Nicholas Horton: Educating on the importance of snakesFeb 15, 2023 04:14PM ● By Ashley Hunter
Nicholas Horton has loved animals for as long as he can remember.
Growing up, Horton wasn’t allowed to have pets, but he overcame that family rule by finding wildlife, learning about them, and sometimes trying to bring them home.
“I was the kid going around, finding black racer snakes, and showing them to my brother, friends and neighbors,” said Horton.
A chance encounter with a baby box turtle, which he saved from a Red Shouldered Hawk, brought about the first ‘odd’ pet into Horton’s life.
“I convinced my mom to let me keep it, since it was injured,” said Horton. “I kept it for several years, and I believe a friend of mine down in South Florida still has him.”
Now that he is an adult, Horton laughs that his love for animals is ‘kinda dangerous’ as he has an abundance of exotic and non-exotic pets alike; from two dogs and a cat, to rabbits, lizards, turtles, a toad and frog, a parrot, scorpions, spiders, hissing cockroaches, a baby wallaby, sugar gliders, and a pair of hyperactive prairie dogs.
But his favorites are the 25 snakes that he cares for and uses as part of his career in education.
Horton is the Tallahassee branch of Animal Tales, a Kentucky and Florida animal science and educational program that gives up-close encounters with animals to kids and adults at schools, libraries, birthday parties, and corporate events
“We bring exotic animals to the community and educate children and adults alike on the importance of our wildlife,” said Horton. “We try to give that up close interaction with animals that people wouldn’t get to experience otherwise, even at zoos.”
While Horton’s other animals make appearances during his programs, his snakes are his real pride, and he has plenty of them - 25, to be exact.
The species he keeps include rat snakes, corn snakes, king snakes, hognoses and boa constrictors, and are a mix of native Floridian snakes and nonnative alike.
He has been keeping snakes professionally for close to five years.
Through his career as an educator, Horton said he often runs into people who have a fear that snakes are ‘out to get’ them, their kids, and their pets.
“People think that snakes will chase and attack you for no reason - and that’s not true,” he adds. “The biggest thing with snakes is that they are all different and they are often misunderstood. People take that misconception and develop irrational fears about snakes.”
Horton said that fear often leads to uncalled for deaths for serpents from people who don’t understand how to identify snakes and don’t understand the importance of snakes in the environment.
Horton said there is a critical lack of education on snakes, which is part of why he is so passionate about his career in animal (including snake) education.
Horton said that during his shows, there is always at least one adult who is ‘iffy’ on approaching the snakes he involves in his program - these adults stay in the back of the room and are hesitant to engage.
“But by the end of my program, these adults are always closer, or even touching the snakes. It shows that their fear has gone way down or been removed.” said Horton. “My biggest thing is helping people overcome their fears of snakes. I can see the moment the switch happens when they overcome their fear of snakes. Seeing those reactions, this is why I do this.”
For those interested in learning more about native snakes, Horton suggests people join snake identification Facebook groups or purchase an old-fashioned snake field guide for Floridian species.
“Each snake is different,” he adds. “People tend to be scared of things they don’t understand. I want to help them understand.”