Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reptile Shows and Stowaways

So much has happened lately! We've been doing lots of educational reptile shows and reptile birthday parties in the Austin area. Since this summer we've done shows for several schools, YMCA, Austin Children's Academy, Elroy Library, among others. We just finished a series of 23 shows for Round Rock ISD's ASPIRE program. We even had a booth at Austin Pet Expo!

We have more shows coming up in November, including the Harvest Festival at Caraway Elementary School this weekend.

Several more reptiles have come to live with us: two red-eared sliders, a 17 year-old California king snake and a bearded dragon were all donated to us. Some of these will be used in our reptile birthday parties and shows. Another family is sending us their sulcata tortoise this weekend.

Check out the pictures and all the latest news on our Facebook page at

If you're in the Austin area and want a great party idea or educational opportunity for your kids, give us a call!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dogs Take A $90M Bite Out Of State Farm In 2010 | PropertyCasualty360

If you think pet snakes are dangerous...

Dogs Take A $90M Bite Out Of State Farm In 2010 | PropertyCasualty360

New! Austin Reptile Shows

A lot has changed recently with our business and our projects. We're now Austin Reptile Shows. While the content of this blog and our breeding projects will remain much the same, our primary business focus will be on our educational reptile shows.

We've been doing our reptile shows in the Austin area for the past 4 years and have decided to push it to the next level. Instead of just one show, we're going all out with several new formats. 
We're presenting in Round Rock, Leander, Cedar Park, Austin, Georgetown and surrounding areas. Schools, scouts, camps, parties. Whether you're a teacher, librarian, PTA member, scout leader or a parent looking for a fun birthday party for your child we have a show for you. The programs are based on TEKS aligned content so you can be sure that your kids are learning valuable lessons. 
Lizards, tortoises and, of course, lots of snakes. And it's all live and up-close! 

Reptile Adventure Classroom Show
Educational and fun for up to 40 students. These hands-on shows feature a variety of live reptiles from around the world. Shows typically last for 45 minutes. Schedule several shows on the same day to cover multiple groups at a discount.

Reptile Adventure Assembly
Designed for groups of up to 200, this show covers the same material as the classroom show. At the end of the program, students will have the opportunity to approach the table to see the reptiles up-close. Shows typically last for 45-55 minutes. Schedule several shows on the same day to cover multiple groups at a discount.

Birthday Shows
We bring a variety of reptiles to your child's birthday party for hands-on fun! These shows are a little less formal than our educational programs and accommodate up to 12 children. They last about 45 minutes and include lots of hands-on time. We can also do longer birthday shows.

Camps, After-school and Special Programs
We offer custom programs for day camps, after-school activities and other special programs. Contact us for more information.

This summer we're doing a 4-part show series for the Aspire program through Round Rock Independent School District and we have more projects in the works. Meet us this Sunday at the Steiner Ranch Farmers Market in Austin. We'll be doing FREE shows throughout the day. Stop by and hang out with our snakes, lizards and sulcata tortoise!

Check out photos and video at our new website and keep up to date on Facebook. We'll also be sending out special offers and updates through our newsletter, so be sure to sign up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Only Good Snake is Dead Snake Pt. 2

My wife and I went camping and hiking at Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas this weekend. As I walked across the parking lot I noticed a group of adult scout leaders pointing at something in a tree. Another man from their group was rushing toward the tree with a bundle of tent poles. I knew what they were gawking at before I even heard the word, "snake." Several kids were admonished for not keeping their distance.
I slipped in behind the group, who were almost all in agreement that it was a diamondback rattlesnake. They were looking at it with the same disgust usually reserved for drug dealers or child abusers and the plan to kill the snake was clear.
"It's a Texas rat snake," I said, "totally harmless." They whirled toward me and I thought for a second that they might beat me with the tent poles for suggesting that the snake was anything less than the devil's avatar on Earth.
"It doesn't matter! It's alive," said the guy with the poles. He assembled them into a long rod and started swinging into the tree. The snake climbed higher.
I tried to encourage them to leave it alone, to explain it's role in the environment as a voracious eradicator of rats. But that old mantra reared it's head: "The Only Good Snake is a Dead Snake." 
Finally a compromise was reached: I would wait for the snake to come down and take it away from the campsite. It almost worked, too. After they backed off, the rat snake slithered down the tree and ALMOST right into my hand. That's when a park ranger approached, tipped off by a band of excited boys. The men, wanted her to "do something" about the snake. To which she replied, "there's not really anything I can do. We're in the outdoors, there are snakes!" She explained that they weren't allowed to go all lynch mob and kill any of the animals in the park. They looked genuinely surprised.
I offered her the same solution—I would remove the snake—under the condition that she wouldn't give me a citation for disturbing the wildlife. She agreed and left the area.
The snake never did come down while I was there and I went back a couple of times to look for it. Tent-pole man said he didn't see it again.
I'm really disappointed by the behavior of the adults from that troop. You guys should be ashamed! That was a perfect opportunity to teach those boys about a vital part of the ecosystem. Isn't that what the Boy Scouts/Cub Scouts are all about?

As a footnote, I want to tell you a little about the Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta linheimeri)
It's one of the most commonly encountered snakes in Texas, whether in the wild or climbing the sides of houses. They grow to around 6 feet or so, but reports of larger ones aren't unheard of. Coloration is tan to brown with darker saddle-shaped blotches and usually has a gray head. It avoids humans and will try to escape, but if you grab it, it will usually bite. The bite may bleed a little, but is little more than a scratch. 
The Texas rat snake eats rodents, birds, eggs and lizards. It's ability to consume large numbers of rodents is probably it's biggest contribution. Aside from keeping the rattlesnake population in check by competing with them for food, the reduction of rodents serves to protect humans from infestation. Rats and mice destroy crops and property and they spread disease. 
"But I don't have rats! My house is clean. I'm not in danger of getting a disease from rats." Guess what: you don't have to come in contact with a rodent for disease to spread. Rodents and other small mammals are just vehicles for the real vectors, fleas. You can catch all sorts of fun stuff from flea bites, my favorite of which is plague! No, it wasn't wiped out. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cases of plague are still reported every year around the world including in the United States!

So here's what you do when you see a snake: leave it alone. It's just doing it's job.

The Only Good Snake Is A Dead Snake Pt. 1

I can't count the number of times I've heard this little pearl of wisdom regurgitated by the uninformed whenever I try to save a snake or when I tell them I keep snakes.
Here's an interesting list for anyone who thinks snakes have no place in the world:

Multiple sclerosis
Heart attack
Heart disease
High blood pressure
Congestive heart failure
Parkinson's disease
Alzheimer's disease

What do all these diseases/conditions have to do with snakes? Venom from some of the deadliest snakes in the world is being used to treat some of the deadliest diseases in the world! Every illness on the above list is either currently being treated by compounds derived from snake venom or undergoing studies that may yield new medications. For example:
Controstatin, a compound found in the venom of the Southern copperhead has been shown to reduce breast cancer tumors by up to 70%.
Eptifibatide (Integrilin®) prevents blood clotting during heart attacks and certain cardiac procedures. It is derived from a protein found in the venom of the pygmy rattlesnake.
Viperinex (Ancrod), from the Malaysian pit viper, is being studied as an option in treating stroke victims.
Parkinson's and Alzheimer's may be treated with compounds derived from the venom of certain cobras.
Leukemia and certain cancers? Also may be treated courtesy of the much maligned cobra.
Captopril, a drug for treating high blood pressure, comes from the venom of the South American Jararaca.
Tycotoxin acts as a calcium channel blocker that may be useful in treating heart disease. It comes from the most venomous land snake in the world: the Taipan from Australia.

Snakes aren't the only living things whose venom or poison is being used to save lives. A number of insects, arachnids, fish and plants have proven to contain highly toxic substances from which lifesaving drugs can be derived. Everything in nature has a purpose, whether it's immediately apparent or not. I find that fascinating!

So the next time you or someone you love takes a pill that treats one of the diseases above, you might owe your life to a deadly snake, spider or flower.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Snake Bite

At almost every presentation I do someone asks if I've ever been bitten. My answer: yes, many times. 
I thought I'd share these pics of a snake bite I received today. This is from a 3-4 foot California king. This snake is tame, but, like most king snakes, he has a voracious appetite. Sometimes his appetite gets the best of him and he decides to try and take a bite out of me. Today, he must have been really hungry. When I took him out to handle him, he explored my hand for a bit, then slowly opened his mouth and clamped down, promptly throwing his coils around my hand and wrist and constricting. I was surprised, because a hungry snake will usually let go instantly when it realizes it's made a mistake. Not today. He chewed and pulled as hard as he could. After about a minute, I had to hold him under running water (for another whole minute) before he let go. As soon as I took him out of the water he started looking to get another grip on me. I put him back in his cage and have some mice thawing out for him.

So did it hurt? Not at all. But it itches like crazy! Like a mosquito bite or a cat scratch. I was a little worried that he would tear the skin, but even pulling as hard as he could I ended up with nothing but numerous little pin-prick marks.

The first pic above is right after he bit me and the second is a few minutes later after I washed the blood off. You can see the bite is of no consequence.

The important thing to remember is never to panic and try to pull the snake off. You'll hurt yourself and the snake. If it bits your finger, you can PUSH your finger into the snakes mouth to make it release. And sometimes a little rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer on the snake's nose will make it release, but not always (it didn't work today; he just sneezed on me while he continued chewing). The best bet is to submerge the snake's head in running water and be patient. For big snakes, you may need a helper to pry off the snake's mouth.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Aldabra Tortoises and Ebony Trees

An interesting article about using Aldabra tortoises to rewild ebony trees.
Take a look here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reptile Shows and Eggs

So much is going on. Egg-laying time is here and the first clutch arrived yesterday from our blue-eyed blonde california king snake. It looks like our blood red corn is going to go next. We bred her to a rescued snow corn.
The big news is that we're reinventing our reptile show business. New name, new business entity, new website, the works. The blog will stay the same, but the reptile shows will be all new.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reptile Industry Calls for Congressional Oversight on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Rule Making

Despite the defeat of two potentially devastating bills in Congress last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has submitted a final ruling that would add nine species of large constrictors to the injurious wildlife list. The resulting impact would almost certainly lead to the loss of jobs in this $1.4 billon industry. 

Read the press release from USARK:

I've read the "scientific" report that this ruling is based on. Even a lay man such as myself can see that it's riddled with errors and assumptions, rather than conclusions drawn from scientific data. This is an example of the science being invented to support a preconceived opinion. Millions of Americans will suffer for it. And the worst part: there is no evidence that this ruling will help protect any area of environmental concern. Nor will this ruling address the issue of removing the small population of pythons that have already been found in the Everglades.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lost and Found

So I went into my snake room a few days ago to find one of my favorite snakes missing. Although they are master escape artists, it's been years since I lost a snake. Still, it happens to all of us at one time or another. This time, the high white albino Honduran that I hatched last year had popped the lid off his hatchling cage and slithered away. I really had high hopes for this snake: the best color and pattern I've produced so far, a voracious feeder and future reptile show star.
Now, you have to understand, my snake room is very full. In addition to snake cages and supplies there are books, magazines and various storage boxes. To search everything would be a full day's work. I knew I'd have to be smart about this.
I searched the snake room in vain, focusing on the closet, the deepest, darkest mess in the house. No luck. I tried to bait him with a pinky mouse left strategically in the closet entry way. No luck. I shuffled and moved things, always assuming he had gone for the closet. 
So almost a week has passed. Tonight I was in the snake room feeding and cleaning cages. I sat on the floor for a few minutes and looked at the hatchling rack and the cages there. After staring for a while, I started to think like a snake. He didn't go for the closet. No way. Just because the closet was the most inconvenient place for me to look doesn't mean the snake even knew it was there. Most reptiles only tend to move as far as they need to in order to meet there needs. 
So what were this snake's immediate needs? First off, he was outgrowing the hatchling cage and I was actually going to move him to a larger cage on the night I discovered him missing. Secondly, he had regurgitated one of the mice I'd fed him a couple of days before. Regurgitated mice smell very bad, and he surely wanted to get away from it. His primary need was to escape. Nothing more. He hadn't been gone long enough to be hungry or very thirsty. He had plenty of heat sources to choose from in the snake room. Where would he go? The first safe, secure place he found. And more than likely he would stay there for a few days.
With that in mind, I stared around the room, focusing on the spot where his cage was. When he popped the lid, where would he go? Finally thinking like a snake, I decided he had gone left along the back of the shelf instead of right toward the closet. Immediately to the left of the shelf was a small cart with a few boxes and office supplies. A particular box stood out to me: cardboard paper box, open, with loosely packed folders, computer cords and other nicknacks. I decided that's where the snake would be. 
Still without much hope, I pulled the box from the shelf and started to rummage through it. As I got to the bottom of the box, there he was. 
Sometimes we get careless. Aside from losing one of my favorite snakes, he could have starved or died of dehydration, been eaten by one of my wife's cats (who live across the hall from the snake room), or escaped into the wild and polluted the gene pool by breeding with a local Lampropeltis species. Even though I have many years of experience, I made a bad decision in this case by waiting to move this snake to a different cage. Fortunately this situation had a happy ending; I'll be much more cautious in the future. If you're keeping snakes, always keep them in secure cages.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Threw Away My Snake

I had just returned from doing six reptile presentations at two schools in as many days—this is in addition to my day job as a freelance graphic designer—so I was pretty tired. Before I moved all the snakes back into their cages I figured it would be a good time to clean all the cages in my collection. So I started switching out dirty tubs for clean ones. For water bowls and hides I use empty plastic food containers and empty food boxes, respectively. So when I clean cages I remove the snake, place it in a clean tub and dump the entire contents of the old tub in my trash can outside. Nice and easy assembly-line style. Except when it's breeding season and you forget which snakes are together.

Before the shows I had placed a male Honduran with one of the females and totally forgot he was in there. My faulty memory told me he was still in shed in his own tub. Wrong! So I opened the female's tub and put her in the clean one, dumped the dirty tub and moved on. About an hour later I made it to the male's cage and he wasn't there! My tubs are pretty tight, so I was reasonably sure he hadn't escaped. Checking my notebook, I saw that he was supposed to be with the female. I panicked.

The thoughts whizzing through my head included primarily guilt over a.) dumping my snake in a trash can; b.) letting loose a snake that could potentially breed with a local species and taint the gene pool; and the fact that this guy was supposed to breed two females for me this season and I don't have a backup.

I ran outside and started tearing through boxes and whipped topping containers and newsprint—all covered with snake poop—and there he was, still coiled in the taco shell hide box. At least there was a happy ending. I snatched him from the trash, muttered something to the effect of "Sorry dude," and went back inside.

I'm not really an idiot, but I play one on the internet. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Build a Snake Rack

Several people have asked me how to build a snake rack to house adult colubrids. Here's how I built a ten-level rack that holds 41 quart Sterilite tubs. This is the fourth rack I built and houses adult corns, kings, milks and a ball python.

Here's a slideshow of the process.

I used pre-cut melamine shelving (about 15x33) from the shelving area at Lowes/Home Depot. The shelves are a little too narrow for the 41 quart Sterilite tubs, so I attached side rails made from 1x2 select stock to make the bottom edge of each shelf wider and also to add rigidity to the whole unit (I don't remember exactly what type of wood, but it must be straight and free of splits). And don't use the ones with the rounded edges). For the upright boards, I used 1x4 select (six for the sides and one for the center of the back (adds rigidity and also acts as a stop for the tubs).

Everything was attached with 1.5" black drywall screws (pre-drilled and countersunk to keep from splitting and for aesthetic purposes).

Basic assembly goes something like this:

Cut all the 1x2 rails to the exact length of the shelves.

Set each shelf on a perfectly level flat surface (I used the island in my kitchen) and clamp the rails to the edges of the shelves. Pre-drill and screw the rails to the edges.

Calculate the length of the upright boards taking in to account the exact height of your tubs, the thickness of the shelving and the width of the top 1x2 rail which will extend a little beyond the top shelf. Check and double check your measurements and calculations. Cut all boards to length.

Use a square (and a helper if possible) to attach the bottom and top shelf to the uprights. Check several times with the square as you go.

You should have a bottom and top shelf now held together with six uprights.
Set a 41 qt. tub on the bottom shelf and add a second shelf on top of it. Attach with screws (remember to pre-drill).

Continue adding a shelves until you get to the top. Remove and reattach top shelf if necessary.

Add the last upright 1x4 to the back.

Stick on some heat pads and you're done. I use Zoo Med 4x5 pads ONLY! Other pads have overheated.

If you want a slightly looser fit, place a sheet or two of poster board on top of each tub while you're assembling the unit.

Some tips:

I bought my melamine shelves on clearance for about $7 each.

I bought all my 41 quart tubs at Wal-Mart right after Christmas. They had the ones with the red and green lids for $5 each.

It's okay if the upright boards are a little long. They help to hold an 11th tub in place that I use for extra supplies.

I added some plastic furniture sliders to the bottom for easy movement. During the winter I slide the whole unit into an unheated closet. It's worked great so far.

The whole project (minus heat) cost around $200.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

People aren't born afraid of spiders and snakes: Fear is quickly learned during infancy

ScienceDaily (2011-01-25) -- There's a reason why Hollywood makes movies like Arachnophobia and Snakes on a Plane: Most people are afraid of spiders and snakes. A new article reviews research with infants and toddlers and finds that we aren't born afraid of spiders and snakes, but we can learn these fears very quickly.

X-rays reveal hidden leg of an ancient snake: New hints on how snakes were getting legless

ScienceDaily (2011-02-07) -- Synchrotron X-ray investigation of a fossilized snake with legs is helping scientists better understand how in the course of evolution snakes have lost their legs, and whether they evolved from terrestrial lizards or from reptiles living in the oceans. New 3-D X-ray images reveal the internal architecture of an ancient snake's leg bones to resemble that of modern terrestrial lizard legs.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Repticon Houston

Christie and I just returned from the Houston Repticon show. I have to say we were pleasantly surprised with the whole event. Visitors entered the show through a giant inflatable snake's mouth. After picking up our Zoo Med goody bags and entering the raffle, we were treated to all the usual reptile show fare: snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs and arachnids of all kinds. Plus we saw a beautiful yellow Canary Island chondro (green tree python), Guyanan wood turtles with their squiggly-orange-marked heads, some cool new reptile art and a really nice venomous display full of cobras and rattlesnakes.
Our favorite part of the show was something that we don't usually see: a couple of live snake presentations by Thomas Davis of Barmolly's Place and Clint Pustejovsky of Texas Snakes & More. Both of these guys put on some great hands-on shows for kids and adults alike. There are other shows on the lineup featuring turtles, lizards and arachnids.
The show is going on tomorrow, too (Sunday, 2/20/11), so if you're in the Houston area, you should check it out. Not in Houston? Check out their site for upcoming shows all over the eastern half of the U.S.
It was a really fun show and we can't wait for the next one. Finally, I want to say thanks to Thomas and Clint for talking shop with us today. Hope to see you guys again soon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

California Kings

I put our two California king snakes together yesterday in the first of our 2011 pairings. A few other females are also about to shed and will be ready within a few days. It looks like we'll have 3-4 Honduran milk snake pairings, along with Brooks kings and a really cool corn snake pairing (blood red x snow).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Today's Reptile Shows

I just got back from doing two shows at Deep Wood Elementary School in Austin. One tortoise, one gecko, eight snakes and over 400 kids...lots of fun!
One crazy logistic I had to overcome: the temperature at our house was in the twenties this morning, which isn't great for cold-blooded creatures. So I bagged and boxed all the snakes and put everything into one giant Rubbermaid box, put Titus the tortoise on top in a laundry basket covered with towels and brought them all out to the truck which I had warmed up earlier. Once at the school I made a beeline to the building to minimize the animals' exposure. Problem solved.
There were two new snakes on the lineup for today's shows: a San Diego gopher snake and an albino Honduran milk snake that I just hatched late last year. And Smaug, the carpet python, was his usual self...eight feet of jittery muscle. Today he got nervous during the second show and firmly locked his lower coils around my left leg while waving his front half around while I struggled to support him somewhere in the middle. We were a great spectacle, I'm sure, as I trudged around the room.
Thanks to the teachers, staff and PTO of Deep Wood for having me and my scaly friends!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blaze Goini/Brooksi Kingsnake Project

Just a little update on the blaze goini cross project. The male, pictured above eating a pinky mouse, and the female, are doing well and growing fast! With the most recent shed his color has started to change from his original tomato red to this dusky orange. His color should fade gradually to a rich brown color as he matures. Take a look at this post for my first photos of this cool pair.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow Corn

Here's one of the snakes I brought home this Christmas. He's a snow corn.
A snow corn displays the albino (amelanistic) and anerythristic traits simultaneously, meaning he has no black or red pigment, leaving only a little yellow. This guy is a great eater and is really laid back. Christie has already named him Bowie, so I guess he gets to stay. 
He looks kinda cool slithering around the Christmas tree.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Brand New Year

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays! We were super busy visiting family, working, opening presents and, of course, taking care of our pets. 
It looks like 2011 will be an exciting year. Here's a look:

Three Anti-pet Bills Dead in Congress

The three bills that would have dealt a severe blow to reptile keepers throughout the country, S373 and HR2811 (The "python ban") and HR669 (the Non-native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act"), all failed to pass the 111th Congress and are officially dead. Just in time for Christmas!

Three Homeless Snakes Find Shelter This Christmas...At Our House. 

Two boa constrictors and a snow corn snake had been turned over to a rescue who didn't have room for them. Of course my weakness for unwanted reptiles kicked in and they ended up coming home with us. Our little GMC Envoy was so packed with presents, after-Christmas-sale-knickknacks, our dog crate and a sick cat that that there was no room for the snake cages. So I left the cages and put the snakes in pillow cases for the ride home. I'm still not sure if we're keeping them, but my wife has already named the corn snake Bowie. All three snakes are really pretty and very sweet. I'll post some pictures soon.

Time to Heat Things Up

All fifteen of the snakes that were cooled for the winter are out now and warming up. In a few days I'll turn on their heat pads and offer food next week. As soon as the females shed it will be time to introduce them to the males for another breeding season. Up this year are: Honduran milk snakes, California King snakes and Florida (Brooks) King snakes. 

Reptile Presentations

My first reptile presentation of the year is coming up soon! Students of Brushy Creek Elementary will see me and my reptiles at Science Night. I'll do two 30 minute shows including snakes, geckos and my tortoise. I can't wait!