Fear of snakes can be eased if done sensitively, but sometimes even the best intentions go awry. I worked with my daughters when they were quite young. Nora was just 3 when I caught a small milk snake and let her hold it. It slid through her fingers and flicked its tongue, searching for odors, in her face. Twenty-six years later, Nora has no fear of snakes.
Emma, six years younger than Nora, got her lesson at age 7, with quite different results. The "X" factor in handling snakes is that each has its own temperament. Some are nice; some are nasty.
I had Emma hold an eight-inch ring-neck snake. It was pencil thin, and the orange ring around its neck was absolutely stunning. Emma was spellbound until the snake somehow got its teeth stuck on the tip of her pinky finger.
The bite was harmless, but Emma panicked. It took me a few seconds to calm her down so I could gently work the snake's teeth from her skin. To me, it was a non-event -- no blood, no marks. To Emma, however, it was significant. Even today, 16 years later, she loathes snakes.
And then there are bats. Most kids "know" them as the source of blood-drinking vampires. But bats in this part of the country eat thousands of flying insects during their nocturnal foraging flights. They do billions of dollars worth of pest control.
Today bats are under siege by a fungal disease called white-nosed syndrome. Some species have lost as much as 95 percent of their populations. Thanks to excellent news coverage of the impacts of white nose syndrome, however, I'm hopeful that bats enjoy an improving and more sympathetic reputation.
Spiders, snakes, and bats have long had an image problem with the general public. But by understanding their role in nature, they are among the most fascinating and least frightening players on nature's ecological stage. Perhaps Halloween is the perfect time to plead their case.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, West Virginia 26033 or email sshala...@aol.com.