At ARC we recognise that not everyone likes amphibians and reptiles as much as we do. Events like Halloween are an annual reminder of this – unfortunately the occasion is often accompanied by rather negative stories about toads, snakes, bats and spiders. This in turn can help reinforce unhelpful and incorrect stereotypes about wildlife around us. For example, people sometimes contact us asking for toads to be removed from their garden, concerned that these animals will somehow give them warts (fact: they won’t!). Folklore is riddled with such fanciful associations, and sadly this can result in real-world consequences for the animals themselves.

Our work hopefully dispels these myths, and instead encourages people to appreciate amphibians and reptiles for what they are: fascinating creatures that form an important component of our natural world. And it’s pleasing to report that often, people reverse their opinions when presented with some engaging advice. We also like to point out the important contribution that reptiles and amphibians make to our cultural life (the character Mr Toad in “Wind in the Willows”, for instance!). After encountering the sinister associations characteristic of this time of year, these more positive representations of amphibians and reptiles can really help improve people’s awareness and appreciation. It’s common for people to express a dislike, fear or even disgust of our target species, but often we find these emotional responses can be assuaged with a sympathetic approach.

However, we recognise that a small minority of people have a genuine phobia of some species. This is distinctly different to a dislike or a mild fear. Phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder, characterised by a debilitating fear, and often the person affected recognises that it is irrational or at least highly exaggerated. We are occasionally contacted by people who have a phobia – typically of snakes or frogs – seeking advice about how to manage their condition. Sometimes people find it difficult to plan a walk in the countryside, or are concerned about gardening, in case they encounter a snake or frog. Often people with phobias find it difficult to search for help in books or online because even happening across an image of the animal could trigger a distressing response. Moreover, often people explain to us that they understand their response is disproportionate, and they wish no harm to the animal; they simply want to resolve the debilitating fear. Hallowe’en is often a frustrating time for those of us wanting to improve public understanding of amphibians and reptiles; with the prominence of negative animal imagery it must be an especially challenging time for those affected by certain animal phobias.

We think it is important to be sympathetic to people suffering from animal phobias, and we have just produced a new page in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of our website called Phobia FAQ. This is intended to help people seek effective treatment and management, and we have specifically designed it featuring no animal photographs. Thankfully, there has been a substantial amount of medical research on treatment options for animal phobias, especially snake phobia, and often these disorders can be well managed or even cured.