Ophidiophobia, weather, butterflies and Wood Ducks

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My wife, Janie, enrolled in my vertebrate zoology class because she loved the outdoors but was deathly afraid of snakes. By the end of the quarter, she was no longer fearful of snakes, at least not of the non-venomous ones, and she developed an appreciation of them. Recently she caught a harmless juvenile ringneck snake in our driveway and brought it to me. It was about seven inches long and not much thicker than a kitchen match.

One of the members of the Opelika Order of Geezers, who prefers to remain anonymous, suffers from a pathological fear and hatred of snakes, an affliction known as ophidiophobia. I thought that the Geezer surely wouldn’t be afraid of the tiny ringneck snake, and that he might be willing to handle it. If he would, it would be the first step in helping him to overcome his fear of harmless snakes. No such luck. When I showed it to him, he shouted, “Get that thing away from me. I don’t even want to look at it!”

The man’s ophidiophobia could indicate that his amygdala is malfunctioning. The amygdala is a part of the brain involving several functions of the body, including autonomic responses associated with intense emotions, including in some people irrational fear. My observations and those of other herpetologists lead me to believe that even a person with an over-reactive amygdale, he or she can be cured of ophidiophobia by appropriate psychotherapeutic interventions if the patient is willing to undergo them. Sadly, some patients, such as the aforementioned, refuse to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment, even if it is available free of charge.

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So far this year our area has had unusually warm weather during the period of January-March, followed by abnormally cool weather in April and a near record-breaking low temperature on the morning of May 5. In Arkansas, on May 2, nearly five inches of snow fell, the first snow ever recorded in that state during the month of May.

In the upper Midwest, devastating floods have been occurring, while not far to the west, the Great Plains are drought-stricken. In the Southwest, over a million acres of Forest Service lands have burned, along with 600,000 acres of state, private, and other federal lands. A fire in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Los Angeles, caused traffic jams and threatened residences.

About the only good thing resulting from the weather we’ve been experiencing is the excessive rainfall that fell in March. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, eastern central Alabama is, for the first time in recent memory, no longer considered abnormally dry.

Whether our unusual weather is the result of excessive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or some other cause is debatable. But one phenomenon is indisputable. The weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable on a long-term basis.

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Anne Norton, assisted ably by Betsy Jordan, is to be congratulated for planting a butterfly garden at Richland Elementary School. Butterflies need all the help they can get from their human contemporaries. Many species are declining in number for a variety of reasons, first and foremost is poisoning by insecticides. Anyone, interested in butterflies should purchase the book, Butterflies of Alabama, by Sara Bright (photos) and Paulette Ogard (text). You will be, as I was, impressed by Bright’s photographs of the adult butterflies, their larvae, and chrysalides, which are the best I’ve ever seen. Ogard’s descriptions of the butterflies’ habits, their life-cycles, and other suspects of their existence are exemplary. The book is without question a masterpiece.

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Also worthy of commendation are Jenny Roe, Gene Hunter, and numerous others involved in establishing the Opelika Wood Duck Heritage Preserve and Siddique Nature Park in Opelika along Waverly Parkway. In addition to providing valuable habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife and outdoor recreational opportunities for area residents, the preserve and park are together listed among the ten sites in the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail. Also, the park and preserve have been recently recognized by the Wood Duck Society. In a Wood Duck Newsgram article, the local group was featured in a two page informative write-up. The article featured photos of members with their newly installed park sign, and photos of Wood Duck box installation. Also noteworthy is that Opelika had the distinction in 2011 as being the only city in the Southeast to be recognized as an Urban Bird Treaty City. Birding has become one of the most popular outdoor activities in which people participate, and the preserve and park will likely be used by area residents and become a destination for out-of-area nature enthusiasts as well.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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