Ophidiophobia: The Fear of Snakes

Ophidiophobia The Fear of Snakes

Ophidiophobia, also known as ophiophobia, is the irrational fear of snakes. It is one of the most common phobias on earth, as many humans are afraid of snakes.

The fear of snakes or Ophidiophobia is possibly the most widespread subcategory of herpetophobia, which is the fear of reptiles.

Some studies have suggested that phobias related to reptiles like snakes may be evolutionary, as the human ancestors possibly developed them as a defense or survival mechanism.

However, this theory has failed to explain why Ophidiophobia or fear of snake phobias are somewhat common, while fears of predators, such as lions and tigers, are rare.

Some studies have also revealed that while it may be true that the tendency to pay close attention to reptiles like snakes may be evolutionary, the fear of snake itself is learned and not innate.

To illustrate how common the fear of snakes phobia is, the action hero Indiana Jones shows it as his weakness when he gets stuck in a booby trap with a snake and yells, “Why is it always snakes? “

If you are one of the millions of people who struggle with the fear of snakes, ophidiophobia, then you can understand why an adventurer as brave as Indiana Jones would have such an intense fear for the crawlies.

Since snakes are usually depicted as deadly or dangerous creatures, a fear of snakes, venomous or not, is considered normal.

A study carried out in 2013 revealed that the human brain is evolutionarily conditioned to be scared of all snake-like forms.

If what is written in the scriptures of religions like Christianity is true, then the fear makes sense, as snakes have always been a threat to humans.

Now that we have established the fact that the majority of humans have a reasonable amount of fear for snakes, it is essential to note that when this fear begins to affect your daily life and disturb how you usually function, it is fine to take it more seriously.

If the mere mention of the words “Snake” gives you the heebie-jeebies and sends you into full panic mode, then you have ophidiophobia.

Here, you’ll learn about the possible causes of ophidiophobia, the symptoms, diagnosis, and available treatment options. Kindly read further.

What are the causes of ophidiophobia?

The actual cause of most phobias, specific or not, is usually unknown. This means that one particular cause for fear of snakes phobia is yet to be identified as it can come from a boatload of causes.

Sometimes, this phobia may have multiple factors, each stalked on top of the other, transforming a latent (undeveloped) fear it into something more disturbing and anxiety-inducing.

Below are some possible causes of ophidiophobia or ophiophobia:

  • A negative experience: If you had a traumatic experience with a snake as a child, it could leave you with an intense and long-term phobia of the reptile. Such experience could include being bitten by a snake or being in an environment that is frightening and prominently features snakes and causes you to feel trapped or helpless.
  • Learned behaviors: For people who grew up seeing a relative or parent demonstrating intense fear around snakes, it is not uncommon to learn that these creatures are one to fear. Learned fear is true of many specific phobias, and that includes ophidiophobia.
  • Portrayal in media: Often, people learn to become afraid of something because society or popular media makes us believe these things are scary. Mice, bats, clowns, and snakes usually end up on the list of scary things. If you have seen too many horror or scary movies or images that feature reptiles like snakes over an extended period of time, you may start learning to fear them.
  • Learning about people’s negative experiences: When you hear someone describe a scary encounter with a snake, it could be triggering. Fear is usually generated by the expectation of something that causes discomfort and pain as opposed to a memory of actually dealing with the pain.

Effects of Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes phobia)

Ophidiophobia can be a sneaky phobia. Over time, people may start to fear things that are totally unrelated to snakes themselves. For instance, you may develop a fear of pet stores that have snakes for sale.

You may begin to avoid hiking trips, camping, or even nature preserves and zoos. You may also develop a secondary fear of other reptiles.

Symptoms of Ophidiophobia

The fear of snakes can be a very tricky one to diagnose, as the symptoms may vary widely between individuals. If what you have is a mild case of ophidiophobia, you may oy be afraid of encounters with big or venomous snakes.

For people who have a more severe phobia, you may also be frightened of smaller snakes. You may even find it difficult to look at videos or photographs in which there are snakes.

If you notice that you are scared of all types of lizards, from small geckos to giant Komodo dragons, then what you have is more of a herpetophobia than ophidiophobia.

The symptoms of ophidiophobia may include:

  • Shaking
  • Crying
  • Running away from snakes
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating, especially in your extremities such as your palms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Trembling and shaking

While not everyone may experience the same symptoms, these symptoms may become worse as you get physically closer to any size of snake or when you feel the time of a proposed snake interaction is getting closer to happening.

How is the fear of snakes phobia (ophidiophobia) diagnosed?

Specific phobias can usually be quite delicate to diagnose because not all of them have been listed in the generally accepted Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).

This manual is a reference tool that is used by mental health professionals when they have to diagnose different mental health disorders or issues.

In this case, your intense fear of snakes will likely be diagnosed as a specific phobia. A specific phobia simply means anxiety or an intense fear in response to a particular trigger, such as environment, an animal, or situation.

The first step you need to take in learning your diagnosis is to talk about your fears and symptoms with your therapist.

You will talk through various experiences or memories that you may have of your phobia to help them get a more vivid picture of your history.

Then, together, your doctor can talk with you through different likely diagnoses to see which of them feels the closest to your personal experience.

Once that is done, you can decide together on suitable treatment.

What is the treatment for ophidiophobia?

Fortunately, even though ophidiophobia is believed to be a slightly natural fear for all humans, it has an excellent chance for successful treatment.

It is essential, though, to opt for a therapist that you feel comfortable with, and whom you can trust to help with a smooth recovery process.

Different treatment options will work for different people, so have no fear when it comes to trying something out of the ordinary in case a normal course of treatment doesn’t work.

If you are diligent with treating your condition, things can slowly but surely get better.

It is worthy of note that there is no particular treatment identified for a specific phobia, such as ophidiophobia. And it is not out of place for you to explore a few different methods of treatment together.

It’s primarily about finding the perfect treatment combination that works for you. Below are standard methods of treatment for ophidiophobia:

Exposure therapy

This type of talk therapy, also known as systematic desensitization, is exactly what it sounds like: You will be exposed to the same thing that you are afraid of in a safe and nonthreatening environment.

For ophidiophobia or fear of snakes phobia, this may mean watching videos or looking at pictures of snakes in your therapist’s office and discussing the emotions and physical responses that come up as you watch or look.

In some cases, you may have to try a virtual reality system to make you feel like you are around a snake in a real but digital space where nothing can genuinely hurt you. After this point, you may slowly work up to being around actual snakes in an environment that is safe and regulated like the zoo.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

This is one of the most popular forms of therapy used for treating specific phobias. With this kind of talk therapy, you will have to work on fixing short-term goals with your therapist that will help to change possible patterns or problems in how you think.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a treatment plan that generally has to do with hands-on problem solving that will help you change how you feel about the subject of snakes.

In this case, you and your therapist may talk through possible ways to reframe snakes so that you no longer have to see them as animals that should be feared. You may have to watch documentaries or online classes about how friendly and harmless snakes can be.

If that isn’t convincing enough, you might also go to a lecture by someone who studies snakes (a herpetologist), so that you can learn more about those that are venomous, those that are friendly, and how you can feel safe around snakes.


Medications is usually not the first option as they do not cure your phobia. Meds are best used together with your regular talk therapy while your phobia is being treated. Two primary types of medication are used to help with treating specific phobias: Sedatives and beta-blockers.

What beta-blockers do is to help your heartbeat pumps slightly slower than usual, so if you happen to suffer a panic or fear response, it will help you feel calm and relaxed rather than spiraling.

Sedatives, on the other hand, are mainly prescription drugs that will help you relax or sleep. However, the use of sedatives is not encouraged as they can lead to dependence.

For this reason, many prescribers ensure to avoid them for the treatment of anxiety or phobia, suggesting instead that you work to treat the phobia with regular counseling.

Final thoughts

More than half of the world’s population is afraid of snakes and other reptiles, so it is nothing to be ashamed of if you have ophidiophobia. Ensure to seek professional help once you notice that your ophidiophobia has begun to affect your daily life.

We hope that this has been a good read. Kindly leave a comment below.

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