Boa InstructorJohn Hunter’s
‘Snake Talk’ presentations delight and fright
are always educational
North Lake College student Holly Hamblin
immediately called someone to describe the
"There are snakes in the cafeteria!" she said.
There were gasps and "eewes." Fear in some
eyes, delight in others.
According to graphic arts student and teacher
assistant John Hunter, this is exactly the
reaction he expected when he removed his two boa
constrictors, 4-year-old Stripe and 9-year-old
Glory, from their containers in the cafeteria
earlier this month.
Several students immediately stood up to touch
the snakes, while several cringed and stayed in
"This is why Snake Talk is easy. You don't
really have to do anything," said Hunter, "All I
have is a few facts. The snakes hold their
Snake Talk is a set of two presentations that
Hunter has given to churches, schools and Scout
troops since 1980 to dispel myths and educate
people on how to respect snakes, not fear them.
One presentation he gives is called “Living
"One of the first myths that people are
presented with is that snakes are slimy, and
they're not," said Hunter.
"I use the term 'living vinyl' to describe
them, because their skin feels like vinyl. This
takes away that first myth," he said.
In his presentation, he covers how to respect
animals in the wild, what to do if bitten by a
snake, and the importance of not keeping wild
animals as pets. He starts out with basic facts
about snakes – how they feed, the reason they
shed, and why snakes have certain patterns and
colors. Then his presentation moves to a question
and answer session. Most questions cover facts
Hunter emphasizes in his presentations that
snakes are very primitive and instinctual in
"My tag line is 'snakes have all the
intelligence of a Styrofoam cup,'" said Hunter.
"They're completely instinctual in nature. It's
food and water, or its not food and water. Danger
or not danger."
Although Hunter can customize his presentations
to suit any audience, "Living Vinyl" is directed
at elementary-age children.
"With small kids, the first thing I do is make
them scream as loud as they can," said Hunter. "This
releases their energy and helps
them stay calm during the presentation."
He begins the presentation with a small snake
for students to handle and ends with a much larger
one, which excites the children.
Hunter said that small kids look up to him when
he gives Snake Talk presentations.
"I'm the snake man," he said.
The other presentation is a new one called
"God's Design," which is a nondenominational
presentation that Hunter gives at different
churches in the area.
"The 'God's Design' presentation is based on
the premise that God created the universe, and
that if we operate within those design parameters,
everything functions well," Hunter explained.
"If we operate outside those parameters with
habitat destruction and chemicals in the
environment, those things can disrupt that
Hunter gave his first presentation to a Nimitz
High School science class in 1980, and has been
doing it ever since. During this time, he worked
as a wildlife park ranger. This is when he began
doing presentations more frequently.
Although he does Snake Talk because it's his
passion, he now has to charge a fee because the
presentations have become an added expense in
addition to raising a family.
Because of children in his house, Hunter is
down to only three non-venomous snakes. But in
high school, Hunter maintained a menagerie in his
bedroom. He had a colony of Tokai Geckos, a trio
of garden tree Boas, Burmese Pythons and aquariums
with exotic fish.
"At one time, I had thirty-some-odd specimens of
varying types," Hunter said. "I had a very
Hunter says it's in his nature to educate. NLC
professor Dr. Christen Amundsen, who has had
Hunter as a teaching assistant, agrees.
"John is always mild-mannered, always helpful.
He's not a person to get upset about things," said
"He's a natural at that." This explains how in
the cafeteria that day, he helped a student who
was not so fond of snakes overcome his phobia in
minutes. While other students were touching and
holding the snakes, student Ben Karwoski stayed
put. Hunter approached the student and began to
try to find the root of his fear.
"Your fear will diminish in time," he told
Karwoski. Karwoski's mother had been bitten by a
snake which contributed to his phobia.
After talking with Karwoski for a few minutes,
the once-scared student was standing with the rest
of the students holding the snake. Hunter said
part of helping someone get over his/her fear of
snakes is peer pressure and part of it is using
rational thought and logic. He has a knack for
both. "If you can, find the source of the fear and
remove it," said Hunter.
"I've had people cringing in the back of the
room before," he said. "Give me 15 minutes with
them and they're touching, if not holding, a