The curse of being serpentiform: Perceptions of snakelike animals in São Paulo, Brazil


  • Jade Lima-Santos Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia e Evolução, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Campus Diadema, Rua Artur Riedel, 275, Bairro Eldorado, Diadema, SP, Brazil.
  • Henrique C. Costa Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Departamento de Zoologia João, Campus Universitário, Juiz de Fora, MG, Brazil
  • Flavio de Barros Molina Universidade de Santo Amaro, Campus I, Rua Professor Enéas de Siqueira Neto 340, Jardim das Imbuias, São Paulo, SP, Brazil



Ethnoherpetology, Ethnozoology, Snakes, Popular knowledge, Conservation


A serpentiform body is a morphological adaptation present in different groups of animals.  This body form is often associated with snakes, which can result in the indiscriminate killing of animals with this form. Despite their great socioeconomic and ecological importance, snakes are commonly associated with feelings of aversion, fear, and disgust. Such feelings prevent conservation measures from being followed. The present work was conducted in the M'Boi Mirim Park, in São Paulo (Brazil) to register the popular knowledge and to discuss people’s feelings and attitudes towards snakes and other elongated legless animals. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 70 participants. The largest percentage of the interviewees identified snakes by the forked tongue and the cylindrical body shape, fast perceiving characteristics to human eyes. In an encounter with a serpentiform animal that may be a venomous snake, this behavior will make sense as it is better to deal with a false positive than with a false negative. However, this result demonstrated a lack of adequate knowledge about morphological characteristics seen exclusively in snakes. Many interviewees are afraid of snakes, which, along with misidentification, can cause disastrous encounters and can lead to indiscriminate killing of snakes and other snake-like animals. To reinforce this negative situation, it was detected that even in a large city, legends and myths about snakes and snake-like animals are passed on through generations. Additionally, people are unaware that some snake populations or even species are facing extinction threats. Our results point to the need for an educational programme that changes people attitudes towards snakes and snake-like animals at M’Boi Mirim and other Municipal parks.


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How to Cite

Lima-Santos, J., Costa, H. C., & Molina, F. de B. (2020). The curse of being serpentiform: Perceptions of snakelike animals in São Paulo, Brazil. Ethnobiology and Conservation, 9.



Original research article