Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peats Sake: Snakes on a Boat

For Peats Sake!By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

I am immensely phobic of snakes. There – I said it. According to Wikipedia, the word for that is “ophiophobia.” Whatever it’s called, it is a condition which has haunted me my entire life. Even just looking at snakes in pictures causes me discomfort. Much of this has to do with growing up in Ohio – where snakes are plentiful – many of which are poisonous. I remember several occasions at my Girl Scout summer camp when counselors would holler for everyone to get out of the river because a water moccasin had been sighted or to immediately stop hiking because there was a copperhead on the trail. One summer, we had a black snake in our neighborhood long enough to stretch across the entire width of our two lane road.

And I seem to be a bit of a snake magnet. As a young child my parents took my aunt, my sisters and I on a covered wagon trip across Oklahoma with an outfit called “Wagon’s Ho.” One night at dusk, I had to answer a “nature’s call” so my aunt took me out among the scrub brush to relieve myself. Thankfully for her eagle eyes, I did not squat down on a rattlesnake that was keeping cool and resting under the bush I had selected. I will never forget the fear in my aunt’s eyes as she slowly coaxed me back to her.

Oh and there’s the time I took my partner on a hike in Santa Fe. Having lived in Colorado for 10 years I considered myself a bit of an expert on rattlesnakes. I went through the whole spiel: listen for their warning rattle; don’t make any sudden movements; don’t panic. As a fast hiker, I had gotten ahead just as the trail began to run parallel to a stream. Ten minutes later, I let out a high pitched screech and came running back down the trail…for what apparently turned out to be a tiny, little garter snake.

It’s a fear that I’m not proud of. Sadly, I love turtles but I would never and will never consider a career in herpetology simply because of the possibility of running into a snake. In fact, just last week I almost had heart failure when I ran across a 10-12” long garter snake in our backyard. It was enjoying the cover of long grass as it hunted the frog hiding behind my grill. The good news (from my neighbors’ point of view) is that it has motivated me to mow the lawn on a more regular basis. I try to brush it off as “saving the frogs.”

But I realize that, just like mosquitos and ticks, snakes are a necessary part of the web of life. And they are an integral member of wetland fauna and therefore, as a wetland advocate, a species which I need to embrace. Intellectually I can do this – emotionally I cannot. I have always maintained that something without legs or wings should NOT be able to move that fast. But from now on I will giggle every time I think about it because of an article I just read on the Marietta College website in preparation for this blog. Here is my new snake meditation:

“All snakes are important in controlling rodent populations, and there really isn’t any cause to kill any of them.  Above all, [FOR PEAT’S SAKE!] if you are in a boat, don’t empty your revolver into a snake which has fallen into the bottom of the boat.  Dumb idea if you think about it.” (

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