September 2018
Homeplace & Community

Snakes Alive!

 

Larry Hubbard holds two snakes: a black pine snake and an albino rat snake. Both are nonpoisonous and quite common in this area.

Snake enthusiast Larry Hubbard is out to change negative attitudes about reptiles.

Lewis Grizzard once wrote that there was only one kind of snake: "the dreaded copper-headed water rattler." Southwest Alabamians have a similar take. When we see a snake, our brains scream, "Timber-headed diamond-back water rattlers!" In fact, most people believe that the only good snake is a dead snake.

Larry Hubbard is out to stop this hysteria. Hubbard is a self-taught enthusiast who has been on a lifelong, personal mission to educate everyone and change long-held negative attitudes, old wives’ tales and myths about snakes.

Hubbard grew up in Chatom in Washington County. As a child, he loved to catch snakes! He sold his treasures to Joe Woodie Thompson, who owned a small zoo in town. Even though Thompson gave Hubbard his first snake-catching kit, Thompson felt personally responsible when young Hubbard started to catch water moccasins.

"Lots of my getting started was mischief," he laughed. "I loved to play jokes on others, and snakes gave me some great opportunities! That was the fun part."

Hubbard moved away for a short while, but he never lost his love of reptiles. After coming back home, Janie Jordan, one of his former elementary teachers, invited him to speak to her class about something she knew he loved: snakes and turtles.

"The first time I walked into that classroom, I held a bag with a wiggling snake inside, " he smiled. "I knew I had the kids’ attention from then on."

Tyler Brooks was brave enough to wear this albino rat snake necklace. Tyler was one of many sixth-grade students who visited the FAWN seminars.

 
   
   

After this, another teacher invited him to speak. The invitations continued, and soon, Hubbard said he woke up, and people were calling him "the snake man."

"It amazes me how little people know about the diversity we have in this area," he explained. "Alabama has an abundance of reptiles, and I want to make kids aware of what we have."

Hubbard works for WoodmenLife, but on the side, he takes any opportunity to educate students on the different kinds of snakes and turtles in Southwest Alabama. Each year, he partners with USDA and the Washington County Extension Service at the Forestry Awareness Week Now (FAWN). Here, sixth-grade students spend a day learning about natural resources and environmental issues. Hubbard sets up his tents and talks about the 50 different kinds of snakes in this area. Only six are venomous, but most kids have been taught to fear all snakes. When students get to touch non-venomous snakes, they experience a different mindset, which, hopefully, will change some negative attitudes.

"I love the educational part," he explained. "I like to teach and explain about snakes. There are so many misconceptions out there."

Hubbard personally does not keep snakes. When he needs specimens for his seminars, he puts out the word on Facebook, and his friends step forward to help. After he finishes his seminars, he releases all of the reptiles in a safe space.

Hubbard has many amusing stories about his adventures with snakes. His folksy, down-home delivery makes his tales even more appealing. Once, after being invited to speak to a local daycare, he caught six young specimens and placed them in an aquarium. A friend, wishing to help, brought a king snake and placed him in the aquarium with the others. When Larry got home, the king snake had eaten all the others. Even worse, the king snake died a few hours later! Hubbard had to reschedule his appearance.

Kim and Larry Hubbard raised their three children to understand and appreciate beneficial snakes. The Hubbard children always had hognose snakes for pets. They also helped their father catch and identify snakes for his presentations.

Hubbard told one story about his daughter, Hannah, who had a special "friend" that she called Clarence. Once when the family got to a football game, Hannah announced that she had Clarence in her purse. The Hubbards tried to explain that Clarence couldn’t go to the football game, because he would frighten all the people, and they might run out of the stadium. Unfazed, young Hannah announced, "We could run with everybody else, couldn’t we?"

Around Southwest Alabama, Hubbard is the one to call if you have a snake problem. In fact, he gets many "911 calls."

"Husbands call because the wife finds a snake skin in the house, and she wants to move!" he laughed. "I go over and search, but that snake is long gone. It still makes the wife feel better. Most of these snakes are harmless, but when people get excited, they identify all snakes as rattlesnakes. Most are harmless rat snakes."

 

Larry’s son, John Raleigh, often helped his father release captured gators and snakes. John Raleigh is now a nurse and lives in Mobile, so he has very little time to capture reptiles.

When the Hubbard kids were younger, they would ride along when Larry got a call for help. As the family made their way to the destination, the kids would hum the "Batman" theme song. Dad’s "911 calls" were real adventures for the Hubbard children.

In recent years, Hubbard may have slowed down a bit, but his enthusiasm has never waned. In fact, he has been doing his educational programs for so long that many of the students he once taught are now adults who help him. He regularly appears as the resident "snake expert" on the popular "Gettin’ Outdoors Show" with Big Daddy Lawler.

"Larry Hubbard has a very unique and convincing way of explaining why you should not fear but respect snakes," Lawler stated. "I was one of those who, all my life, was deathly afraid of snakes and thought you should kill every one you saw. After attending Larry’s seminars and having him on my radio show, Larry totally changed my attitude and fear of snakes." 

That’s just what Hubbard wants to do: change the perception that snakes are evil and deceptive. He is puzzled by why people have such phobias of snakes.

"I’ve spent years trying to figure out why people react as they do," Hubbard explained. "I have always been fascinated by people’s reactions to snakes. I think some folks just seem to have a natural fear. Maybe that’s because of Genesis 3: 14-15."

Alyiah Byrd, a 6th grader from Leroy High School, overcame her fear and held this albino pine snake at the FAWN exhibition.

 

Snakes are not the only reptiles that interest Hubbard, however. In years past, game wardens would call Hubbard to capture and relocate nuisance alligators. Through the years, he has also relocated many gators for the City of Chatom. Now, the law has changed, and only those with a nuisance control license can remove gators.

Turtles also capture Hubbard’s imagination. At his presentations, he usually has seven or eight, which he passes around for children to touch. He works to help children have a better understanding of the value of turtles to the environment.

"Most kids think every turtle is a snapping turtle," he laughed. "But out of 40 species in this area, only two are snapping turtles."

Hubbard believes that his years of hands-on activities may have made a little headway toward changing some negative attitudes. He thinks fewer children now accept "old wives’ tales" than they did twenty years ago. In addition, he has sensed greater understanding, acceptance and empathy toward reptiles. He attributes this to more children using the Internet to allay misinformation.

"Everybody’s scared of what they don’t understand," Hubbard explained. "Kids should know what kind of reptiles we have here, and then, they have no reason to be afraid!"

Larry Hubbard has never killed a snake, unless there was imminent danger to humans or pets. Instead, he has spent his life helping others appreciate the world we all live in. A passionate conservationist and environmentalist, he believes that all species share this earth, all have purpose and all have worth.

"Just remember," he added, "that old snake is as afraid of you, as you are of him. He is doing his job, trying to survive, just like you and me!"

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..