Fear of snakes

I know my fear is unhealthy, but with all there is to worry about when moving to Nicaragua, my biggest fear is snakes. Both for my dog and I. I have read about them climbing trees and biting a person's shoulders. I have read about the many poisonous varieties.

I love to garden, but my fear of putting my hands in a soil with snakes is terrifying me. What is your experience there with snakes? Have you seen them? Do they really aggressively attack people from trees?

And please forgive me, because I know that I sound like the same type of person who comes to Hollywood thinking it is dripping with movie stars on every block, but this fear is real and my husband is joking about it because he thinks it should be the least of my worries and I know he is right, so I no longer mention it.

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Snakes and gardening

I live in Granada and have encountered 2 coral snakes, small, beautiful, very poisonous but not agressive, in a year and a half. One was a baby and was already covered by ants - don't know if they killed it or were just having a feast.

I am also a gardener and the worst venomous experience I have seen was a scorpion bite my companero got when he stuck his ungloved hands into a pile of leaves we were adding to compost. Getting bit by ants of half a dozen types is the most common hazard in my garden.

Snakes on the ground feel vibrations with their whole bodies and usually go somewhere else if they can, when they sense the giant (human, etc.) in the neighborhood.

I know an effective method of eliminating phobias such as fear of snakes (or water). It's free, takes little time and can be used for fears of all kinds. Your husband is not right to joke about it. Like a peanut allergy, it is physically real to those who suffer from it. PM me if you are interested.

I've been coming to

I've been coming to Nicaragua for a long time, and I've only seen a few live snakes. We used to go hunting on the levees of the rice paddies in Sebeco, and I never once saw a snake. I could hear a lot of them as they fled to the water. The point is that they all fled when I got close. It didn't do any good to ask if there were any that were poisonous, as most people in Nicaragua think all snakes are. The only snake I saw in a tree was on a farm (also in Sebeco). There was a 100 foot wide section of trees between the fields and the river, and in a tree at the edge of the field, about 8 feet off the ground, was a boa. It was about 9 feet long and 3 inches in diameter, and as soon as the guys with me spotted it, it was destined to become a belt. Every one of them (including some that were relatively well educated) not only thought the snake was venomous, but that could also inject venom from its tail.

In recent years, I have only seen a couple dead ones along the road, and only one live sighting. The live one was crossing the road (between Matagalpa and Sebeco). It was rather large (about 7 feet or so and about 2 inches in diameter), which tells me it was most likely not venomous. It was a solid light brown, and moved pretty fast. Anyone want to take a guess what it was?

Like others have said before, if you are going to live in Managua and spend most of your time there, it is likely you will never see a snake in the wild. I would worry more about scorpions. :-)


Charlie, your live snake sounds like a racer of some sort. I agree - while some venomous snakes can get to 7 ft. in length (terciopelos, bushmasters), the venomous snakes are stout. A viper of 7ft length would be at least 4-5" diameter, if not more.

Charlie and LillyC make good points about scorpions. You do want to be careful about where you put your hands (or feet) - scorpions love dark little nooks and crannies. I had several scorpions in my house in NE Costa Rica, and the former tenant had been stung twice - one in their closet on their hanging clothes, and the other in an oven mitt. Fortunately the ones on the Caribbean side are not deadly, but some Pacific scorpions are. Make sure to shake out shoes, mitts, and etc before putting your hands or feet in, and don't stick ungloved hands into dark places that you can't see (including litter piles).

All of this is not said to scare you. Remember, people have been living in these areas with these animals for thousands of years. With a little healthy caution and respect for the creatures you'll come in contact with, you'll be fine.

ETA: re: coral snakes, they are fairly common and found on/in the ground. But they're not aggressive, and furthermore they're small, rear-fanged and very small-mouthed. This means that they can't easily get ahold of you to bite you, even if they tried - you'd practically have to jam a pinky finger down their throat to get bit. Also, there are many other species of harmless snakes that mimic corals. The old "red on yeller kill the feller" rhyme does *not* work in Central America - instead you have to look at head shape and number and width of stripes to differentiate harmless from venomous. But as with the larger snakes, as mimics outnumber true corals, odds are that any given snake is harmless (though still be cautious).


Life is what happens while we're busy making other plans

Fear of snakes

It is very common. I used to be afraid of snakes and mice - when I was about six years old in Nic. I was bitten on the nose by a mouse that I picked up by the tail (I must have thought it was dead but it was only numb by, I guess, poison). Not that I was not afraid / disgusted by it, but I was curious and wanted to have close look and then feed it to my cat, lol.

The good thing is that your odds of a close encounter with a snake – let alone being bitten by a venomous one- are very slim. In my last visit to Nic I saw one dead snake on the side of the road. There are snakes in Nic. And even if you see one, Nicas in general are used to seeing people being afraid of snakes. No big deal. Even in rural areas, very few people can tell venomous and harmless snakes apart, I’ve seen grown men running away from them. And I mean running fast!

With time, I’ve learned not to be that scared of snakes or mice. I’ve touched a snake or two in my life but I’m still not interested in touching a mouse. If I see a mouse, my instinct would be to try to kill it to prevent infestation but I will not touch a live one or pick it up by its tail. I’ll pass, thank you.

Your husband is right

Snakes should be the least of your worries. Your fears and paranoia should be the most of your worries.

Why should I differ from any other American?

Nice try but why change the mold from the other Americans living there? If I did, there wouldn't be sites like this asking for help, right?

I know, I know...it sounds silly to others

But I can tell you the fear is valid. And I want to thank everyone, (even the humorous responses) for helping me understand the snake population there. What I've been reading about the snakes online has made my fears ten times worse and I wondered if it was just a bunch of hooey. If you want a good laugh about how ridiculous my fears are, my husband told me that as long as I watered the lawn the snakes would run away. Yeah, okay...I'm not quite that naive. LOL

Not too many

Depending on where you go in Nicaragua, the odds of seeing a venomous snake are quite low. If you are on the drier Pacific side, especially in any of the more developed areas - or even areas with rural populations - the odds are most venomous snakes have been long since near-exterminated. The drier side has fewer venomous snakes (both in numbers and species) than the Caribbean side in the first place. Furthermore, most Nicaraguans (including every single one that I've known) are terrified of snakes (and/or like them for food, as Juanno said), and they kill them immediately on sight. So any areas where people have lived and farmed for any length of time have already had those few snakes there in the first place killed.

Now, if you were to start hiking through the rainforest on the Caribbean side, the story would change a bit. You have many more species of venomous snakes on the Caribbean side - including the big ones, bushmaster (matabuey) and fer de lance (terciopelo). And yes, some of them even live in trees (e.g., eyelash viper). But even here, you don't encounter venomous snakes all that commonly. I've spent approximately 2 years living in the rainforest, hiking long distances off-trail daily into dense old-growth rainforest preserves many kilometers from any human settlements, and in all this time I've seen ~20 terciopelos, 5 eyelash vipers, a couple dozen hognose vipers (so small that they're essentially harmless, unless you're digging through leaf litter with your bare hands), and no bushmasters (I would actually love to see one, as they're beautiful snakes - but preferably from a distance). If you average this out over some 500 days in the field, I saw 1 terciopelo (the only snake I worry about) approximately every 25 days. Of these, only 2 of the terciopelos were mildly aggressive, and one eyelash viper I nearly grabbed before I saw it. But as long as you're careful, your odds of getting bit are *extremely* low. In fact, at the biological station I worked at the majority of the time (La Selva in Costa Rica), despite having fairly healthy populations of venomous snakes, and large populations of researchers (up to 200+ people going out daily into the forest), there has not been a snake bite in > 5 years (and the last person bit made a stupid mistake, walking on a forested trail at night in flip-flops and not looking at the trail). However this is an extreme situation - the vast majority of tourists, or even residents, in Nicaragua are not hiking off-trail in rainforest day-in and day-out as I was.

Now, there are many other snakes in Nicaragua which are not venomous. In fact, you are *far* more likely to see a harmless than a venomous snake; the odds are that any given snake you'd see is a harmless creature just trying to find a meal and avoid being stepped on or cut in two by a machete. So if you do see a snake, take a step back, take a look at the coloration, and then let it go on its way.


Life is what happens while we're busy making other plans

las vivoras de las costas

I've seen a number of rattlesnakes on the pacific side of Nicaragua. I've seen them around Volcan Masaya National Park and west of Diriamba. Rattlesnakes are some of the most poisonous and aggressive snakes out there. However, you can easily avoid them if you're mindful. They will ussually let you know if you come into their territory. I was once walking through a creek in the middle of the night with some locals looking for tiny fish they whack with machetes to make dinner with. As I was following these guys around the creek I heard some movement in the bushes and I said to myself that sounds like a snake. But what really freaked me out was that a couple of seconds later i heard the rattle. Then I knew I had stop and retrace my steps very slowly. In the same area I saw two snakes that looked like coral snakes, one definitely was not but the other i wasn't sure. Cows die of snake bites in that area too. I was also told of a spot where people consider it to be rattlesnake territory, up in a windy hill with lots of rocks, and one of the local's dog was killed by one there.

There are plenty of wild areas on the paficic side of Nicaragua, if you seek them out, where these poisonous snakes can thrive. I know rattlesnakes in particular like the drier climates. However, you would probably have to be on a nature trail of some sort to encounter them. I've seen snakes on trees too but I've never heard of them jumping on people, that sounds a little far out there, but i guess its possible, most likely if they happen to fall rather than aim for you.

The pacific of Nicaragua was once much more lush with tree canopies and lack of water was barely an issue. In its pure and mature state it behaved much more like a tropical rainforest with an extended dry season. Also, there have been plenty of sources of fresh water. Sadly, the water sources in the pacific have diminished greatly and the forest canopy is very difficult to come acrross and reintroduce especially the closer you get to the pacific coast. You could say that Occidendal Nicaragua is in a desertification state. Wind and water erosion also becomes more prevalent, not to mention drought. I enjoy helping reclaim some of the forests and wildlife of the Pacific coast, it is necessary. We will recognize that for life, water is more valuable than oil pretty soon.

I'm deeply afraid of water.

Toilet tanks spook the snot out of me, let alone those giant water towers. I can barely walk by a ground level cistern or tank of any kind. Luckily there aren't many of those around here.

Don't ever, ever ask me to swim in a lake, ever.

I once went to Wynochee Dam in Washington State. This is a concrete dam in a narrow gorge. There's a concrete service roadway over the top of the dam. I forced myself to walk out there because rationally I knew the probability of it collapsing was infinitesimally small. Then I looked over the "upstream" side and realized that I was standing over 200'-300' of deep, still, cold, dark water. The only thing under me was a few inches of concrete. Still makes me sweat.

Snakes don't bother me, but you might try getting to know a small harmless one. They have eyes like jewels, tiny-perfect. They are clean and dry.

No snake on earth wants to mess with you or anyone else. Ever. This is true of all wild animals. They don't want trouble. Even a poisonous snake, biting in fear and for self-defense (which it always is) can't eat for at least a week after injecting venom, so they don't do it. They bite only in desperation.

You probably won't ever get over it, but try a little at a time to get to know at least one snake, and learn as much as you can about them. They are all sleek miracles of rare device.

Fear in general

My wife is afraid of snakes. She paniced when I told her about one I had seen by the garden. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, the city growth pretty much forced all the rattlesnames to move to the ritzy neighborhoods on the PV peninsula.

My friend Joyce, also from L.A. is afraid there is not a hospital close enough (meaning within five minutes) from all so many places in Costa Rica.

Many people I know are afraid of getting cancer from environmental pollution with the Los Angeles basin being a general case. Then killer bees attack people in California. And, well, ...

There are snakes in Nicaragua and, well, on most of the planet. There are some relatively dangerous ones. Then there are the ones that eat rats and such. In general, snakes don't like to be around big mammals and will just go away. There is probably somewhere in Nicaragua where they hang out in trees waiting for Gringos but no where I have ever been.

I am a firm believer in live and let live. Zompopos (leafcutter ants) are my biggest fear—not because I am afraid of what they might do to me but because I don't have a "friendly" was to ask them to move elsewhere.

Bottom line: we are all going to die. If you go down the "risk list", from a snake bite isn't going to show up anywhere near the top. I would worry more about car accidents.

OK, serious answer this tme.

I have lived here about 4 years. I did travel around some remote areas and countryside before settling in SJdS. I walk everywhere, about 5 K a day on average. In that whole time I have only ever seen 2 snakes, one live and one dead . The live one slithered in front of me on a path and he/she was likely scared as hell of my size 11's coming down on him/her. The dead one was being sold door to door. Smoked rattlesnake! about 2 bucks for enough meat for a family of 4. It was delicious.

So FYL is probably right, us huge humans are scary to them, so they keep away out in the country. If you unfortunate enough to disturb one out there, well, it's there place, instinct will take over and they will attack or at least hiss. (bit like me and a siesta, you can make noise outside my room, but come in and wake me up for no reason and hiss I will).

I think you said that Managua was going to be home, you should be OK there.

Snakes in Trees

Got to be a Realtor joke in there somewhere! (I guess the "vulture in the tree joke" got in first). See NicaReal, I did lighten up, thank you.

Wear clothes and shoes

and pay attention to what you are doing.

So far we found one stout brown snake of unknown species in the garden too close to someones hands when she was pulling weeds. I safely removed it to a nearby stream/wild area. Point: pull weeds when they are still small.

Various snakes blow thru the yard (maybe one every 6 months). Most are little garter snakes. They are all running the other way. People are dangerous.´Both properties are in agricultural areas where the locals will tend to kill anything out of ignorance.

¨Latin America devours its revolutionaries¨ -Simon Bolivar