Snake Phobia: What’s the Fear of Snakes and Why Do So Many People Have it?

Coiled Midget Faded Rattlesnake
Alizada Studios/

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: October 12, 2022

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In 2016, a study carried out on the fear of snakes showed that about half of the population feel anxious about snakes and 2–3% have a serious phobia of snakes. It is safe to say that snakes aren’t a popular favorite and it’s easy to see why.

People who reach the diagnostic criteria for snake phobia aren’t merely afraid of these animals. They have extreme and overwhelming fears of snakes which leads to a type of anxiety disorder. Having such a phobia affects a person’s life in numerous ways. One study even showed that people with this fear are always on the lookout for snakes and are likely to check the grass before even sitting down at a picnic.

The good news is that snake phobia, like many others, can be helped and overcome. Let’s take a deep look at snake phobia, why so many people have it, and how to overcome it.

What is The Fear of Snakes and What is it Called?

Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes.

The fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia. It is defined as the excessive fear of snakes which can lead to distress or functional impairment. It is usually associated with anxiety which may seem unreasonable to other people.

Some of the most common symptoms of ophidiophobia are:

  • Dizziness
  • An intense feeling of dread
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Trembling or shakiness
  • Inability to breathe
  • Strong urges to run and hide

People who suffer from ophidiophobia do not need to actually see a snake to experience these symptoms. Anxiety from this phobia can begin if they believe they heard a snake, see a picture of snakes, speak about snakes, or even think about them. If any of these symptoms resemble yours, you possibly have ophidiophobia.

Why Do So Many People Have Ophiophobia?

fierce snake

Some scientists argue that ophidiophobia is learned and others argue that we are born with it.

A lot of research has been carried out on ophidiophobia and the results have varying conclusions. One study carried out in 2016 showed that monkeys were not afraid of snakes until they were shown many pictures of other monkeys being afraid of them.

However, another study that was carried out on babies suggested the opposite. The babies and toddlers showed fear of snakes even though they weren’t old enough to actually know how dangerous these animals are.

Snakes do not move like many animals. They crawl even without legs and this alone is enough to cause fear. The fact that many species of snakes are venomous or constrictors- such as the anaconda– is even more reason to be afraid of these animals.

Some other commonly stated reasons for ophidiophobia include:

  • Genetics: Some phobias are inherited, so if your parents are afraid of them, there’s a chance you will be too.
  • Conditioning: A person can develop this fear simply from being around people who have it and share their phobias.
  • Trauma: If a person is bitten by snakes or watches a really scary snake movie, they can develop ophidiophobia.
  • Superstitions: Snakes are often associated with evil or negativity in a lot of cultures. These superstitious beliefs can cause ophidiophobia.

However, irrespective of the reason for your fear of snakes, ophidiophobia can be a terribly limiting and crippling fear to have. Luckily, it is possible to overcome.

How to Get Over Ophidiophobia

Best Pet Snakes

It is possible to overcome ophidiophobia through therapy and learning about snakes.

Terrified of snakes? Here are some ways to get over ophidiophobia.

  • Exposure therapy: This type of therapy will help you confront your fears. It involves exposing you to snakes in a controlled environment. It is easier to be less afraid if you truly know it cannot hurt you. Over time, snakes will become less scary.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT attacks the negative emotions and thoughts on which your fears are based on. With this therapy, you can slowly unlearn unreasonable fears.
  • Hypnotherapy: Although many professionals do not approve of hypnosis, a lot of people swear by it. Under hypnosis, people are more likely to be willing to learn and unlearn.
  • Medications: Medications are great for controlling anxiety. People with ophidiophobia sometimes have panic and anxiety attacks. While medication will not erase the fear, it will help greatly with the anxiety.
  • Learning about them: A lot of people fear snakes because of false truths they believe. Learning about which snakes can hurt you and which snakes cannot, will allow you to have less fear of these reptiles.

How to Identify Venomous Snakes

Bush Viper

Knowing how to identify venomous snakes can reduce your fear of snakes.

Although ophidiophobia is limiting and extreme, it stems from a logical fear of snakes. Understanding which snakes are venomous and which snakes aren’t is one of the best ways to cope with ophidiophobia.

Here are five tips to help you identify venomous snakes:

  • Big and usually triangular heads: Usually, venomous snakes have big and wide heads that are triangular.
  • Fangs: Only venomous snakes have fangs. Fangs are sharp and long teeth that are connected to a small sac located behind the snake’s eyes. These sacs contain venom so it is a good idea to research snakes with big fangs.
  • Heat sensing pits: A lot of venomous snakes have heat-sensing pits between their eyes and noses. These heat-sensing pits allow them to hunt at night.
  • Elliptical pupils: Most venomous snakes have cat-like eyes instead of round ones.
  • Rattling tails: A rattling tail is a sign that the snake is a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are dangerous. However, snake rats often rattle their tails to look frightening.
  • Patterns: Coral snakes are a bit tricky but you can use this boy scout rhyme to identify your coral snakes: Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, friend of Jack. It means that if the yellow and red stripes touch, it is a dangerous coral snake, and if they don’t touch, they’re probably harmless.

What to Do if You Spot A Snake

Overcoming ophidiophobia is a long and gradual journey. If you spot a snake, do not panic and do your best to calm down. If you are in its territory, exit slowly and try not to run or look threatening. Most snakes will leave you well on your own if you leave them.

If the snake is in your home or property, do not kill them. Sometimes, even snake experts misidentify snakes at first. You could end up killing an endangered snake. Instead, stay calm and exit your house before calling the appropriate authorities or any pest control company.

It is also important to remember that just like you, snakes are a vital part of the ecosystem. Without them, a lot of animals they prey on would increase to unnatural numbers and shift the balance of the entire ecosystem.  

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