When you think of reptiles, you may automatically think of all the threats that they can pose. Stories of alligators attacking children and fatal snake bites are easily spread, leaving readers with worries and fears of the dangers of reptiles. But what kinds of threats do they really pose to us humans? And if they aren’t as big of a threat as many people seem to think, then how do we break past the stigma against reptiles?
The reptilian reality
In 2012, the department of wildlife ecology and conservation for the University of Florida said that, in the United States, it is nine times more likely to die by being struck by lightning than by venomous snake bite. Yet many people are more willing to walk in a thunderstorm than get anywhere near a reptile.
According to Grégory Bulté, a biology professor from Carleton University, reptiles share a similar sentiment towards humans. “Most species of reptiles want nothing to do with you,” he said, when talking of the minimal threats that reptiles pose.
Reptiles such as this Western diamondback rattlesnake are dangerous, but Bulté said that even rattlesnakes prefer to avoid humans than pick fights.
Bulté went on to say that here in Canada, we pose more threats to reptiles than they do to us. As is, in Canada we don’t have an ideal climate for these cold-blooded creatures. He said that because of this, most reptiles in Canada stay very close to the southern border. All of this leaves us not having a very dense population of reptiles.
He said that the number one threat to reptiles is habitat destruction, followed by roads. Since most species of reptiles are found where there are many people, many reptiles, like snakes and turtles, will migrate across the roads and get run over. More locally, Bulté said that poaching is also an issue, as people will collect reptiles, especially turtles, for the pet trades.
Even though we are a bigger threat to reptiles than they are to us, a negative view of reptiles gets passed around. If their threat is this minimal, then why are they so feared?
The reason for the stigma
Bulté said that it largely comes from a lack of exposure. It’s a fear and dislike that gets passed down from parent to child. When talking of what makes reptiles an easy target, even when the statistics aren’t necessarily there, he said that “it’s a culture, a misinformed culture that’s very deeply engrained and that’s really hard to shake with evidence.”