10 September 2009

OPHIDIOPHOBIA - fear of snakes

This post is in response to a writing prompt at
Writing prompt: "Scaredy Cat!!!"

OPHIDIOPHOBIA (according to Wikipedia) refers to the fear of snakes. It is one of the most common zoophobias (animal phobias). A typical ophidiophobic would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures. Ophidiophobia is a characteristic of fictional adventurer Indiana Jones (and with good reason, I might add.)

I know others are afraid of other creepy-crawlies, but my only phobia is snakes. I acquired the fear from my grandmother who often told a story about a neighbor boy who threw a large black snake across the road at her when she was a young girl. The force of the throw made it wrap it self around her body, before falling to the ground. It was dead, but she didn’t know that when it was flying toward her.
I worked at a camp one summer in an area where there were timber rattlers. Counselors often walked from the main camp to our campsites at night. I was assured rattlers were not nocturnal so I wasn't worried. I usually had a flashlight with me, but occasionally walked without one if the moon were bright. After returning home from the camp at the end of the summer, I read an article about common myths ---and sure enough the myth that timber rattlers are not nocturnal is false. Even though it was months later, I almost fainted.
Once my first husband & I stopped to eat our lunch at a highway rest stop. On the way to a picnic table, I tramped on a snake and it curled over my almost-bare, sandaled foot. I screamed. It was harmless, but it still freaked me out. I went camping with friends, and on a hike, I went off the path to pee ---and there was a snake. It seemed that if there were a snake anywhere nearby, I was the one to run into it.

During my Peace Corp stint in Brazil, our house in Glória was at the edge of a town surrounded by hinterland. There was a pond nearby, so it attracted all kinds of animals, including reptiles. Several times a snake crawled into our house in the space (about an inch) under the door.
Brunie (my fellow volunteer) and I each had a footlocker which we shipped from home with clothing and other essentials. To prevent mildew, we placed each of them on four bricks (underneath the corners) to keep them from touching the mud-brick floor which was sometimes damp. The footlockers served as extra seating.
José Francisco (see photos of him and me, scroll down a little to find us both dressed in red, HERE) a man who worked for the Brazilian Legion of Assistance, was sitting on one of the footlockers when a snake slithered from underneath it, right between his feet. José Francisco ran from the room. I jumped onto a chair. Brunie and I screamed for our next-door neighbor and landlord. He came in and killed the snake and then pointed out its fangs and told us it was a poisonous variety.
In Peace Corps training, we were told that all poisonous snakes in Brazil were deadly. And the fact that the snake was nearly the exact color as our mud-brick floor scared me even more, because in other circumstances, one of us might have walked right up to it, or even stepped on it, without even noticing it was there.
I started to pack to go home, but then someone reminded me there wasn't a bus out of town for five days ---which gave me time to calm down ---sort of.

That was the first time we saw a snake in the house, but it was not the last. It got to the point that I would jump if I saw a thread on the floor. I had a bathrobe that had a tie at the waist which was sewn on across the back, but if not tied, the ends hung down at the side. Those ties would brush my leg and I would gasp in panic. One day, I just cut those suckers off so I wouldn’t be jumping every two minutes when I wore it around the house.
We had lots of other creepy things in our house in Brazil --toads, mice, roaches, tarantulas, bats, scorpions ---but nothing bothered me except the snakes.

What didn’t help was the word for snake in Portuguese is “cobra” and even though there were no King Cobras around, there were several varieties of highly poisonous snakes. In Peace Corps training, a fellow volunteer asked the question, “If a ______ snake bit you and you could instantly amputate your leg, would you die anyway?” The answer was “Yes.” I can’t remember, now, the variety he mentioned, but perhaps it was a bushmaster.

I once saw a dead coral snake on the street in Glória. We were assured that the coral snake wasn’t much of a threat because its jaw span was so small that it would almost have to gnaw at a little finger or toe to inject its venom. We were told they live in banana trees and not to stick our hands into one. So there was no way I was ever going to pluck a banana right from a tree. I always bought them from vendors at the weekly market. I am guessing the dead coral snake I saw was from a cart full of bananas, and that the snake had been crushed by a horse, cart, truck, or automobile.

My husband thinks I am ridiculously silly ---I can't look at a snake on TV, not even a drawing of one.
I had a very difficult time writing this ---even writing the word sn___ makes me crazy. And I couldn't look at photos of them for an illustration, so I did the best I could without actually drawing a sn___ !

Luckily, in my everyday life, I rarely see one, but my husband found a very small harmless one in our basement about a year ago. I wish he hadn't told me.

* * * * *

(Recent studies have theorised that humans may have an innate reaction to snakes, which was vital for the survival of humankind as it allowed such dangerous threats to be identified immediately.)
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


  1. I will be honest. As soon as I saw what your post was about I flew down to the comment link without reading anything. I am not a fan of snakes.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog! And commenting- that doesn't happen very often!

    Thank you for serving in the peace corps!

  2. I have to admit that snakes are not my favorites. {*grin*}

    Rattlesnakes abound in areas around here so you learn to look before you sit or reach or step. But, my fear is of water moccasins from childhood when groups of them in the creeks would kill animals that wondered into the mud at the right place. Oh well.

  3. *shivers* Ewww :) I watched a hawk eat a snake today outside my office window...I was so happy it wasn't anything cute like a bird or a bunny.
    Sounds like you've led a very exciting life thus far!

  4. I've never actually SEEN a snake in person (don't live in the right climate for them) so I don't have the same fear, but I can completely understand!

    (I am terrified of clowns!)

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  5. Hey, saw your comment on my site and came to visit yours. What a neat blog! I love to travel and always wanted to do Peace Corps, so will stop by often and live vicariously...Thanks for writing!

  6. Very cool about the peace corps! Not so cool about the snakes! Yikes!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  7. eeeeeeeeeek!
    I can't deal with snakes either.

    We actually had a "snake" incident at our house over the summer. The snake crawled into my garage. I stood there and watched for that snake to move. (1 hour) I wanted to make sure that I knew where he was at all times. Hubby finally got home and dealt with him (DEALT AS IN CHOP CHOP!)


  8. Oh my goodness! I think I would have had a real heart attach had I seen so many snakes.

    Just today at school (where I teach) animal control was called because there was a snake in the boys restroom. I can't tell you how much anxiety I have from that...snakes in suburbia, what?

  9. I won't say I am that afraid of snakes but when I had gone through the little stories mentioned, you bet I am scared now. Its shuddering even to imagine myself in place of the 'victims' of those stories.

  10. I like your writing. Try to come over your fears of snakes... you know it's irrational, you just have to stop your auto-response of fear. Think of how much unnecessary fear you have because of this.