If snakes were in a popularity contest, among all other animals, they would surely lose. Around the world, snakes are often perceived as animals to be feared or hated. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of the antipathies that surround snakes are guided by ignorance or misunderstanding. While snakes may not be the most popular animal on the planet, have you ever wondered why they might be important? Or perhaps, why they shouldn’t be killed? There are actually many good reasons to respect snakes and maybe even appreciate them!
Here are three spectacular ways that snakes are important and worthy of your respect:
1. Snakes Maintain Balance in the Food Web.
Snakes play an integral role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem. In most systems, snakes can be both predator and prey. When a large prey population attracts and sustains a large snake population, those snakes become prey for birds, mammals and even other snakes! Some snakes specialize in preying on other snakes, like the kingsnake, which can prey on rattlesnakes because they are immune to rattlesnake venom. In Southeast Asia, the king cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world, is also a snake-eating specialist!
2. Snakes are a Natural Form of Pest Control.
As predators, snakes keep prey populations in balance. For example, rodents reproduce exponentially in the absence of predators, as long as there is plenty of food. This is particularly true in environments dominated by humans. The University of Nebraska estimates that mice cause $20 million in damage annually in Nebraska! Most people try to control these pests with chemicals which end up polluting the environment. Snakes provide an easy, environmentally friendly, free and natural pest control service.
Another example, timber rattlesnakes in the eastern U.S. eat rodents who are hosts to ticks. Those ticks are a vector for Lyme disease, which is a dangerous bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans. When the snakes reduce the rodent populations, the prevalence of Lyme disease in the environment is reduced.
3. Snakes Deserve our Respect and Appreciation.
Snakes, while feared around the world, are also revered and celebrated in many cultures. In some societies snakes are often viewed as good fortune and in others, the snake created the world. Being predators, the benefits of snakes are now being recognized as providing humans with an ecological service. However, snakes are seriously under threat. Some snake species have become threatened due to habitat destruction, urban development, disease, persecution, unsustainable trade and through the introduction of invasive species. Many snake species are endangered and some species are on the brink of extinction. As a society, we do not have to love snakes, but we can at least respect their right to exist without harm and appreciate their vital role in maintaining Earth’s biodiversity.
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