The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 3, 2010

ZACHARY HUBBARD | Snakes, except political genus, deserve respect

Zachary Hubbard
The Tribune-Democrat

— Summer is knocking at the door and the weather in our region has finally turned warm again.

This annual transformation heralds the reappearance of a number of animals around my mountain home. I always enjoy seeing bluebirds, chipmunks, bees and other creatures that seem to disappear in winter. Some are less welcome than others, however.

Foremost among them is the northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with snakes. When I was a college freshman in Germany, I adopted a California king snake named Ziggy, which is short for Ziegfried. At the time, I was working as a zoology lab assistant.

Abandoned by his former owner, Ziggy had spent the entire academic year living in an aquarium in the lab. With summer break approaching, my zoology professor asked me if I would take Ziggy home for the summer. I did and never brought him back.

The next school year, Ziggy lived in my apartment with my three roommates and me.

He was a colorful fellow who was easily mistaken for a coral snake by those with an untrained eye. Instead of confining him to an aquarium, we let him have the run of the place. Our housekeeper once mistook him for a belt – a story for another time.   

Ziggy taught us two things. 

Snakes are relatively peaceful creatures, and it ain’t pretty watching them eat. All he needed to keep him happy was an occasional mouse, which I purchased at a nearby pet store. To feed Ziggy, we would empty a drawer, toss in the mouse and then toss in Ziggy.  It took only a couple minutes for him to finish his meal. I’ll spare you the details.

Over the years, I’ve had a couple of encounters with venomous snakes. However, even these taught me that snakes need not be feared – just respected.

The first encounter took place on a golf course near Beckley, W.Va. 

My friend Chris, an Army captain, chipped in a shot from about 25 yards off the green. With a big smile on his face, he strutted to the green, lifted the flag from the cup, and reached in for his ball. 

Unfortunately, instead of a ball, Chris came up with a copperhead attached to his hand. He shook his hand, the snake dropped to the ground and then it bit him on a leg.

Chris grabbed the snake by the tail and yanked it off his leg, so it bit his arm. 

Nobody in the foursome panicked, including Chris.

One member of our group clubbed the snake over the head, abruptly ending the encounter. It was about a 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital, where we took Chris and the deceased snake. 

When we arrived, Chris appeared no worse for the wear.

Antivenom is not normally required for healthy adult males who receive a copperhead bite, but the emergency room doctor decided it was warranted in Chris’ case since he had been bitten three times. Unfortunately, Chris had a violent allergic reaction to the shot. He subsequently slipped into a coma for three days. Luckily, he eventually made a full recovery.

My second close encounter with a venomous snake occurred in Somalia when I was serving with the 10th Mountain Division.

We had performed an overnight mission to evacuate some United Nations personnel from the area. Rather than travel the dangerous route from the airfield back to our compound at night, I decided to bed down my team at the airfield. We slept on the ground. One of the mountain troopers awoke to discover a snake only a couple of feet from his head.

Rather than remaining still, the soldier tried to roll away.

The snake struck and bit him on a cheek.

Another soldier shot the snake, which we recognized as a black mamba, one of the deadliest in the world. Much to the surprise of us all, the victim developed no symptoms. Later, I was informed by an Army doctor that on rare occasions, black mambas administer a “dry bite” where no venom is injected.  

I find snakes are fascinating creatures that are quite easy to coexist with. Unfortunately, they’ve gotten a bad rap ever since Eve had her run-in with the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

However, I’m convinced that the serpent that deceived Eve was of the two-legged variety. I’ve studied this kind closely as well – they’re abundant on Capitol Hill and in Harrisburg. 

I simply won’t tolerate these two-legged serpents in my House (or my Senate for that matter). Hopefully, the voters will eradicate a bunch of them come November, because these two-legged, political deceivers are the only snakes undeserving of respect and whom we should all fear.

Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.