Why Do People Fear Snakes? 6 Main Causes of the Phobia

fear of snakes. black snake

A lot of people are afraid of different animals. Since antiquity, when a person lived next to the wild world, the fear of some creatures has become irrational and uncontrollable. Some of them are now vestiges of the past. Some are still relevant. There is a phobia which even after centuries overtakes many people. And this is the fear of snakes which is called ophidiophobia.

What Is Ophidiophobia?

Ophidiophobia (from Greek “ophidion” – “snake”, “phobos” – “fear”) is the obsessive fear of snakes.

Ophidiophobia is a partially irrational fear of snakes; refers to the subspecies of herpetophobia (fear of reptiles) which in turn belongs to the class of zoophobias – fears associated with animals. And like any phobia, fear of snakes is classified as a panic disorder.

According to World Health Organization, about 40% of humanity is experiencing fear of snakes of a different degree: from a slight discomfort to a panic attack. Some are frightened by the external appearance of “fear”: scales, the manner of movement, the shape of the body. Others are afraid of a potential threat of snakes. And, at the same time, it is worth understanding that the real odds of meeting a snake in large cities are almost nonexistent.

Even being aware of the fact that the snake is not poisonous and does not carry danger, a person suffering from ophidiophobia will experience horror and anxiety while being near a snake. These reptiles cause genuine fear and horror in such a person, forcing to scroll in the mind the most frightening thoughts and outcomes of a meeting with this being.

This phobia was born a long time ago when a person lived next to snakes in the wild and suffered from the bites of poisonous species. Nowadays, most residents of large cities do not meet these reptiles. So, it is very difficult to detect the fear of snakes in them. But those who live outside cities may have unpleasant feelings from meeting these creeping creatures which crash into memory for a long time, leaving unpleasant traces on the psyche. Some people soon forget these moments. Others can’t get rid of frightening memories. Eventually, it turns into an irrational fear of snakes.

Signs of Ophidiophobia

Only a small number of people are diagnosed with ophidiophobia which takes a pathological character going beyond the scope of conventional biological protection. The true signs of a pathological scenario are:

  • fear of not only contact with snakes but also fear of images (films, drawings, photographs, pictures);
  • fear of forms and colors resembling snakes.

Taking a developed form, such a phobia becomes a heavy burden for a person. As a result, everything one way or another connected with snakes becomes the object of fear. In the future, the disease can progress into the fear of all reptiles in general (herpetophobia). Lack of proper treatment quickly leads to the development of severe panic attacks and psychasthenia. As a result, people begin to fear even shadows that remind them of serpents.

fear of snakes. green snake

And finally, having reached a degree of deep pathology and asthenia, such fear leads to a whole range of other disorders. Without proper treatment there may be the following consequences:

  • Delusional beliefs (for example, that a person’s house is not safe, various snakes get into it);
  • Against the background of such beliefs, there are obsessions, such as constant checking of walls, gaps between furniture and so on in order to prevent snakes from getting into the house.

By the way, this phobia is not limited to snakes: large caterpillars and worms are also able to become an object of fear. Scolopendra-like creatures cause especially strong fear.

Causes of the Fear of Snakes

Like any psychopathological phenomenon, the current phobia requires careful analysis in each individual case: each case history is unique. Therefore, it’s impossible to immediately identify the cause of fear but we can list the most “popular” of them.

 Evolutionary-Genetic Factor

It’s very reasonable but doesn’t have explanatory possibilities hypothesis. The fear of snakes, like the fear, for example, of spiders, is an evolutionarily conditioned mechanism of self-defense.

Our distant ancestors avoided poisonous animals because they were a literal threat to survival. And being built on the instinct of self-preservation, the development of ophidiophobia took thousands of years, until today, when the need for protection from wild animals simply disappeared. So, the first hypothesis is the following: fear of snakes arises only because our brain has “nurtured” it for centuries.

 Bad Experience

Quite an objective reason for the development of fear of snakes is a personal negative and probably painful experience of interaction with representatives of a terrifying species. And in fact – about 15-20% of people with a fear of snakes talk about unpleasant contacts with reptiles and snakes in particular. Here, the most important role is played by a sharp fear arising from the first meeting with these beings.

Some are frightened by the surprise itself coupled with a threat. Others are afraid of hissing and snake movements. There are also people who were bitten by snakes before. Still, most people with ophidiophobia do not get real contact with snakes: only in the terrarium or on the TV screen.

fear of snakes. snake biting a man

 Inheritance (Not Genetic) from Parents

Psychologists have long noticed the similarity of reactions to stressful situations in children and parents. If the fear of snakes is experienced by a parent, then seeing the reaction of the parent the child can “remember” it.

This is a simple scheme: for children, adults are the guarantor of security in the world. If the adult is afraid of something, then it is also dangerous for the child. Over time, the episode itself will be forgotten, but the reaction scheme can become permanent.

Often such cases become the most complicated in treatment. After all, fear is included in the system of worldview, and by changing one of its units, we are forced to change the entire system.

 Biochemical Processes in the Body

According to the version of biologists, the appearance of the fear of snakes is based on disturbances in the functioning of the neurotransmitter systems of the body. Negative human addictions: alcohol abuse, the use of narcotic and toxic substances, intake of the medications that affect the nervous system also contribute to the development of mental disorders.


Christian upbringing can also play its role in the appearance of the fear of snakes. As a result of such education, in the child’s mind the snake is associated with the devil’s forces, the world evil.

And, of course, we must not forget about horror films in which huge snakes squeeze people, infect them with deadly poison, and swallow them. It forms a fear of all snakes in the mind because it is difficult for a child to understand that such snakes can be found only in the forests of the Amazon and some other distant parts of the world.

fear of snakes. white snake


An interesting fact is that the appearance of the phobia can be affected by a romantic relationship. In particular, when men often behave badly and unfairly towards a woman, panic fear of snakes which is subconsciously associated with men may appear. So, in some ways, hatred of men can manifest itself as an ophidiophobia.

Symptoms of Fear of Snakes

Often people who suffer from this fear realize that their fear is absolutely irrational and interferes with their normal life. However, despite their sanity, they cannot control their mind and body. They see the snakes on the TV screen, and the phobia instantly manifests itself. Panic attacks accompanied by typical signs of uncontrolled phobias may occur:

  • Violation of the heart rhythm;
  • Nausea;
  • Loss of self-control;
  • Shortness of breath and increased sweating;
  • Loss of ability to adequately reflect and act;
  • Paralysis – in especially severe cases.

fear of snakes. scared man

The fear of snakes can manifest itself both on an emotional and physical level. The first category includes the following signs: fear and anxiety in front of a real reptile or even in front of an image of a snake; obsessive thoughts about the dangers of each species; the desire to escape and hide. Many people suffer from nightmares about snakes.

The category of physical symptoms can include: increased heart rate when facing the reptile, headaches, sweating, dry mouth, attacks of nausea and vomiting.

All these symptoms cause a huge inconvenience. Feeling of discomfort may not leave a person suffering from the fear of snakes for a long time. Then the phobia starts to grow and multiply. That is why it is necessary to get rid of this obsessive fear as soon as possible.

Treatment of the Disease

Regardless of the intensity of fear or features of manifestation, if even weak signs of phobia are detected, it is worth consulting a therapist.

Like most neurotic disorders, the fear of snakes is corrected psychotherapeutically and pharmacologically.

Pharmaceutical Treatment

In general, sedatives and tranquilizers are appointed. Treatment with psychopharmacological drugs is used at the first stages of treatment and only in severe cases.

The purpose of the application is suppression of obvious neurotic fear and anxiety, normalization of sleep and so-called preparation for therapeutic work. In rare cases and after psychotherapeutic correction, supportive pharmacotherapy is prescribed. Only in rare cases doctors prescribe constant intake of substances with a constant dosage for more than six months.

It is important to note that the use of drugs is justified only if there are strong attacks of fear and constant anxiety. Otherwise, the influence of side-effects may be stronger than the therapeutic effect. Also, do not forget about the individual selection of medicines.


The optimal course of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Firstly, this is not a particularly long process. And secondly, it gives persistent result. The main method of work is aimed at forming a “positive” experience of interaction with the object of fear.

The method of systematic desensitization helps a person learn to interact with the environment in a habitually “threatening” situation. A better understanding of the causes of fear and the range of situations that frighten a person allows them to successfully combat their fears.

fear of snakes. Woman lying on couch at doctors office

Often, many people after the psychotherapeutic sessions buy small lizards – as a prototype of their fear. Constant interaction with what seemed dangerous completely eradicates fear.

Finally, an important note: ophidiophobia is a fear that can very quickly progress to complex and “persistent” to treatment violations. Among them, there is the appearance of delusional ideas and social disturbances. That is why you should not underestimate the danger of your fear and refuse to seek professional psychotherapeutic help. Started in time treatment is the guarantee of the best result with a minimum of finances and time spent.

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