Then and Now: A Look Back at Reptiles on the Internet – April 2013

By Scott Wesley

In the winter of 1996, I was sitting in my college apartment at Chico State University playing “fantasy hockey” on America Online. While in this league one of the really nerdy things we decided to do was set up a website for our own teams. So – I started to research HTML and how things worked. I wanted a “counter” for traffic stats, a link for email with a cool animated graphic, pictures, team logo, etc.  I quickly figured out how to lay out a basic website, and upload it via Netscape.

Meanwhile down in LA – my brother had started a reptile business out of his garage (literally). He was breeding leopard geckos and selling supplies via a printed mail catalog. He called his business “LLLReptile & Supply“.  I had been selling reptiles at my school previously through my brother who was at that time working for a reptile wholesaler – so I was sort of familiar with what he was doing. One night, I took that knowledge and his product catalog and sat down at my computer to create a website for his business. The website address washttp://members.aol.com/L3Reptile/pricelist.html .  I emailed him a link, and asked him what he thought of doing a website?  With our hard work and dedication – the website took off and the rest is history for us.

This was how the LLLReptile website looked 1 year after creation.

When I created the LLLReptile website – there was very little in the way of competition. There were a few places to run classifieds online (ReptilesOnline.com and The Herp Mall were a few that come to mind). These pre-dated Kingsnake.com – which soon followed. Other companies online at that time were Hartford Reptile Breeding Center (pythons.com) and Big Apple Herp.

There were lots of “breeders” online – most of the names I forget (some are still around like Ron Tremper at LeopardGecko.com and BHB). Google didn’t even exist yet!  16 years ago doesn’t seem that long – but in the world of the internet – it is a lifetime.

At the end of 1997 – we decided to really upgrade and buy the domain name LLLReptile.com.  This was a BIG step for us and expensive at the time as well (no .99 cent godaddy names back then).

The late 90’s were really the explosion for reptile websites. Our business grew rapidly – as we had created something that had not existed prior; an all-in-one reptile website for supplies, live reptilesand feeders. Your “one stop herp shop”!

In the late 90’s, Jeff Barringer had taken Kingsnake.com to a new level as well. This was now the premier place to advertise anywhere on the net for the reptile world. His website was the “one stop” for classifieds, discussion forums, law updates via NRAAC and much more.

At one time – Kingsnake.com was the world’s LARGEST “pet” website that existed (and still is the largest reptile website by far today). The big “pet” companies really took a LONG time to find their place on the internet (set aside Pets.com and their 2 million dollar superbowl commercial. #miserablefail).

The reptile world was way ahead of the curve here.  Kingsnake.com literally allowed almost anyone working from home to start up a reptile business and immediately reach a vast customer base. I know for a fact that this website is why MANY reptile companies exist today!

Around the turn of the century we started to see a negative turn for the internet world.  Keyboard warriors found outlets for their disdain of individuals, breeders and companies on several websites that allowed anyone to say anything with literally no facts to back them up. It was also filled with rubberneckers there to watch the gossip and hate. While there is certainly a “need” for this in certain aspects (as there are certainly “bad” people out there) – the lack of monitoring the child-like posts filled with hate and personal attacks was sad and disturbing. Fortunately we have seen the evolution through the last decade through places like Yelp, the BBB and other legitimate feedback websites run in a much more professional manner. While the negativity still goes on to this day – it has certainly seen a draw down from it’s original form. People seem to have realized that these forums are typically filled up with false or unfounded statements posted mostly by children (or adults acting like children).

Around 2005 – We saw the biggest change online for the reptile world since its inception. Social media had turned from a place where kids talked about their music and interests on MySpace to something entirely different. Facebook took over the internet like a wildfire.  It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to be a 13 year old kid who was totally intoreptiles, who could then make “friends” with others who held the same interests online.  Being able to talk about your interests together, share pictures, and learn so many new things all in one location is pretty cool.  There is a good reason why facebook has and will remain untouchable in this aspect (see google + about that). Even through the endless ads that are now in your newsfeed – it is still the place hundreds of millions go to daily. Now – you can follow the breeders and companies you like, and get direct feedback and answers from most of them (we answer questions on our facebook page every single day at LLL). Facebook allows a much more intimate relationship between a business or breeder and the consumer along with allowing like-minded reptile people to become “friends” as well. Pretty awesome stuff!

Over the last few years – we have seen some really cool new websites in the reptile world.USARK.org comes to mind. The internet (and facebook) makes it so much easier to organize nowadays and USARK is a perfect example this. We can now all see reptile news, upcoming votes on laws in our area or federal, and organize to help protect the reptile community. If you have not checked it out – I highly recommend you do asap!

Another cool new website is The Reptile Report.  The idea behind this website is pretty neat (kind of like reddit). It takes almost all of the really cool reptile discussion forums online, and organizes the most popular discussions all on one website. So if you are a ChameleonForums.com or Ball-Pythons.net fan but don’t have the time that day to look through all the new topics – you can quickly browse some highlighted discussions right here!

Nowadays you can get everything you need for your reptile right on the web. Any supply you can think of, all sorts of feeders, live reptiles shipped right to your door, find out when the next reptile show in your area will be, watch videos instantly of any reptile you can think of, and even start your own business easily with the help of websites like Kingsnake.com and ShipYourReptiles.com to name a few. The evolution of the internet has just begun. We have gone through such huge changes over the last 15+ years online – I can’t imagine what the next 15 will bring!

10 Questions with Philippe de Vosjoli – December 2012

Philippe de Vosjoli

By Scott Wesley

Philippe de Vosjoli is an innovator in the reptile industry, a highly respected author of most of the main care books used in the industry, a breeder and so much more as we will find out in this interview!

1. We typically start off our interviews with this same general question.  Can you tell us what got you started into reptiles, and what was your first reptile or reptile experience that got you hooked?

 From the time I was very young I always had an attraction to nature. When I was in France, a period where I spent four and half years in a Catholic boarding school, I would stop during my weekend visits to Paris to a little pet store run by a former keeper at the Jardin des Plantes. He had these large mixed species vivaria at the back of his store that housed things like leopard geckos, giant day geckos, flat rock lizards, monkey tree frogs all in the same enclosure. In other tanks he had Malagasy dwarf chameleons, carpet chameleons and other species I can’t remember. Those visits made me realize there’s a wonderful mysterious natural world to be discovered. I was hooked.

2. You wrote most of the original reptile “care” books used by almost every breeder out there today, and care information / research is always changing. Looking back – what were a few things that you maybe had written back in the day that don’t apply today or opinions have since changed on the care, products, etc?

I wouldn’t change much. I think that excess oral vitamin supplementation, particularly vitamin D3, is a problem with many species, such as chameleons, various treefrogs and geckos. I wasn’t as aware of that when I first wrote care books and it took time and experiment to figure that out. I’ve been criticized for advocating feeding any amount of animal protein to green iguanas but I still don’t believe that feeding insects to juveniles and the occasional mouse to adults is harmful. One study showed that in one area adult iguanas were significant predators of juveniles. One of the biggest problems with green iguanas and all larger reptiles is providing enough heat. A proper heat level optimizes metabolic rate which will affect growth, health, and the rate of clearing of uric acid through the kidneys.

3. Personal note from the interviewer. In college – I wrote a paper on the American Federation of Herpetoculturists (AFH) for one of my Poly Sci classes (seriously). Is this something you were glad to part ways with (meaning too much work / not enough reward), or wish it had grown to be the industry leader for lobbying our interests, and have you ever thought about bringing back another industry magazine like The Vivarium?

The AFH and the Vivarium were founded by herpetoculturists whose primary goal was to represent the accomplishments and interests of private hobbyists. It wasn’t a commercial venture and the original founders all worked for free on weekends and in the evenings to get it off the ground. We were the first to publish a nationally distributed color magazine dedicated to the keeping of amphibians and reptiles and tested the grounds for the viability of this kind of publication. We also were involved in fighting unsound restrictive legislative proposals and in developing standards for responsible care. The involvement of large corporations in the pet industry had dramatic effects on the distribution of books and magazines. We were not able to compete against these large entities. I worked part time for free for 13 years as president of the AFH and contributor to the Vivarium and put in tens of thousands of dollars to keep it going. Looking back I’m not sure the effort and the financial and personal costs were worth it. I think Reptile and Herp Nation are doing a good job at filling the herp magazine niche. Starting another herp magazine is out of the question for me.

4. How is the work coming on the New Caledonian Geckos updates – and anything really exciting or new that we can look forward to in these books?

The gargoyle gecko book is now ready to go to press. It should be available at the beginning of 2013. I also have a book co-authored with Frank Fast and Allen Repashy, The Life of Giant Geckos, in the works that focuses on the natural history, social behaviors and herpetoculture of leachianus. I presented some of this information with Allen Repashy on Gecko Symposium at the 2011 National Breeder’s Expo in Daytona, an event hosted by Exo-Terra. The talk can be seen online (http://www.exo-terra.com/en/explore/gecko_symposium_2011.php) but the book contains a wealth of additional information. Chahoua will be the next project we’ll be working on.

5. You are a leader in the captive reptile breeding world. Can you tell us a few of the species that you were the first, or one of the first to work with and breed here in the US?  Also – what species are you most proud of that you were able to produce in captivity?

I bred my first leopard geckos in 1968.  As far as I know I was the first to breed the Malagasy giant water skinks (Amphiglossus waterloti) and reveal they were a species transitional to becoming ovoviviparous. I had bred the Okinawan viper (Ovophis okinavensis) in the 70s, which is another species that is evolving toward being live-bearing. With Bob Mailloux we did several first captive breedings including Chacoan horned frogs, walking frogs (Kassina leonardi, Kassina maculata), Rana ishikawae, Chilean wide mouth frog (Caudiverbera caudiverbera) and more recently Caatinga horned frogs (Ceratophrys joazeirensis). My last cutting edge snake breeding was producing leucistic puff-faced watersnakes (Homalopsis buccata) With Frank Fast we were the first to breed crested geckos, at least in the US. That showed that unlike the museum specimens that all had pointy tail nubs, crested geckos originally hatched with well developed tails.

6. You are writing a novel as well?  Can you tell us a bit about it, and what inspired you here?

My inspiration came in part from a book I was working on with Terence McKenna before his death.  In a computer model based on information shown to him during an experience with hallucinogens in Peru, we reach an end point where life as we have known it is no more.  He speculated over the years what the end point could be and his views changed from being apocalyptic to the creation of a time machine and toward the end, a technological singularity. The singularity is the point where computing entities exceed human intelligence. As a consequence, what they do becomes no longer comprehensible to us. They are as gods. According to theorists the singularity should occur sometime between 2020 and 2030. My novel is set in this time period. There are no herps in the book but bioengineered Australian blue crayfish (a species I work with) play a mind altering role.

7. You have worked with some really amazing reptiles, and some really common ones too (like pacman frogs). What is your favorite reptile/amphibian you are currently working with (either working with new morphs, or just your favorite) and why that one?

That’s a difficult question because there are so many species I like and I don’t rank them in terms of favorites. If I were to pick one species, the giant gecko/leachianus remains the one species that continues to fascinate me and that I plan on studying and keeping until I die. The way I’m wired it’s one species to which I do not habituate. Every day working with them my mind goes “Fantastic! Fantastic!”

8. How did you come up with the name Pachyforms?  What got you into working with them, and writing best selling books about them as well?

As far as the name, having to describe this group of plants as caudiciforms and pachycauls everytime I talked about them was simply too wordy. A popular name for this group was fat plants, which I thought was too crude, so I came up with a more sophisticated version combining pachy ( which means thick) and form. I have always liked unusual animals and plants. Plants that develop unique individual forms and sculptural bodies to me are the supreme forms of plants as art. Like art most of these plants increase in value with age. After seeing people’s collections of specimen plants at shows and in their homes I couldn’t; believe that there was no printed record of these living works of art. I also realized that if people did not focus on their propagation, they would eventually become extinct, not in the wild but as natural works of art that could be experienced in human society. This was the same motivation that drove me to publish the Vivarium.

9. Can you share with us a few other “industry” people that inspired or helped you out back in the day and why/how?

Although I’ve kept and bred many species of snakes, my focus for the last thirty years has been lizards and frogs. Bob Mailloux and the late Bert Langerwerf were significant inspirations. I’ve learned a great deal from their methodologies using outdoor vivaria.  I’ve also worked with Allen Repashy on various projects. His unique and very practical way of looking at problems and developing methods for commercial herpetoculture has influenced how I keep Rhacodactylus. His diet for keeping these geckos has had a major impact on making species considered among the rarest in the trade to becoming among the most popular.

10. Can you tell me what you see as a few positives, and a few negatives in regards to the direction of thereptile industry today and why?

I don’t think the negative problems with the reptile hobby can be attributed to the industry but more to socio-cultural factors. The Internet, the media technologies and social networking are strong attractors that have drawn people toward a more anthropocentric lifestyle and is a challenge for nature oriented hobbies to survive in this new world. I think we need to find ways to integrate the hobby with the new technology. Intermediating the experience of keeping herps by integrating digital cameras and microphones in setups could be a possible course.

I also think it’s time for us to assess the future of various species , decide which ones we want to establish before a variety of factors makes them no longer available. There are so many idiotic wildlife laws (e.g., listing non native species, such as Jamaican Boas and Black Pond Turtles on the Endangered Species Act) and legislation is so influenced by politics and radical animal rights groups that I  have no faith in the people in charge.  Global warming is another factor. If the predictions of global warming and sea rise are correct then many insular species will become extinct in the future. Some species that have temperature dependent sex determination will have such gender skewed populations that they will be at risk of extinction. We need to ask ourselves are there species that are ethnozoologically valuable enough that they deserve preservation, even if it is only as self sustaining populations integrated in human society. I also think we need to create programs to encourage the general public to get involved in keeping threatened species. The general public spends several hundred millions dollars annually to keep common turtles like red-eared sliders as pets. Just think if all that money could be applied to keeping rarer, less disposable species.