A brown snake reacts to being captured near Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands.
A brown snake reacts to being captured near Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands.

Animals you should fear more than snakes

AS I write this, snake panic is meandering across the nation like a python across a carpet.

News has just broken that Brisbane Snake Catchers is advising Australians to keep pet cats indoors, sharing a delightful picture of a python that ate a family cat whole in the city's suburb of Wishart.

Mee-ouch.

The huge carpet python after it caught and ate a beloved family cat. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook
The huge carpet python after it caught and ate a beloved family cat. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook

Admittedly, it's quite a sight. But it shouldn't blind us to the truth: snakes are beautiful, intriguing and largely peaceful creatures.

They just want to be left alone, not wrapped around Britney's neck as she shimmies (that one's still alive by the way - MTV tracked it down in a stunning piece of investigative journalism).

Popular culture, storytelling history and irresistibly clicky news articles ("critters get clicks", a BBC journalist once told me), all demonise the snake.

But I'm here to convince you of the impossible: snakes are awesome.

It's a herculean task because those bad stories keep coming.

At the weekend, a Brisbane family found a snake having a bath in their toilet. It's enough to scare you onto your own toilet, then defeating the purpose of your fear in the first place.

A carpet python took a dip in a Wynnum family's toilet. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook
A carpet python took a dip in a Wynnum family's toilet. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook

Today another Brisbane woman found one in her toaster.

But there are other stories we must tell about the snake, to get the full picture and for you to feel some counterintuitive sympathy for the humble Australian reptile.

Earlier this month, a story of a Brisbane snake with 511 ticks on it went viral. The poor python's face was covered in the parasites.

In true Aussie fashion, the snake was dubbed Nike (because of the tick, Nike's logo - in case you didn't get it and needed it snakesplained).

Look at the picture of poor old Nike. He looks like he has slithered through a booby trap of small pebbles covered in superglue.

Poor old Nike, with some of his 500 ticks. Picture: Tony Harrison/AAP
Poor old Nike, with some of his 500 ticks. Picture: Tony Harrison/AAP

The tick story isn't even unique - it happened to another snake in 2014, according to The Courier-Mail, due to rising temperatures.

Poor, tick-covered serpents.

Then there was the story late last year of dozens of horny cane toads trying to mate with a python in WA.

When poor snakes aren't being attacked by ticks or hunted by humans for handbags, they're being sexually assaulted by cane toads.

Yet, all the while, snakes get demonised as dangerous to humans - and even sometimes as predators to humans.

Snakes — always finding new ways to terrify humans. Picture: Reptile Rescue Incorporated
Snakes — always finding new ways to terrify humans. Picture: Reptile Rescue Incorporated

Snakes, for the most part, have a different temperament to a shark or a crocodile, both of which are hungry and aggressive to humans, even when unprovoked.

In fact, unless it feels threatened, a snake would rarely chase after a human. It'd need to feel antagonised to do so and even then, it may not actually be chasing at all.

In a piece dispelling top myths about snakes, Reptile Magazine cites the number one myth as: angry snakes chase people who get too close.

It uses a brilliant, awkward office-corridor dance scenario analogy. "Like the frightened person, the snake also has a sudden and powerful drive to flee, and it picks the quickest escape route. Sometimes that avenue of escape is the same for both the human and the reptile. Each zigs or zags in unison, which gives the illusion that the snake slithers or darts in pursuit of the person. A similar phenomenon occurs daily in tight office corridors around the world."

Australians are more likely to be killed by horses, cows and bees than snakes. You're about as likely to be killed by a dog as by a snake in Australia - but they're all furry-wurry and so we lose our minds over those.

Many simply refuse to believe dogs kill as many people as snakes in Australia. But they do.

The shedding of their skin is also a poignant metaphor: to remove parasites and allow growth. What a life lesson. If we stop the largely irrational terror of them (with some qualified, respectful fear) and spent more time understanding them, we could learn a lot from snakes.

If they're good enough for our handbags and wallets and trousers, they're good enough for our rainforest floors, our beaches - and even our toilets.

Respect the reptiles, salute the serpents and let's end the human hissing hysteria around these intricate, endlessly fascinating scaled creatures.

Twitter: @garynunn1

As you can imagine, the Wynnum family were not thrilled. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook
As you can imagine, the Wynnum family were not thrilled. Picture: Brisbane Snake Catchers/Facebook


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