Sometimes reputation is not reality. Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Education team takes a quick looks at snakes, piranhas and sharks to see if they’re really “bad guys” or just misunderstood.
Snakes have been portrayed as bad guys across the globe for centuries. Ancient Greeks share the myth of Medusa with her head of snakes turning humans to stone. Christianity writes about snakes representing evil and temptation in the garden of Eden. Ancient Egyptians tell of a two-headed serpent guarding the underworld.
Paired with the fact that some snakes deliver a venomous bite, it is not surprising that many people dislike or even fear snakes. However, with more than 3,000 different species of snakes on the planet, there is much to celebrate as well. Less than 7% of snake species are able to significantly harm a human. Snakes play an important role in keeping rodent pest populations under control. Many snakes are both predator and prey in an ecosystem food web, so losing them would have a negative affect on many other species.
The snake at the Aquarium is a green tree python. She spends a significant amount of time curled up on her branch, basking in the humid, tropical temperatures. She starts her life as a different color entirely and becomes a brilliant green color as an adult.
If you encounter a snake, you should give them space, but there is no reason to harm it.
The piranha’s negative reputation can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt. He witnessed a staged feeding frenzy of starved piranhas on a trip to South America and wrote about the experience. More than 120 years later, these fish are still working against that tale. The 1978 movie Piranha showcasing a piranha hunting humans refueled the hype, as it showcased piranha hunting humans.
In reality, humans are not part of a piranha’s food chain. Many piranha feed on smaller fish species, and some are omnivores, eating both meat and plant material. In the scientific community, they are described as timid scavengers. Piranha group together for safety to protect themselves from their own predators, like large birds.
The piranha at the Aquarium are red-bellied piranha. They can be admired for their shiny scales. They are an important part of their ecosystems in freshwater rivers of South America. Piranha should be more appreciated than feared.
Sharks are often portrayed as villains in movies. Jaws, Sharknado, The Shallows, The Meg and even The Little Mermaid portray sharks in a negative light. While some sharks are large, and some do have sharp teeth, there is way more to appreciate about sharks than to fear.
Sharks are apex predators. At the top of the food chain, they play a crucial role in keeping the ocean ecosystems in balance, but humans are not part of the menu. There are more than 400 species of sharks and they eat a variety of different types of foods, with the largest whale sharks eating krill, and the smallest dwarf lantern catching tiny prey with an alluring bioluminescent light.
The sharks at the Aquarium are sandtiger, sandbar and nurse sharks. A fan favorite of Aquarium guests, it can be quite calming to watch them swim slowly through the water.
You are more likely to be struck by lightning, fall off a cliff taking a selfie, or be killed by a lawnmower, than be attacked by a shark. Sharks should be revered rather than feared.