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A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests humans have good reasons to fear snakes, and ophidiophobia may rise from the experiences of our ancestors. In the research, scientists document the way frequent python attacks affected a tribe of preliterate, hunter-gathers from the Philippines. The study is one of the first to examine the danger snakes pose to humans. To this tribe, the Agta Negritos of Luzon Island, the fear and dangers are very real.

Anthropologist Thomas Headland, lead author of the paper, lived with the tribe his entire adult life. He interviewed 58 men and 62 women regarding their experiences with pythons. Fifteen of the men and one woman had lived to tell of attacks, and many bore the scars from those encounters. The tribe recalled six fatal attacks between 1934 and 1973, which amounted to an average of one “traumatic python incident” every two to three years.

Headland noted that the average male from the tribe has just over half the mass of a large female python. Since the snakes normally eat pigs weighing up to 130 pounds, humans are not a challenge. The research noted that though the Agta also hunt and kill pythons for food, the findings support a theory pointing to a genetic phobia of snakes in humans. Headland wrote, “When a car comes at me on the highway, it scares me; I get out of the way fast. When we see snakes, the hair of the back of our neck goes straight up. It’s more than being scared of a car. It’s a tremendous fear.” He says that fear is “human universal.”

--Snakes Make Your Skin Crawl? Study suggests why; http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=72107b4b-5547-43d1-8b3d-bbf80b1b6be8&chunkiid=665285; December 12, 2011. Illustration by Jim L. Wilson and Jim Sandell

Genesis 3:1-5 (CEV) The snake was sneakier than any of the other wild animals that the LORD God had made. One day it came to the woman and asked, "Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?" (2) The woman answered, "God said we could eat fruit from any tree in the garden, (3) except the one in the middle. He told us not to eat fruit from that tree or even to touch it. If we do, we will die." (4) "No, you won't!" the snake replied. (5) "God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does."

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