According to the paper, an adult male Agta has just over half the mass of a large female python, "not a heavy meal by snake standards." Pythons routinely eat pigs weighing up to 130 pounds, the authors stated.
But Agta, too, represent a threat to pythons. Headland himself was witness to a nearly 23-foot-long snake carcass killed by Agta hunters, which provided 55 pounds of meat.
Agta and python also share many favorite dishes, including deer, wild pigs and monkeys. So it makes sense that humans have a natural distrust of their reptilian neighbors, the authors stated.
"This data supports the theory that we have genetic phobia," said Headland.
And modern-day psychiatrist Dr. Bryan Bruno, acting chairman of the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed that the lingering fear people have today may indeed date back to human ancestors who were even more vulnerable to serpent attacks.
"When a car comes at me on the highway, it scares me, I get out of the way fast. But when we see snakes, the hair of the back of our neck goes straight up. It's more than being scared of a car. It's a tremendous fear," said Headland. The fear, he added, is "human universal."
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on phobias.
SOURCES: Thomas N. Headland, Ph.D., international anthropology consultant, SIL International, Dallas; Bryan Bruno, M.D., acting chairman, department of psychiatry, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Dec. 12-16, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online
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