What Good are Snakes?

“The best use for a snake is to make belts and boots!”  That sentiment closely follows, “The only good snake is a dead snake!”  Despite the fear and animosity toward them, snakes have a place and a purpose in the natural world.

Chuck discusses bullsnake with young visitors.
Chuck discusses bullsnake with young visitors.

A couple camped near us at a Colorado state park once complained to the camphost that a bullsnake had stationed itself under their RV.  “If you have snakes under your rig,” the host replied, “you probably have mice.”

When asked what good snakes are, the consumption of rodents usually comes to mind.  Farmers protect bullsnakes that linger near their barns, knowing that the snakes’ main focus is seeking out and devouring as many mice as they can.  Their voracious appetites help regulate rodent populations.

Snake Food

A world without snakes would encourage a world well endowed with rodents.  “Worldwide,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “rats and mice spread over 35 diseases.”  People have less to fear, then, from a bullsnake than from a mouse that can spread disease through bites or through water contaminated with rodent urine or through merely breathing in germs from rodent droppings or urine.

People bitten by a rattlesnake can be treated with antivenom and survive.  But of People who contract hantavirus from rodents, 75% will die.

Snakes as Food

Holding Spike on deck of Jackson Visitor Center

The mortal enemies of rattlesnakes are king snakes, since much of what a king snake eats is other snakes.  Some snakes eat amphibian and bird eggs, some eat fish, some eat insects and invertebrates.  But no matter what they eat, all snakes are carnivorous and eat only other animals, helping keep a balance in nature.  Killing a king snake out of fear would, in effect, aid the rattlesnake population by removing one of their predators.  Other animals eat snakes, as well.  Snakes serve as food for carnivores such as coyotes, badgers, and bobcats, as well as for raptors and other snakes.

Snakes in Medicine

Most people have heard of snake venom being used to create antivenom.  But research with snake venom has begun to create drugs for other ailments from type 2 diabetes to cancer to digestive ills.  One type of venom prevents blood from clotting, a benefit during surgeries.

“Reptile venoms and toxins have a potential for tremendous contribution to treatment of human diseases,” says Dr. Stephen Mackessy, author of Handbook of Venoms and Toxins of Reptiles, “and some of this potential has been realized in the production of drugs based on or modeled from venom toxins.”

While some argue that snakes are ugly and disgusting, others argue for their beauty.  Indeed, as part of nature, we can and should appreciate their unique form and their role in a healthy environment.

Political correctness has promoted tolerance for religion, race, and sexual orientation.  Why can’t we include tolerance for other species?

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