News Stories

The Constant Fear

There is a fear that has always been with the human race. No, it's not terrorism or even war, it's....

snakes. Humans have always feared them. Now it's been discovered that the ability to spot snakes may actually be in our genes. We're afraid of sharks too, and it's hard to feel feel sorry for them but we can certainly feel sorry for their prey and global warming has warmed up the waters around Antarctica to the extent that sharks have returned to those waters?after 40 million years.

It's been that long since the waters around Antarctica have been warm enough to sustain populations of sharks and most fish, but they may return this century due to the effects of global warming. If they do, the impact on Antarctic ecology could be serious.

Ocean-going sharks have a high metabolism rate because they must swim constantly to aerate their gills, and they use a great deal of energy just to keep moving. The cold waters around Antarctica slow their metabolism too much for them to survive?but that?s changing as the waters there warm up.

Researcher Cheryl Wilga says, "The water only needs to remain above freezing year round for it to become habitable to some sharks, and at the rate we?re going, that could happen this century. Once they get there, it will completely change the ecology of the Antarctic?community."

While warmer waters may be good news for sharks, Chinese cuisine is bad news for them. In the February 28 edition of the Independent, Steve Connor reports that the popular wedding dish shark fin soup is putting hammerhead sharks on the endangered species list. Chinese medicine has already put other animals on the list.

Meanwhile, psychologists have discovered that adults and very young children have an innate ability to very quickly detect the presence of a snake from among a variety of non-threatening objects and creatures such as a caterpillar, flower or toad. Psychologist Vanessa Lobue says, "Our finding matches with the evolutionary theory that humans have a pre-disposition to quickly identify a snake. Throughout the course of human evolution, humans who could quickly visually detect the presence of snakes were able to survive and reproduce, thereby passing this capability on in the gene pool."

Lobue showed three-year-old children and adults photographs of snakes and various flora and fauna on a touch-screen monitor to see how quickly they could distinguish the snake or snakes from the other creatures or natural objects. They found that both children and adults were very good at nearly immediately identifying a snake from among the non-threatening images, but clearly not as good at finding a non-threatening image from among several snake photographs.

Lobue says, "Unlike adults, three-year-old children don't have much experience with snakes?particularly negative experiences?but they can detect snakes very quickly, much more quickly than non-threatening objects." An earlier study shows that humans also have a profound ability to identify spiders.

Genetic factors that are associated with fears appear to change as children and adolescents age, with some fears declining in importance over time while others arise in adolescence and adulthood. Fears naturally divided into three categories: situational fears (such as fear of closed spaces, flying or the dark), animal fears (including rats, dogs and snakes) and blood or injury fears (fears of dentists, injections and blood). Overall, genetic factors influence all three types of fears, but the nature of these fears change as we mature.

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

"Mankind is trapped. I want to help you spring the trap.""The veil between the worlds can fall. The undiscovered country can become your backyard.""Your destiny, each of you, is to become all of God."Find out who said these provocative words and first alerted Whitley to something we REALLY DO need to fear: global warming, which inspired him to write the book which became the hit film The Day After Tomorrow.

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