Ophidiophobia is an intense fear of snakes. This term comes from the Greek words “ophis” (snake or serpent) and “phobos” (fear). If a person is scared of other reptiles, not just snakes, they may have herpetophobia.
Ophidiophobia is classified as an animal type specific phobia within the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). This phobia is characterized by an intense or unreasonable fear that is cued by the thoughts or actual presence of snakes. Exposure to a snake generally causes an immediate anxiety reaction (e.g., heart racing, feelings of dread, shortness of breath, sweating, hyperventilating), that may include panic attacks. In some cases, people may also have strong anxiety reactions to depictions of these reptiles (e.g., magazine photo, nature video), thoughts of snakes, and conversations involving discussion of snakes. People with ophidiophobia know that their fears are excessive, but will often go out of their way to avoid snakes, including changing their routines to avoid possible contact with snakes (e.g., avoiding walking in tall grass, not going into basements or garages, avoiding nature programs about animals). This avoidance, anxiety, and distress can lead to impairments in social, occupational, and/or academic functioning. It should be noted that although a large number of people may be afraid or feel disgusted at the sight of snakes, a person would only receive a clinical diagnosis of a specific phobia if snakes were present in his or her environment (e.g., snakes actually exist near where the person lives or works) and the level of distress or avoidance behaviors were causing impairment in their functioning.
Animal phobias, such as ophidiophobia, are often acquired in early childhood and are more common in women than men. The self-reported fears in animal type specific phobias are generally focused on feelings of disgust and revulsion and may also be focused on thinking the animal may cause harm or be dangerous. Depression and other anxiety disorders are the most common disorders that may co-occur with ophidiophobia.
A fear of snakes is common and these fears have been reported throughout history. Given that snakes can be poisonous and quite dangerous to humans and other mammals, it is suggested that humans developed an innate fear of snakes that helped them survive. Additionally, encounters with snakes are often unexpected, causing a startle response, which may lead a person to develop a conditioned fear to snakes.
Celebrities who reportedly have a fear of snakes include Jodie Foster, Johnny Cash, Marie-Louise Parker, André the Giant, and Chevy Chase. It was also the fear that the fictional Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) had to face, while Indiana Jones’ father (played by Sean Connery) had musophobia.
Ophidiophobia can be treated with standard exposure-based anxiety treatments for phobias, including systematic desensitization, flooding, and modeling techniques. It can also be treated using virtual reality treatment. If ophidiophobia is interfering with your life, consult a health professional to discuss possible treatment options.
For more information about phobias and fear of snakes: