5 min of Science: Sharks, Snakes, and Spiders
For my 5 minutes of science presentation I decided to focus on the fear we have of certain animals, why we have them, and how they negatively impact our society. I came up with this topic after thinking about when we learned why people think babies are cute. Humans are programmed to think certain traits like big eyes, small noses, and mouths are cute compared to the opposite of those traits. If we know why humans think certain things are cute then when do they think certain things are scary?
I specifically focused on sharks, spiders, and snakes which are three animals that many people fear and even have phobias of. Many species of sharks, for example, are top of the food chain predators with razor sharp teeth and a lust for blood. It’s pretty easy to imagine why someone would be scared of an animal like this because of how dangerous they appear, but they really aren’t at all. Sharks on Average kill 10 people per year and statistically people have a 1 in 3,748,067 chance of getting bitten by a shark according to the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History. Compare this to an estimated 100 million sharks who are killed annually by humans due to overfishing, and bycatch according to the World Wildlife Organization. Snakes are another commonly feared animal which have a 1 in 35,700 chance of biting a person in the U.S. and a 1 in 50 million chance of killing them. Although they do kill and injure more people than sharks, snakes are still apart of a billion dollar snakeskin industry because of humans. Lastly, spiders are one of people's biggest phobias, but on average only kill 6.5 people per year. As you can see these animals kill few too many people for us to be afraid of them.
According to David Ropeik of Harvard University, the reason people are afraid of sharks isn’t because of how many people die, but because of how terrible a death it would be to get eaten alive by a shark. Movies and media like Jaws, Sharknado, and Shark week all base their entertainment off of the grizzly deaths of humans which show sharks as evil killing machines. When we see these depictions of sharks everywhere we actually think this is how we could die if we ran into one even though it is very unlikely. Ropeik also says that humans are hardwired to feel first and think second which is why they are scared of sharks. We also use mental shortcuts like the availability heuristic which uses recent information to make a decision. People jump to conclusions before figuring out a situation, so if something brushes up against your leg in the water you will assume the worst.
When it comes to snakes and spiders we fear them because we are programmed to. Like babies and puppies have features that we think are cute, snakes and spiders have features that we think are the opposite. For example, the number of legs an animal legs is a feature people judge. Spiders have 8 legs while snakes have none and as a result both are thought of as both scary and disgusting. Another reason we are afraid of snakes is because we as a humans have evolved to fear snacks in order to survive and reproduce. Researchers from The Academy of Natural Sciences have found that some neurons in the brain only respond to legless animals. This means people are easily able to spot a snakes compared to other objects surrounding them. This results in a fear and paranoia of snakes because we are more aware of them compared to other animals/objects.
The reason our fear of certain animals matters to our society is because of the result it may have on us. Unfortunately, many animals are becoming endangered and even extinct because of climate change, poaching, deforestation, and overall killing of animals. As I said before sharks are being killed by the millions every year. We do not know how many are left because of the little information we have on the ocean, but they could possibly be endangered. It’s easy not to care about a predator like shark, but the fact is that they are very important to our ecosystem. Since some of them are top of the food chain predators they are able to keep the ecosystem in balance by eating both prey and smaller predators. If enough sharks die the ocean’s ecosystem will suffer due to overpopulation of other animals. Snakes are also being killed by the snakeskin industry which us them for purses, bags, shoes, belts, etc. The killing of these animals and misconceptions we teach others will contribute to poor ecosystem, and will ruin our environment even more. We need to stop fearing creatures that should really be afraid of us.
Sharks are one my favorite animals so this topic was very important to me because I think it’s unfair how we label them as dangerous. Some of them, like the whale shark, don’t even eat meat and even the ones that do are still not a threat to humans. I can still understand why someone would be scared of a shark, especially someone who has been attacked before. Spiders on the other hand I am very scared of, especially for their legs. Despite my fear, I still think they shouldn’t be labeled as dangerous because of the low number of people they kill and the good they do for the ecosystem. All animals and organisms are an important part of our ecosystem and play a part in keeping it in balance, so I think it’s a bad idea to teach people certain ones are “dangerous”.
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