Whether you’re considering keeping reptiles or recently started a collection you’re very lucky. Years ago it wasn’t that easy, today with access to the internet, you have a multitude of resources and endless varieties of species to choose from . . . But! Remember with the plethora of options before you, you’ll also be exposed to the possibility of greater disappointments. You also increase your chances of being taken advantage of. When I first started, I was a victim of a bad breeder. I spent three thousand dollars purchasing a sick breeding colony. After loosing nine animals and spending nearly as much on veterinarian bills, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to do my research and ask for references before buying any reptile. You can never be too careful.
A very important part of our success at the Hissary is word of mouth and customer reviews. As a way to support the hobbits and professional breeders that have been good to the Hissary, we’d like to pass on our experiences to you.
Amy & Rob Zerkle owners of Zerkle Reptile Company:
I’ve been a big fan of the Zerkle family for nearly two years and even though we’ve never met we’ve made a natural connection and friendship from the very start. The thought of breeding reptiles was fresh to me and I had million questions. Amy being the giving person she is was generous with her time, sharing her experiences with me. In the end she saved me from making huge mistakes and learning a few lessons the hard way.
What attracted me to Zerkle Reptile Company was their large variety of rare and seldom worked with colubrids. A few species they keep would not be available in the USA if it weren’t for Amy & Rob keeping their bloodlines reproducing. They currently breed over forty species with other projects coming.
I’ve always seen reptiles enthusiasts as truly unique, compassionate individuals. Each having a story or experience that birthed a lifelong connection to this hobby. You rarely see them walk away from it. So I asked both Amy & Rob the same series question; so you could get to know them better?
What was your first reptile experience:
Amy: My older brother had a black rat snake hidden under his bed in a wooden cage. Mom was ok with any animal in the house, except snakes. My little sister Gay and I had to pay a twenty-five cents or do one of his chores to gaze upon ‘the snake’. It lived under his bed for nearly two years before the housekeeper found a shed skin and ratted us out.
Rob: My friend across the street had gotten two very nice ribbon snakes while vacationing in Michigan; I was jealous. Another friend at school told me he caught nice little garter snakes all the time in his yard, he said he’d bring me two. I pleaded with my parents till they gave in and a few days later Derek brought them to school in a used coffee can. I ran home and dumped them out, they were the biggest, ugliest eastern garters I’d ever seen; of course I was only in the fifth grade. My dad built me a cage from an old apple crate. A week later the fat female dumped a scad of babies which we found throughout the entire house. Needless to say my dad was hardly a professional cage builder.
Most reptile breeders would have to say ‘all’ of their species are their favorite species to work with. You can’t devote countless hours feeding, cleaning, feeding, cleaning, brumating, feeding, cleaning, monitoring temperatures, humidity and caring for their every need and not completely love these animals you’re working with. I asked both Rob & Amy which species they most enjoyed working with the most.
Amy’s favorite snake is the California Red Sided Garter or (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis) and I have to agree. They are inquisitive and stunningly beautiful to behold. They are moderately priced and sell for between $125.00 to $250.00 depending on age, color and origin (locale) of bloodline.
Rob is more of an Old World Ratsnake (Orthriophis) enthusiast. I asked him what type and to narrow it down but after much thought there was no way, he loves them all. Zerkle Reptile Company works with a great number of these special creatures. They sell for between $65.00 to $1,500.00 a pair.
The longer you spend in the reptile world you’ll learn about that ‘one’ snake. The dream snake or crown jewel of your reptile collection. If you don’t have one, you eventually will. Mine would be the Albino Fox Snake. I’ve only seen one myself and that was in a photograph. Amy’s dream snake is the most coveted San Fransisco Garter but since they are federally protected and on the endangered species list I think she’s out of luck. Rob’s dreamer may eventually come his way, he’d like to own an Albino Mandarin Rat Snake.
No one likes being bit by a snake. The fear of bites prevented me from keeping snakes for quite sometime. My first snake got me past that feeling really quick. I asked both Zerkle’s what species gave them their worst bite.
Amy: A 7ft wild caught Honduran Milk Snake lovingly nicknamed Buzzsaw or Hacksaw.
Rob: While chain feeding a Large Carpet Python i got stuck on the hand. I grabbed its neck and he threw coils around both of my wrists handcuffing me. Amy knows when I call her by name that’s something got ahold of me. Never attempting feeding a large reptile without someone else near by. Know your limits.
Both Zerkles are easy to work with and eagerly exchange information with young enthusiasts and beginner hobbyists. I gained so much wisdom from both of Zerkle’s and consider them mentors of the Hissary. I thought it would be nice to learn who they consider teachers or reptile heroes.
Amy: Lloyd Lemke spent hours on the phone spoon feeding me info on breeding and hatching colubrids in the 80’s before reptile magazines, clubs, books or the internet. He was a wealth of knowledge. Then we found the all Ohio Reptiles Show in 1988 and met Don Hamper. He became our mentor and dear friend. He had a snakeroot full of the most exotic and unobtainable animals I’d ever seen. His collection and breeding expertise outclassed any zoo, anywhere. I studied biology in college but learned from the forefather of herpetology. Though Don I met all the people who laid the foundation of the hobby we enjoy. Those pioneers are: Bob Applegate, Norm Damm, Pete Kahl, Casey Lasik, Jeff Barringer, Dick Bartlett, Ernie Wanger , Eugene Bissett, Mark & Kim Bell, John Mack, Brian Barchyck, John Mertens, Gary slippery , Terry Lilley Tom widener, Gary Braddock , Dr Bechtel and so many other amazing folks.
I assumed before purchasing my first snake, because they only eat once a week, cleaning up after them would be much easier than sifting sausage shaped poo’s from my lovely cats litter box; I was very wrong. Some snakes can produce the raunchiest bowl movements known to man. I asked both Amy & Rob what species delivered the most unpleasant packages, they both agreed.
Amy: One winter Rob housed eight Eastern Indigo’s in the bedroom to keep them cool. . . Ugh they are gigantic garters with gas and liquid poo. No this was NOT romantic but you got to do what you got to do to run a snake farm.
Whether you’re a hobbyist or a new to breeding there are lessons you’ll most likely learn the hard way. I asked both Amy & Rob what species they would recommend for a beginner and which species they would highly suggest not working with.
Amy’s Easy Peasy Picks: #1 Corn Snakes are docile, stay a manageable size, and are easy to house and feed. They are also bred in three hundred plus color morphs. #2 African House Snakes max out at around 24” long, are docile and easily feed on frozen thawed. #3 Checkered Garter’s are great snakes for those who don’t want to feed mice. They will eager eat frozen thawed fish filets and Night Crawler worms (Never Red Wigglers). They are beautiful as is but you can also easily acquire albino’s. They do not grow over 30”.
Rob’s Easy Peasy Picks: #1 Rosy Boars – warm, dry = easy. Rosy Boas stay small, good eaters and pleasant to handle. #2 Any Garter – eager to eat, active, adapt to most enclosures. Their intelligence and inquisitive nature makes them engaging and interactive with young keepers. #3 As much as I personally can’t stand them, you can’t beat a good captive bred ball python. For a python they stay relatively small, solid good eaters, slow moving and come in many colors and patterns that will match any decor.
Rob’s NO! NO! NO! Species: African Rock Pythons – Big, mean and NEVER trustable.
Amy’s DON’T BRING ONE HOME Species: Amethystine or Scrub Python – Just too aggressive. Feeding times go like this; open door, throw rats in, slam the door shut before you get bit.
Zerkle Reptile Company specializes in Old World Ratsnakes, Garters of all kind, Rubber Boa’s and many more. Their list is very impressive so please check them out on Facebook or their website at http://www.freewebs.com/arzerkle/