Snake conservation for ophidophobics

I hate snakes. They give me the willies. Like massive hyper-ventilating willies! I understand they are a part of nature but find them holistically unnatural. The flexible spine, the sinuous movement, the lack of limbs; EWW! And I know I’m not the only person that fears snakes.

That said I’m way into snake conservation and humane treatment. Mostly it stems from a child-like sense of fairness; just because I don’t like snakes doesn’t mean that I wish them harm or extinction. Snakes, like all taxa, play a unique role in the ecosystems they inhabit, and I personally don’t think it is my place to kill or harass them.

So for ophidophobics, like myself, here’s why we should support snake conservation:

1- Habitat preservation keeps snakes away from me
As with other taxa, preservation of habitat is a great way to keep animals within their ecosystem and away from humans and development. By preserving habitat and decreasing fragmentation of the landscape, all species within an ecosystem benefit by having the space and resources needed for survival. When those resources are not available, animals may venture closer to humans with the result of human-wildlife conflict, which is often deadly for the wildlife.

2- Snakes prey on other less pleasant species
Perhaps you don’t like mice or rats or mosquitos, well those animals are prey for snakes. This means that healthy snake populations can keep populations of other species in check. Snakes are both dietary generalist and specialist, feasting on everything from insects, invertebrates such as slugs, amphibians, fish, small mammals, birds and their eggs, even other snakes. Removal of beneficial snakes may result in population size increases of other species, some of which you may consider pests.

3- Snakes can serve as biomonitors for ecosystem health
Maybe you don’t like snakes but do like nature for either recreation or its intrinsic value. Monitoring individuals or populations of serpents may provide information on ecosystems. Snakes may be used to monitor ecosystem productivity as they may starve if their prey populations decline. Since they are ectotherms, they can also monitor daily or annual changes in temperature if a temperature sensing radio transmitter is implanted into their body. As top predators, snakes may bioaccumulate toxins from their prey (or their prey’s prey); this information would be useful to understand what contaminates an ecosystem may harbor. Finally, snakes may be susceptible to introduced diseases. The spread of disease between populations and species, similarly to chytrid in amphibians, may reduce snake populations, thereby reducing the ecosystem services they provide (such as prey control, food for predators, nutrient cycling, and use as biomonitors).

Just because you won’t find me in the reptile house at a zoo doesn’t mean that I don’t see the value of snakes in their ecosystems (from tropical forests to my backyard). I hope others that dislike snakes support these arguments for conservation (and against harassment and indiscriminant killing). I’ve always found that I can peacefully co-exist with snakes when we respectively run and slither away from one another.

My house's snake, Woody, and her boyfriend caught in a compromising position.  They stay outside, I stay inside, and everyone gets along fine.
My house’s snake, Woody, and her boyfriend caught in a compromising position. They stay outside, I stay inside, and everyone gets along fine.

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