Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Working on the First Coast; He's Heavily into Snakes House of Reptiles Owner Finds Niche, and It Likes Mice

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Working on the First Coast; He's Heavily into Snakes House of Reptiles Owner Finds Niche, and It Likes Mice

Article excerpt

Byline: Roger Bull

Ron Smith spends his day surrounded by cages full of bearded dragons, firebelly frogs and ball pythons. Some of the cages have "Danger, venomous reptile" stickers on the front and are held tight with combination locks.

Smith bought the House of Reptiles on Beach Boulevard 2 1/2 years ago. He'd been heavily into snakes back in the 1990s while working at Kings Bay Submarine Base. He started breeding red-tailed boas for sale. But just as he was starting to make a go of that, he had a fire and lost about 300 snakes.

He stayed away from snakes until a few years ago when he got back into reptiles. He started breeding ball pythons, stopped into House of Reptiles one day, then he and a partner bought it.

First of all, what's the allure of reptiles as pets, instead of dogs and cats?

I think it's a spiritual connection between these things that are wild, they're different than the things that are tame.

How many different types of animals do you have?

At least 200.

And how many are venomous?

Less than 10 percent. The venomous market is pretty dried up. The only venomous customer I have is a deputy sheriff.

The thing with cobras, for example, is that if you have a male and female, you'll have babies. And there are only so many guys out there who want to buy cobras.

Too many people may think they want a venomous snake, but I try to be scrupulous. If they don't have a license, I won't sell to them.

You have to have a license to buy a poisonous snake?

Yes, and it requires 1,000 hours of experience with that particular family.

What are best-sellers?

Probably the ball pythons, bearded dragons and red-tailed boas.

What do they sell for?

The ball python and bearded dragon $49.99, the boa $59.99.

How big does a ball python get?

About 4 1/2 feet. That's what killed the Burms and retics [Burmese and reticulated pythons], they get to be 16 feet. But the ball python is the perfect pet. It's docile, friendly, though the babies can get a little nippy. But that's expected. And they breed the ball python in so many colors.

What's your most expensive animal?

I just got the yellow tree monitor. …

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