Whenever I had seen a snake in the wild, there was an adult present who immediately and senselessly killed it like the “fat broad” in the comic strip.
Bats turned us into the undead and spiders were to be squealed at and stomped on.
But that was before Dr. Hopp’s Biology 101. Life would never be the same.
The first day of class he walked in with a snake coiled around his neck. There were the expected gasps and shrieks, but he didn’t seem to notice and went on with his class orientation lecture. Finally he got around to introducing his little friend.
“Probably most of you think this is a cold and slimy creature, but if any of you will overcome your prejudice and touch her, you will find that isn’t true.” (He always called them “she” and “her,” without explaining why.)
He walked around the classroom and a few of us reached out to find that the snake was rather pleasant to the touch. The snake, he explained, is one of our best friends in nature. They eat vast amounts of insects and rodents which could quickly take over the universe if not for our snake friends.
Through the next weeks from time to time he would appear with different varieties of snakes, curled around his neck. He told us what each variety was, where she lived, and her importance to the ecology of that area. He entertained us with warm fuzzy stories about snakes.
More and more people got brave enough to touch them and some of us worked up the courage to hold them. No one left the room even when he let them crawl on the floor.
He assured us they were not pets. They were kept at optimum conditions in tanks in the biology laboratory cared for by lab assistants. Pets were animals that could relate to us in a conscious manner. Snakes didn’t. They were simply creatures of nature and instinct, not meant to be kept as animal companions in any sense.
Many of them had been surrendered to the department by people who didn’t know what they were getting into when they bought a small snake as a novelty.
Then he ran out of snakes to bring into the classroom. That was the day he brought in a bat that had fastened herself onto his lapel. He assured us that she was not rabid, would not attach herself to our hair and would not bite our necks to suck blood. In fact, she had a cute little face if we could get beyond the wings.
Who knew that there were different varieties of bats? In a few weeks we met many of them and learned how many insects a single bat can eat during one night’s flight.
Finally near the end of the quarter he came in with a tarantula hanging on his coat. She doesn’t look ugly to another tarantula, he told us, and in fact she seemed to be rather affectionate.
During the rest of the quarter he brought in various spiders, but the spiders were in jars. Not for our protection. There has never been a documented case of a spider mounting an attack on a human, he insisted. Spiders are delicate and very shy. Any rare bites were purely defensive when her life was in danger and they are almost never fatal. We were far more likely to be struck by lightning than to die of a snake, bat or spider bite.
Snakes, bats and spiders don't compete with humans for food sources. Their lives are devoted to dining on creatures who do.
I learned other things in college, passed tests and got degrees, but nothing ever lived up to Dr. Hopp’s Biology 101.