Ophidiophobia: A Personality Defect?

Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

It’s never too late to discover aspects of your personality. The other day I learned that I suffer from ophidiophobia, a word I never knew existed. It all started when my knitting group departed for the day – and discovered a copperhead parked by my front door. The local copperhead population was now demonstrating that it could invade my turf, which I had thought was snake-proof. How could I venture out on the stoop ever again to water my two planters?

Now, I have a dread of snakes. This probably is what the experts would call an “anxiety disorder,” although I would argue whatever I feel when I see a snake is a natural reaction. Please do not send me your accounts of making friends with copperheads – at my age I am not going to change. I’m not on a quest to rid the world of copperheads, I just do not want them in my yard.

I have long read descriptions of the advantages of creating a meadow (no grass! Go the natural way!) – and all I can think of is, “Snakes!” Any self-respecting snake would love to lie in wait in a meadow. Therefore, you won’t find me traipsing around in meadows unless I’m wearing armored boots. In fact, you will never find me ever contemplating a meadow installation.

I now cannot go out my front door without clearly inspecting the premises first. And, with a meadow, you simply cannot scrutinize what you’re about to step on. As far as I can determine, no garden writer has written about the lurking dangers of snakes in meadows – this is a peril I quickly thought up by myself.

At my age I simply have no wish to share my habitat with snakes, crocodiles, sharks or brown recluse spiders. Crocodiles and sharks do not lurk here in Chapel Hill and brown recluse spiders, fortunately, are reclusive. This leaves the prominent copperhead threat. Here in the Piedmont, I don’t worry about rattlesnakes although I have every confidence I would if I lived in the mountains. I never worried about copperheads when I lived in the northern climes. However, my area of Chapel Hill (close to downtown) has more than its share of copperheads, increasing my fear of snakes.

I even shudder when people post pictures of snakes on Nextdoor.com.

Looking back, I realize that I have long had this affliction. Years ago, when I gave tours at the Bronx Zoo, I was never quite confident that the glass barricading the Green Mamba from my delicate body was sufficiently secure. In East Africa, seeing a Green Mamba sunning itself in the wild quickly caused me to scurry back to the seemingly safe Land Rover.

As a child, I cheered on the exploits of that valiant mongoose, Rikki Tikki Tavi, who protected his English family from the dangerous cobras, Nag and Nagaina. Should I, I begin to wonder, adopt a mongoose to protect me from the copperhead? Alas, I have no idea how to begin the adoption process as not only do I not know where to obtain a mongoose nor if mongooses want to be domesticated.

Several dogs have suffered from copperhead bites in my neighborhood. One of my beloved Airedales experienced several bites in the backyard and fortunately survived. After that, I went to great lengths to snake-proof my backyard, as I now have three small dogs that I fear would not survive a bite.

I have neighbors who calmly accept their presence – and I wonder, “How can they be so relaxed when there is this ever-ready copperhead threat?” Obviously, ophidiophobia is not a universal affliction. I realize snakes keep the rodent population from exploding, so I’m not oblivious to their benefit. I am not out for massive extermination; I just want them to stay out of my yard.

The only thing that cheered me up when I discovered I exhibit this anxiety disorder was learning that ophidiophobia afflicts one-third of all adults. Misery loves company.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.
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1 Comment on "Ophidiophobia: A Personality Defect?"

  1. beatrice goodman | August 10, 2023 at 8:23 pm | Reply

    Glad to read that I am not the only one who ( after being bitten by a copperhead while recovering from cancer) HATES snakes especially copperheads .

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