Photograph by Jamie Betts

Experts in natural beauty

January 27, 2022

Flora And Fauna

Campus gardener Larry Richmond and biology professor Peter Smallwood have forged a partnership based on their shared interest in campus wildlife.
By Sunni Brown, GC'18
Biology professor Peter Smallwood, an ecologist who researches conservation and wildlife, recently wondered whether there were any cicada killer wasp nests on campus. And he knew just whom to ask — gardener Larry Richmond.

“Gardener” is just one of the many titles that could apply to Richmond. Aquarist. Outdoorsman. Animal enthusiast. “Snake man,” landscape services supervisor Karen Williams said with a laugh. “We call him our snake man.”

Richmond has worked at the university for about a decade, and while his main responsibility is maintaining the gardening beds near the Gottwald Science Center, he’s also widely known as the “go-to” for all things wildlife.

“Facilities knows if they get a call about any sort of wildlife issue on campus, Larry is the guy,” Williams said.

With his shift beginning at 6:30 a.m., Richmond says he sees the “transition from night to day animals,” providing him the opportunity to study — and occasionally interact with — a variety of campus creatures.

“Larry is observant, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about wildlife, and he’s the kind of person I can ask questions of because he’s so familiar with the rhythms of campus,” Smallwood said. “He’s the boots on the ground, and I consider him to be my ecological eyes and ears when I’m in my office or teaching class.”

Richmond is self-taught and says he watches documentaries and reads extensively to study the wildlife he encounters. His years of experience have paid off many times. He has relocated nonpoisonous black and brown snakes to quieter areas of campus, rescued opossums from trash cans, and helped turtles who have traveled too far from the lake find their way back home. In fact, he and Smallwood first met during an animal rescue after a black snake became trapped in sod netting.

“I needed some assistance, and I knew about Peter’s expertise, so I took the snake to his office,” Richmond said.

Together, they freed the snake, and Richmond returned it to a safe location. Since then, they routinely keep in touch and discuss animals.

“He has the same enthusiasm I do, and we both have a vested interest in the wildlife on campus,” Richmond said.

Richmond’s passion doesn’t apply just to campus fauna. He also works part time at a private pet store and has nearly 50 freshwater and saltwater fish and four geckos at home. Being around animals and nature recharges his batteries, he said, and he encourages others to take a moment to appreciate the nature on campus.

“We have the beautiful eco-corridor, but campus itself is like an eco-corridor,” Richmond said. “I’ve seen people walking around looking at their phones and not notice a deer standing 10 feet away from them. People would be amazed at what they might see if they took the time to notice.”