced by this superstition. Educating ourselves about these interesting creatures, eases our fear of them. When you get to know your enemy, sometimes he ceases to be your enemy and becomes your friend!

    • I do actually know a lot about snakes – and definitely enough to know that this rat snake isn’t going to hurt me – but I can’t seem to shake the fear. I’m okay with snakes in cages and if I can see them before I am right on top of them, but I nearly have a heart attack every time I encounter them unexpectedly. I’ve even worked with a science outreach project that used gopher snakes as an educational tool and have held them several times during that year, but even that hasn’t shaken the fear… Maybe someday I’ll get over it. I don’t even have a good reason why they bother me – I’ve had few bad encounters, and most of those have been with actually dangerous rattlesnakes. It’s a ridiculous fear for me to have!

      • Unfortunately, you’re more likely to become more phobic if you ignore it. Snakes (or spiders, or heights, or whatever) are just a trigger–what’s really scary are the physiological symptoms which mimic a heart attack, and each time they get triggered they get worse. And sometimes more things start triggering it, too. Look into desensitizations programs–the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have new pets to feed :-). One thing that can help a lot is not to leave the trigger. If you can, stay near the trigger until the symptoms go away, otherwise your brain learns that getting away from the trigger causes the fear to go away, thus making the trigger, impulse to run, and the stress stronger. In fact, the symptoms go away on their own, in their own good time, no matter what you do, so let that happen in a way that’ll teach your brain the right lesson.

        Also, it might be worth having your thyroid checked–an extra strong startle response is one of the symptoms of hyperthyroid.

        And indeed, even teensy p&s cameras are a magic shield letting us do stoopid things with impunity, such as getting way too close to the raccoon in my kiddie pool pond one summer evening. I’m still chewing myself out over that, even though that particular raccoon behaved himself. [Urban raccoons are more dangerous than their country cousins, because they get used to being fed. No food forthcoming can provoke a peevish response, such as breaking through a screen door to chase the lady who was late with dinner.]

        • Although I still have some problems with the snake fear, I am getting much better about it! I used to be terrified of any snake I saw, but one of my best friends is a herpetologist and I have found myself pointing out snakes to her when we’re out and about these days rather than running from them as I used to. I am also 100% okay with snakes sitting out on trails where I can see them or in cages in homes or labs/zoos. I will sit and watch them for some time under these conditions and touch or hold them on occasion as well. I consider these things progress, though I know I still have a ways to go. I still don’t like having snakes slithering out of under my feet (this happens to me a lot) or startling me, but I am getting better. The camera is really helping too. I’m fascinated by how differently I feel about snakes when I’m photographing them compared to just watching them. It makes a huge difference!

          Good to know about the thryroid connection to the startle response though. I’ll keep that in mind for the future!

    • Venomous snakes are actually less likely to bite you than non-venomous snakes. Venom is a limited resource for the snakes, and if they use it in a bite, they have to wait for their glands to replenish it. And venom is important to them, it’s how they get their food! Using it on a defensive bite is a waste of valuable venom if you can get away without it! Non-venomous snakes lose nothing by biting you, and so will do so far more readily.

      Snakes are pretty awesome creatures, though, and a case study in how evolution works to produce strange combinations. Limblessness was an advantage early in their evolutionary history, but is as terrestrial, non-fossorial animals, but their other adaptations have more than made up for it, allowing the group to be remarkably successful.

      I love snakes myself. Beautiful animals.

      But I can add another datapoint to the whole “Camera knows no fear” phenomena. I’m somewhat afraid of wasps (especially big ones), but give me a camera and its, “I need to get one really great picture, let me get a little closer!”

      • I’m a little shocked by how many people are telling me they’re fearless behind cameras. This is interesting! And I am glad you mentioned that the non-venomous snakes are more likely to bite than the venomous ones too. I know a few herpertologists and several herp enthusiasts and the snake they complain about in my part of the world is the non-venomous coachwhip. It apparently has a nasty temper, but… One of the color variants is black, which means I usually run as fast as I can the other direction when I see one rather than sticking around to see how feisty it actually is…

        • We have coachwhip snakes around here, and they are very aggressive snakes with nasty bites. Most snakes bite you, then open their mouths and pull back, leaving you with neat punctures. Coachwhips will bite, and then pull back while still clamped on, leaving a series of nasty gashes. Still, it’s very effective in convincing a person not to bother coachwhips. : – )

          A coachwhip was the first snake I ever photographed. I wish I still had that picture.

          • Yeah, the people I’ve heard tell stories about encounters with coachwhips talk about the snakes basically clamping down on their hands and gnawing for quite a while before they manage to pull them off. I have to say that doesn’t sound pleasant to me!

  2. On the now-defunct “insect picture of the day”, the author was an arachnophobe, but he noticed the same effect of adding a camera on his fear: when the camera was between him and the spiders, he was no longer afraid of them!

    This would make an interesting psychological study. Maybe one way to treat phobias, is for the person to take pictures of the things that frighten them.

    • We’ve got rattlesnakes in my area, but they’re practically nothing compared to a lot of your Aussie snakes! I have a feeling I’d been even more worried about snakes there… Glad you like them though! Sounds like the dugites could do with a little more love.

    • I hear that about boas a lot. My sister used to work in the Everglades and always talked about how hard it was to find the pythons there, even though they are such a huge problem. Always seemed weird to me such a big snake could blend in so well! Boas don’t bother me as much as most other snakes for some reason. The triangular head – kinda love that, even though in my area you should avoid triangular headed snakes…

  3. I LOVE black rat snakes! They are very rare in my province, and really only live a few very small and southern regions. I used to work at a National Park, which happened to be in one of these regions, and came across a handful of these beauties during my time there. Have you ever watched one climb a tree? AMAZING!!!

    • Nope, never seen them climb trees, though the one in the photo is the first I’ve seen in a decade too. Their range doesn’t extend as far west as me, so it’s been a while since I saw them regularly!

  4. Great photo. Guess the snake was there to help you get to know them. He was really cruisin’ – love to watch that (if they are going away from me!) Black snakes really are friends (but I don’t invite them in – everything has its place)

  5. I love snakes too….my dad kept snakes and lizards in terrariums when I was a kid, so I guess it never occurred to me to be afraid of them.

    Spiders, on the other hand, used to freak me out. Then when I started photographing some of our large colourful orbweavers I started losing some of that fear. Not all of it, but I find them more interesting than scary now. I have also found, in photographing different species, that spiders which sit in webs cause the strongest reactions in me. Wolf spiders and jumping spiders don’t bother me as much.

    • Interesting that the web making spiders bother you more than the free range ones! Back before I got over most of my fear of spiders, the fast moving, webless spiders always bothered me so much more. At least with the web making spiders you know where to expect them to be!

      I am happy to hear you say that the camera has helped with your arachnophobia! Maybe I’ll get over my fear of snakes one day?

  6. I’m not a fan of spiders until I have a camera, then I am apologizing to them and wiping web off the lens. Perhaps our cameras are a kind of psychological forcefield! Snakes, on the other hand, well, we just consider them to all be poisonous and something best left alone! In Australia it is best not to find out the hard way you were wrong in your identification….

    • Probably a good plan with the Aussie snakes! You guys have what – something like 7 of the 10 deadliest snakes in the world on your continent? Based on comments I’ve gotten here though, I’m starting to wonder if you might not be right about the camera acting as a psychological forcefield! I am surprised by how many other people are able to march right up to things that scare them just because they’ve got a few pieces of glass between them and whatever normally scares them. Strange!

      • So many deadly things here! I even have a peace treaty with the family of redback spiders that live in the engine bay of my car. I once posted a photo of a huge one that had killed an even larger spider one morning. I couldn’t get too close to that one!

  7. The camera buffer effect is very interesting. The closest I’ve come to a bull moose here was when following it around with a camera – usually I keep a safe distance. I wonder if the camera-buffer explains the tendency towards unfortunate interactions betwen people and wildlife in national parks?

    I did field work in Australia for 13 years and almost never encountered a non-venemous snake except for huge pythons. You always need to watch where you put your feet and hands, and it can get nerve-wracking trying to sample where a grouchy brown snake is wandering around, but I always found it more thrilling than fearful to meet a snake. Terrestrial leeches, though, those I loathe, and even when trying to take a picture of one, I still was creeped out.

    • I’ll bet you’re right about the National Park wildlife encounters being largely a result of the no-fear-behind-a-camera phenomenon! I have to be extra careful when I’m in parks not to get too close to dangerous things. I’ve been to Yellowstone several times and I always had to be really careful that I didn’t step off a boardwalk into boiling water or get too close to some of the large mammals when I visited. I’ve heard some especially bad stories about human encounters with bison in Yellowstone from my park ranger sister and her friends that I try to cement into my brain while I’m out photographing things to prevent my getting too close to anything. I was absolutely shocked how close people got to the alligators in the Everglades too! It’s easy to forget to respect the wildlife when you’re trying to get the best photo possible.

    • Cameras can make you stupid. I was once trying to take a picture of a coral snake (a close relative of most of the dangerous snakes in Australia) when a leaf fell on it, ruining the composition of my photograph.

      My first instinct was to reach out and take the leaf off of it.

      My second instinct was fast enough to stop my first instinct from killing me. Which is good to know, you know?

      While I was up in the Okeefenokee swamp in south Georgia, talking to one of the park workers, she said they had an ongoing problem with tourists trying to get their children to sit on the alligators so they could take pictures. Seriously? I don’t know if we can attribute this to the camera-fearlesness effect, as it seems more related to the old-fashioned-stupidity effect.

      • Yes!! This is exactly the sort of story I hear from Park Rangers all the time! My sister told me about a death of a young child in Yellowstone because the dad thought it would be cute to have a picture of his child on top of a bison. Apparently the bison objectsd and the child died due to injuries. Why, why, why would anyone think that is a good idea? And the people with the alligators were nearly as bad! Those things are strong, powerful predators and people really should respect that. I was quite content to admire them from afar, camera or no. On the other hand, you could easily tell who was from Miami and who was not in the Everglades based on how close people got to the gators. The people from Miami gave them a WIDE berth!

  8. I once reached under a step to find a pet. Few seconds later a copperhead slithered out I don’t mind saying Iwas horrified of the monster. Two pets died. Scared is smart in that case. Glad yours was going the other way.

    • Yikes! That doesn’t sound like a good snake encounter! Copperheads are a good one to be cautious of for sure. On the other hand, fear makes people do some really stupid things at times. Honestly, I’d rather not be scared of snakes for the simple reason that I tend to run into trees and trip over things when I encounter them. I’m in such a hurry to vacate the area that I stop paying attention to where I’m going. Honestly, I’m more likely to be hurt avoiding the snakes than I would be simply staying where I am when I see them… However, a copperhead near your home – that’s a problem. Sorry to hear about your pets. That must have been awful.

  9. Pingback: Prairie Ridge Ecostation | The Dragonfly Woman

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