Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
Human kind’s fear of snakes is long-lived and wide-spread. Even the most classic story, “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling was altered in the Disney adaptation to make Kaa, the python, a constant threat.
As comical as Kaa’s attempts to catch Mowgli were, the original character created by Kipling was wise and helpful throughout. What is it that makes snakes seem so evil–when, in fact, their existence is vital to our ecosystem?
Many other cultures have the same perception of snakes. Apep was the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness who was illustrated as a snake, and was the chief nemesis of the sun god Ra. Their battles were epic legends. The Greeks renamed the deity Apophis after Alexander the Great took control of Egypt. Serpentine reputations did not improve with the change of governments.
As a continuation of the 3000 year old tradition, the oncoming, potentially hazardous, asteroid 99942 has been named Apophis. Some astrophysics believe this 1000 foot-wide chuck of space rock will collide with Earth in 2029 or 2036 leaving a three-mile deep impact crater. No doubt future headlines will scream “A Rock Named After A Snake Did This.” Who could blame the public for its dislike of snakes?
Many local discussions of snakes begin with the statement, “The only good snake is a dead snake.” Next, the tales of deadly snake encounters are relived. These deliberations may include the recounted meetings with the dreaded two-step snake: if it bites a person, they will drop dead after two steps.
Sometimes, the raconteur will have crossed paths with the Cotton-headed Coral Rattler. It is easily identified by its aggressive nature, speedy pursuit of all humans and its absence of legs. Less than one in two hundred people are able to escape this demonic predator’s fangs.
Fortunately for Wakulla County residents, the stories have only a grain of truth attached to the tale. A snake may have been seen at the story’s origin. Fossil records indicate snakes have been around since the Cretaceous epoch, or about 140 million years ago. They were likely in Wakulla County long before the first people arrived. Snakes are natural predators, but humans have never been on the menu in North Florida. Amphibians, insects, small reptiles, rabbits and rodents make up a bulk of their diet.
A Wakulla County without snakes would be a very different and much less inhabitable place. Without snakes controlling the population of rodents, the rats, mice and squirrels would have free range to dine on innumerable components of humanity’s infrastructure. Rabbits would complete the destruction.
Snakes in 2015 are likely to be more visible than in recent years. The consistent and ample rain has allowed prey animals to range wider from water sources, all the time with snakes in pursuit. Maybe they are not the most popular of wild creatures, but they do have a purpose here. Adam and Eve, and everyone else, would have been better off just leaving the snakes alone.
To learn more about snakes in Wakulla County contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/