Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

by Susan Neuhalfen

Look out Austin Stevens, you may have some competition…or at least a protégé.

Meet Max Hornsby, a soon to be 5th grader at Blanton Elementary, Lantana resident and snake wrangler. At the ripe old age of 10, Max has made it his mission to study every snake he can find, and this is a daily activity. In most cases, it’s a catch and release situation. He is very mindful of snakes and would never want to harm one. He’s like the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin. He thinks snakes are gorgeous and that all wildlife should be allowed to co-exist without threat of danger.

“I like how smooth they are,” he said, smiling. “They’re so beautiful.”

Max started catching snakes at a very young age and quickly learned the right way to do it without getting bit and without hurting the snake. He never leaves the house unless he’s armed with his backpack, snake bite kit and snake reference sheet, which he has practically memorized. He has spent the majority of his young life studying snakes.

He has been bitten several times, though he knows now to always take a step back and observe the snake before approaching it. On a recent hike to Old Alton Bridge, he picked up a bottle and turned it over to release a 1 ½ foot copperhead, a poisonous snake. While most would have run in the other direction, Max and his mom kept their distance, careful not to scare the snake, and videotaped it. Under a rock he found 5 more copperheads and, again, did not disturb them, but continued to tape from a safe distance.

So what does his mom think of all of this?

“I’ve had to educate myself out of necessity,” said Cheri Hornsby. “I knew early on this was more than just a passing phase.”

In fact, after Max caught his first water snake, his parents told him it was a water moccasin in the hope to put some fear into him so that he wouldn’t be quite so quick to pick up any water snake. They even took him on a trip to animal control to learn about the danger of snakes, but there was no fooling Max. He had his snake directory and that was no water moccasin, he informed them. He has become more careful, though.

Max also rescues snakes. One day some older kids were abusing a yellow belly racer, hitting it on a rock, when Max stepped in and took the snake away from them. He brought it home, nursed it back to health and released it back into the wild. He did the same for a rat snake and a baby skunk.

Their normal after school protocol is this: he gets out of school, catches a snake, brings it to his mother so she can take a picture while he is followed by a string of kids in morbid fascination. He then lets the snake go back into water. Because water snakes also emit a foul odor when startled, much like a skunk, he has to take a shower after they get home. He was recently bitten by a snake after school and, as is his custom, went straight to tell his mom who was waiting for him in the car. This time a lady saw it happen and called 911. The fire truck and paramedics came immediately. It started the Lantana Facebook rumor mill until the record was set straight, and everyone knew about Max and his love of snakes.

Max has two pet snakes at home. Marty, a captive bred ball python (domestic), and Finn, a wild caught rat snake. The family also has two dogs, a cat and a hermit crab but mom says there’s still room for more snakes, though Max said happy just caring for two for now.

Snakes aren’t the only things in his life. He is on the swim team, plays football and other sports and is an excellent sketch artist. He’s even spread his love of snakes to his sisters, Sydney (12) and Lacey (7). One day Max hopes to go into the wild and take pictures of snakes for a living. He also wants to educate others about snakes, because he thinks they get a bum rap. So what does he want people to know about snakes?

“They won’t hurt you and they’re not slimy,” he said, matter-of-factly.

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