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Understanding vs. Fear


Understanding vs. Fear

Breaking down our misconceptions about swamps.

By Ross Baringer


Swamps have carried a negative connotation and inspired fear for centuries, even in Louisiana where

most of our culture is in some way connected to that environment. In literature and film they are

often portrayed as dark festering areas full of evil. Fantasy films especially depict swamps this way

including The Neverending Story, Legend, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. It’s no question that swamps have

such a menacing place in our imaginations, but how much of our perception of them is fact, and how

much is fiction?

Most of the fear of swamps comes from the difficulty of navigating them. Some are vast and dense,

full of winding bayous and creeks, making it easy to get lost. This also makes them hard to study. The

less-than- solid nature of the “land” in a swamp limits most swamp exploration to boating. The result

is partial understanding of the complex ecosystem. Since people naturally fear what they don’t

understand, this directly contributes to the negative perception of these areas.

Swamps are also dense with plant life, which creates a plethora of places for animals to hide from

sight. This naturally creates opportunities for people’s imaginations to go wild. What might be

slithering among that tall grass or lurking among the water lilies? The answer is of course all kinds of

things; however, here again imagination fills in the gaps of what we don’t know. In Louisiana swamps

are populated by snakes and alligators, among many other less scary animals, and people typically

imagine that these scaly beasts are out there waiting to prey on unsuspecting humans. This could not

be further from the truth.

People tend to think of alligators as great monsters, mostly thanks to movies and TV, which

exaggerate danger to create a sense of drama. The truth is that they are just animals, and like most

wild animals they want nothing to do with humans. Attacks by snakes and alligators are far more

rare than most people know. Typically if a human is injured by an alligator it’s because that human

did not properly understand the animal and made a crucial mistake that put them in harm’s way.

Alligators have multitudes of plentiful food sources, and most of their prey are much easier to take

down than a human. They are opportunistic animals that will always go for the easiest meal available.

As for snakes, it’s definitely hard to go into a swamp and not see one; however, 9 times out of 10 the

snakes you see in a Louisiana swamp are non-venomous. The most commonly feared snake in our

swamps is the water moccasin, a dangerous but arguably rare species. Even venomous snakes would

rather avoid people than attack them. As with all things, the best way to protect oneself is education;

learning about the natural world and seeking to understand it without fear can unlock many doors to

many great adventures.