Contributed blog post by Sara Petrović
“Every great story seems to begin with a snake.”
Since warmer days are coming, most of us will spend that time enjoying nature. With that always comes a warning – beware of snakes!
You can handle the fear
There are almost 3500 species of snakes around the world, but only around 600 of them are venomous. Luckily, in Europe you don’t have to worry about cobras, black mambas, anacondas and other scary snakes you see on TV. The number of European dangerous snakes is pretty modest and all of them belong to the family Viperidae (so–called vipers). Vipers have a characteristic appearance so it’s easy to distinguish them from non-venomous snakes. They have a triangular head and cat-like eyes with elliptical pupils. Also, they probably inhabit only certain areas of your country, so it’s difficult to encounter them.
What makes snakes special?
The first thing you may wonder about snakes is: where are their legs? The answer is simple, they didn’t need them, so they lost them. It was easier for them to hide, burrow and constrict prey without legs. That’s why they evolved to look like they do today.
Snakes have been around since about 170 million years ago. For comparison, our species Homo sapiens is only 200.000 years old. The largest snake ever discovered is Titanoboa, it can reach the length of 13m. It’s diet includes even crocodiles!
You will usually see a snake while it is basking in the sun. They need a source of heat to warm up, since they can’t regulate their body temperature internally like us. Snakes don’t have eyelids, so they don’t blink and have to sleep with their eyes wide open. They do have nostrils, but won’t use them to smell. Instead, they pick up smells by flicking their forked tongues. They don’t have eardrums like us either, but they can use their inner ear to hear vibrations travelling through the ground. This helps them get away when they hear your footsteps approaching.
Snakes are the most misunderstood animals
Sadly, there are a lot of misconceptions around snakes. You may have heard crazy stories like: “You should run a zig-zag so the snake doesn’t catch you,”, “The decapitated snake head will still try to bite you.”. In fact, there is just one thing you need to know: if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. These days people don’t like to think too much when they encounter a snake, it’s easier just to kill it. Because of this, snake numbers are drastically declining to the point that they had to be regulated by law. Right now, there are almost 100 endangered snake species in the world. There’s even a penalty for killing a snake (even venomous one), and it’s charged differently depending on the country.
Of course, accidents do happen, so you should be prepared just in case you or someone you know gets bitten. Since our fear of snakes comes mostly from misinformation and lack of knowledge, it’s important to educate ourselves on this topic. We will do that by learning how to make a difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes, as well as learning how to treat wounds if a bite happens. Still, you should keep in mind that snake bites happen rarely and you should not worry too much about it and just enjoy your hike in nature.
Remember that fear of snakes isn’t innate, it’s learned through years and years of warnings and scary stories. But actually, once you get to know more about them, you realize how fascinating and special they can be.
Do you know what snake species live in your country? Have you ever mistaken a legless lizard for a snake? How does venom work and how is the snake antivenom made? Are snakes really as dangerous as we think?
To learn more, here are a few videos: