Phoenix Herpetological Society Hopes To Scare Away Snake Phobia

By Annika Cline
Published: Friday, May 6, 2016 - 5:51pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
The Phoenix Herpetological Society houses hundreds of species of snakes.

If talk about snakes has you shuddering, you’re certainly not alone. The Phoenix Herpetological Society thinks it has a cure, of sorts, for the fear of snakes. On Saturday they’re hosting their first Snake Day.

When Aaron Joyner gives a tour at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, he starts with the mammals — of which they have a few, despite being a reptile sanctuary.

“These are armadillos!” Joyner told a Girl Scout troop during a recent tour.

"Oh they’re cute!” one girl said.

“So these are desert hairy screaming armadillos,” Joyner said, holding one up.

Along the tour Joyner builds up to the less furry residents of the sanctuary.

“Are you going to be in any danger while you’re in here?” Joyner asked the group before entering the venomous snakes room. “No, I will make sure you stay safe.”

And with that introduction, the entire troop funneled in. 

“Hear that noise? That’s a rattle snake,” Joyner said.

The girls moved through slowly at first, then got more curious, peering through the glass at snakes of all different colors and sizes, meeting the beady gaze of the snake eyes staring back at them.

“Kids have this natural curiosity,” said Crystie Baker, director of education and outreach. “And so a lot of times we’re able to kind of utilize their natural curiosity and get this love of reptiles and snakes and animals into them at an early age, and not a fear.”

That might seem like a tough sell — a lot of people are afraid of snakes, but Baker said that fear is socially learned.

“They may not even remember it, but maybe when they were a little child their parents were startled by a snake. And they took on that behavior as their own, and it just kind of stayed,” Baker said.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology this year backs her up here. Researchers placed infants in front of videos of snakes and elephants. And the infants were more attentive to the snakes — but were not more afraid of them.

Of course, you should still have a healthy respect for snakes you meet in the wild.

“Now if you’re ever out hiking and you hear a rattlesnake, back away,” Joyner told the Girl Scout troop. 

He said it’s actually better not to react out of fear “because the rattlesnake could be behind you. You might’ve walked past it already. And if you get scared and run, you could run right into it.”

The guides here hope to replace fear of snakes with knowledge about how to deal with them. 

Baker said the guides teach the kids, “and they often go home and teach their parents, and it becomes this really neat cycle that we’re trying to break the fear and kind of replace it with respect.”

“I was holding my hand out and it went right up my arm,” said Kyla Deluca.

She and her troop mates ended their tour by holding a corn snake, a vivid orange and yellow, non-venomous snake. 

“I like the color of the corn snake,” Deluca said. 

The girls described it as scaly, slithery, and silent — but maybe not so scary, after all.

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