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  1. #1
    BPnet Veteran jmcrook's Avatar
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    How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    (Disclaimer: This is a LONG post)

    December 25th, 2020 marked 25yrs of keeping snakes for me. Thought I’d make a bit of a reflective post on a quarter century long trajectory of keeping. I see dozens of posts regularly about people getting their first snakes, and it’s exciting to see the hobby extend its reach to a wider audience than in the past. However, so much of this seems to be driven by the wow factor of “I can’t believe there are snakes that come in these colors/patterns! I’ve never considered keeping reptiles before, but I think I’ll get 15 of them and breed them all for money!” There is nothing inherently wrong with this per se, but I just wonder at times if these same folks would have been driven to keep reptiles if there were only natural phenotypes available to keepers? Again, I don’t intend to vilify those that are new to the hobby, and the designer reptiles available today are certainly beautiful, but it seems odd that someone who has never touched a snake before in their life would suddenly think to keep one (or several) as pets in their homes.

    I’ve been into herps for longer than I can recall honestly. Ever since I was able to walk/run fast enough to catch anything cold blooded I have been doing so. Mom never allowed snakes in the house when I was really young, but I’d catch them and admire them for as long as I could. Also kept the occasional box turtle on the porch for a few days at a time when I was little.

    I remember being probably 6-7-8yrs old and going to the older couple’s house behind mine frequently, “Grandma and Grandpa Turner”. They weren’t actually my grandparents, but they would often baby sit my siblings and myself. They had a son who had a room in their house with shelves full of tarantulas that I found absolutely fascinating looking at the numerous small little glass tanks with perfect habitats enclosed within. At one point he got a royal python, and I was completely captivated. I rarely saw it and it didn’t do much, but just knowing that there was a python in that tank was amazing to me.

    Also used to walk through the mall with my mother and of course made her stop at every pet store any time we passed one to look at any and all reptiles they might have. Most typically mass imported boas and royal pythons as this was the early 90s. At one store they gave me a shed from a baby boa constrictor, and I was very intrigued by how simultaneously soft and crispy it was. When I got my Surinam Red Tail boa in 2018 it was incredible to feel his shed (he was shedding when I opened his FedEx box) and immediately be transported back to that memory from over 25yrs previous.

    Fast forward a couple years, we moved to mid Missouri from St. Louis and 30min down the road in Fulton was the coolest place in the world to me at the time: Callaway Pet Corral and Herpetarium. This is the place from which we acquired my first snake, and anerytheristic corn snake, after two years of persisitant research and wearing down my mother. I actually am still in contact with the owner of that place 25yrs later. You can find him online as CJ’s Pets. This place was amazing. In the basement he had a full-on zoo with massive walk-in enclosures for just about any reptile you could imagine. A 20’ green anaconda, 18’ retic, 14’ rock python, king cobra, black mambas, albino diamondback rattlesnakes, a 7’ caiman… on an on that list goes. I practically lived at this place any chance I got, and it was a driving force behind my continued passion for keeping exotic animals. I saw many species and morphs in person for the first time at CJ’s shop: Albino burms and retics, blood pythons, water monitors, and carpet pythons. I actually tried to get a carpet there as my second snake but was discourage primarily by my mother (a PYTHON?! No way!) and CJ commented that his carpets all bit him every chance they got.


    Anyway, back to the keeping aspect of this thread. Being the mid 90s at this point, husbandry was certainly nowhere near the “golden age” of reptile keeping that we currently live in. I kept that first corn snake in a glass tank with a clipped screen lid, red party bulb at night, unregulated heat pad, and astro-turf substrate. It’s amazing that animal never got burned. After that snake passed, I got a farmed import royal python from the same shop in the early 2000s. This was around the time that different morphs were being discovered and I remember seeing piebalds being listed at ~$25K/pair to put things into perspective. I stepped things up and got a Neodesha sliding front plastic enclosure with sliding doors over the vents on the side to control the heat and humidity. Still using lamps for heat and another unregulated heat pad that I eventually wised up and at least put on a dimmer switch. That animal was always a spotty feeder and lived about 7-8yrs in my care and had it all through college. I also had that enclosure for 16yrs before finally tossing it a couple years back. The door didn’t slide well and vibrated the cage, the top and bottom lips began to crack, etc. It did a damn fine job for a decade and a half and housed a few different animals in its time though.

    After that first royal python passed, I picked up a pastel I had been eyeing at a local reptile and fish specialty store in Columbia, MO “Columbia Pet Center” that has been in operation for a believe 30yrs or so now. They also had a clutch of Jungle Carpet Pythons for sale that the owner had produced, and I wanted one more than anything, but didn’t feel I was in the position to house and care for a snake of that size. At that time in 2010 this was an “expensive” reptile purchase for me at $150 (LOL). That animal, Geoffrey Roderick or “G-Rod” as El-Ziggy has dubbed him, is still with me today and is doing fantastic. Next week marks 11yrs with that animal and he has moved with me from Missouri to New York for graduate school, back to Missouri for a teaching gig, and then to Mississippi where I currently reside.


    Around the time I finished graduate school in 2014 I was entertaining the idea of getting additional snakes. For years I had always said, “Someday I’d like to have more snakes, especially a carpet python, but I should probably wait…” I eventually decided that if I kept telling myself that, then life would pass me by, and the opportunity would be gone. So, I researched, and window shopped and scoured the internet and somehow stumbled across Super Dwarf Retics. The world’s longest snake in a smaller package?! How could that not be awesome? I would soon find out how that could not be awesome after obtaining a pure SD female and a 50% SD Ultra Ivory male.

    I also fell into a wormhole of research into lots of advancements in husbandry efforts that I was unaware of since I had started. Greater availability of PVC enclosures, varieties of different heating options and regulatory devices, lighting, etc… I really enjoy the “gear” involved in reptile keeping and began acquiring stackable enclosures that not were not only aesthetically pleasing to me, but also were more modular and took up less of a footprint in my home while activating unused vertical space. I’m open to exploring other options in the future as things grow here and I cycle through some of the current enclosures, but Animal Plastics, Pro Products heat panels, and Herpstat thermostats have made incredible changes for the better in my collection.


    Not to knock retics, as they can be amazing snakes for the right person, but they were decidedly not for me. I won’t go into excruciating detail as there are threads pertaining to mine and this post is already ungodly long (if you’re still reading, I owe you a beer sometime should we ever meet) but their behavior, care, and day to day demands far exceed what I was able to provide as a solo keeper. Beautiful? Yes. Fascinating? Also, yes. The effort and upkeep of a dozen snakes packed into one animal? For me, unfortunately yes.


    I had recently acquired a Surinam Red Tail boa shortly before parting ways with my retics, and in the winter of 2019 picked up a Maxx Pink Argentine Boa from Ancient Reproductions. Both have been an absolute joy to keep, observe, and learn from. The same type of appeal of a giant snake in a slower moving speed, more manageable demeanor, slower metabolism, less clean up, and overall a much more enjoyable experience for me. There is something about a “classic” reptile pet that represents a memory of when I first began to navigate this passion of mine and is embodied by boa constrictors. There is, however, something to be said about leaner, more athletically built constrictor species that has always appealed to me.



    End of 2019 I finally took the plunge into Morelia that had been long overdue by about 17yrs and they’re incredible. Grabbed a Rockhampton locality coastal from Michael Pennell and then a pair of Brisbane locality coastals: Female from Nick Mutton and male again from Michael Pennell. They have the agility and inquisitiveness of retics that I enjoyed, a reasonable demeanor, arboreal tendencies, not too large of a size, but the appeal of larger constrictors.

    The pair of Brisbanes was a decision to finally make a move toward a breeding project, which has been a dream of mine since I first began keeping reptiles. Much like my initial apprehension about getting into multiple and larger snakes in my care, I finally decided that I don’t want to look back on a lifetime of keeping and regret never even having tried something that’s been in my mind for so long. There’s no guarantee they’ll produce for me, and it’s probably another 2yrs down the road before they’re of the right age and size to pair up. If not, they’re still beautiful and amazing animals in their own right and will receive the best possible care I can afford to give them, which is nothing sort of spoiled as hell and as true to their natural tendencies as can be provided in a plastic box in my spare bedroom.

    Looking back at the last 25rs, are there things I would do differently? No doubt. Do I regret the decisions I’ve made along the way? Not entirely, as many of them have provided me with valuable learning experiences that continue to inform the way I do things today and remind me to always be learning and flexible in my methods to best suit the needs of every individual animal in my care, because they are exactly that: individuals. I think it is wise for us to remain curious and continue to learn, no matter how much experience we may have under our belts. Also, if you are just starting out, take some time to do the proper research into your animal and learn from the decades of experience that precede you and have made the animal you now care for possible. You will doubtlessly save yourself a ton of time and frustration by taking the advice of those that struggled to figure things out before you and make reptile keeping how it is today.

    Excited to see what the future of this hobby holds for all of us. And while I have referred to it as a hobby throughout this post, that doesn’t truly capture what reptile keeping is for me. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life and a part of my identity.

    Happy Herping, Y’all!
    Last edited by jmcrook; 01-06-2021 at 06:55 PM.

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  3. #2
    BPnet Veteran jmcrook's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    Of course the post timed out for edits while trying to add pics in the correct places...

    CJ in one small corner of his breeding facility in 2017


    One month before getting my first snake



    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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  5. #3
    BPnet Veteran richardhind1972's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    Awsome read mate
    I think once smitten as a kid, that passion is hard to steer away from

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  7. #4
    BPnet Senior Member GoingPostal's Avatar
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    I wasn't allowed any cool pets as a kid, just cats and dogs and a one short lived fish tank. I always had huge interest in the ocean and reptiles, I remember dragging my family to every zoo and aquarium available. Trips to Reptile Gardens in the summers as a young teen were the best. I didn't get my own snake until 2006 and only because he needed a place to go when the local pet store changed hands. They had ordered a ball python for someone, customer didn't return. I spent a lot of time in said pet store, having already set up several saltwater fish tanks and added ferrets and an iguana to my household quickly after moving out. The store owner didn't want to touch the snake so I ended up setting up a cage for it, moving it over, in charge of feedings and care for a couple months until they sold the place. The new owner was terrified of snakes and wanted him gone. It took until 2013 for me to add to my collection, I'd always vaguely wanted more but realized with their lifespans I should get on a plan and get whatever snakes I liked best. Bought the last of "my" snakes in 2016 but did end up with another ball python in 2019 anyhow but that puts me at an even ten.
    2.0 Python brongersmai
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  9. #5
    BPnet Veteran jmcrook's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    Quote Originally Posted by GoingPostal View Post
    I wasn't allowed any cool pets as a kid, just cats and dogs and a one short lived fish tank. I always had huge interest in the ocean and reptiles, I remember dragging my family to every zoo and aquarium available. Trips to Reptile Gardens in the summers as a young teen were the best. I didn't get my own snake until 2006 and only because he needed a place to go when the local pet store changed hands. They had ordered a ball python for someone, customer didn't return. I spent a lot of time in said pet store, having already set up several saltwater fish tanks and added ferrets and an iguana to my household quickly after moving out. The store owner didn't want to touch the snake so I ended up setting up a cage for it, moving it over, in charge of feedings and care for a couple months until they sold the place. The new owner was terrified of snakes and wanted him gone. It took until 2013 for me to add to my collection, I'd always vaguely wanted more but realized with their lifespans I should get on a plan and get whatever snakes I liked best. Bought the last of "my" snakes in 2016 but did end up with another ball python in 2019 anyhow but that puts me at an even ten.
    Thank you for sharing, GP! Good on you for giving that first snake a good life in spite of the circumstances it was dealt. Too many people view reptiles as disposable/replaceable/etc and it's definitely a bummer. You've got an excellent gang of critters at your place and I really enjoy seeing your posts on them. Also neat that your snake keeping career started with a rescue of sorts and has reached its current state with another rescue of the same species, who is looking great btw!

    Something about the number of serpents at my place feels incomplete at 6, but I'm fighting really hard with myself to not add any for a bit. They aren't trading cards and I don't need to have everything by any means.
    Reason #1, 5 of the 6 are still juveniles/sub adults and have a LOT of growing to do. Some even more than others (looking at you, Argentine Boa...)
    Reason #2, 2 of them will hopefully someday produce a clutch which, in the event that the breeding attempt is successful, I will certainly hold back a pair at bare minimum.

    Again that's looking at least a couple years or so into the future, but I don't want to overwhelm myself with critters in the meantime and then feel like I'm in over my head in the event that I have babies hatch here. It's just really exciting to finally have the species I've been eyeing for 17yrs in my care and at a point in history when more of a variety of Morelia are available to us than ever before and I can't help but want to see that variety in my snake room at some point.

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    Registered User Hugsplox's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    Great read and an awesome story crook. I sometimes wonder where all that advice you've given me over the past few months came from and now I see it. My folks were very iffy about anything that was a dog growing up, so I didn't get into herping until I was an adult, but boy has it been a fantastic few years already, I hope I have as fun of a story to tell 25 years in!

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  13. #7
    Registered User Spicey's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    LOL, I think I have a picture of my daughters with that same St. Louis Zoo python.
    Last edited by Spicey; 01-08-2021 at 04:50 PM. Reason: spelling and grammar. ��
    Always in Transition

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  14. #8
    BPnet Veteran jmcrook's Avatar
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    Re: How’d you get into reptiles? Recalling a trajectory of 25yrs of keeping.

    Quote Originally Posted by Spicey View Post
    LOL, I think I have a picture of my daughters with that same St. Louis Zoo python.
    The Saturday after thanksgiving 1995? Also that’s a boa constrictor, but cool that we may have been there the same day


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    BPnet Senior Member Reinz's Avatar
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    Great read JM, thanks for sharing. Glad I checked in before this left the first page.
    Last edited by Reinz; 01-09-2021 at 05:46 PM. Reason: Sp
    The one thing I found that you can count on about Balls is that they are consistent about their inconsistentcy.

    1.2 Coastal Carpet Pythons
    Mack The Knife, 2013
    Lizzy, 2010
    Etta, 2013
    1.1 Jungle Carpet Pythons
    Esmarelda , 2014
    Sundance, 2012
    2.0 Common BI Boas, Punch, 2005; Butch, age?
    0.1 Normal Ball Python, Elvira, 2001
    0.1 Olive (Aussie) Python, Olivia, 2017

    Please excuse the spelling in my posts. Auto-Correct is my worst enema.

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