By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Daytona Beach News-Journal on May 2, 1999.

DELTONA -- Snakes have belly buttons.

Granted, it's not the type of thing one first looks for when confronted with several feet of mottled muscle.

But when someone like Wayne Reichert points it out, you can see it: a little slit part way down the snake's body.

Such intriguing details are one of the things Reichert, a longtime snake fan, likes to point out.

The other thing Reichert enjoys explaining is how humans and snakes can co-exist peacefully.

"So many snakes die needlessly," he said

Reichert and his wife, Terri Bryant, are the proud owners of 200-plus snakes, ranging from babies only a few inches long to a 16-foot long Burmese python.

But that's their private life.

Publicly, Reichert and Bryant are the go-to people for local animal control officers with snake problems. Licensed by the state, the couple helps remove problem snakes and rehabilitate diseased or injured ones.

Also, through their Expressions of Nature business, the duo puts on shows for schools, 4-H clubs and Scouting troops, teaching kids to respect snakes but not fear them.

Such public service is one way the couple gets out the message that snakes aren't bad -- a view Reichert has held most of his life.

Allergic to cats and dogs, he gravitated toward "the non-fuzzy," he said. "My dad got me a little gray snake that grew to be a boa."

Reichert's interest in reptiles grew along with the grey boa. Now, as well as the gaggle of boas and pythons that the couple owns, they also have a large selection of corn snakes -- in a rainbow of colors and patterns.

"You could have one corn snake," Reichert said, "but, there's so many color varieties. It's like Hot Wheels when you were a kid. You always needed the newest one."

Such a large collection requires extraordinary measures to make sure the reptiles stick around. The creatures are housed in a poured concrete building, no windows, no cracks, no false ceilings for them to hide in.

If they did get out of their containers, they'd have nowhere to go -- and getting out of the containers would be difficult.

The wooden racks that Reichert built to hold the snakes holds the containers tightly; without removing the containers from the rack, it would be impossible for the lid to come off.

The snake price spiking into thousands of dollars, the safeguards aren't just for safety. "We don't want to lose it either," Bryant said.

But safety is a big priority for the couple both on a personal and business level. Personally, they abide by rules such as "An eight-foot snake requires two handlers" and "Make sure the snake's awake before grabing it."

Business-wise, the two are strong proponents of breeding snakes for pets, a route they say is safer than the typical method of capturing the reptiles.

Snakes born to be pets act differently, Reichert said. "When you raise them as animal with no predators, there's no bite response," he said.

Domesticated snakes don't see humans as food,and therefore are unlikely to attack their owner.

When snake owners do get bit, Reichert said, it's often because they've done something to make the snake thing they're food. Bam, you're bitten," Reichert said. "A lot of this is common sense."

Added Bryant: "They're strictly a response animal."

That response is why the couple advises people not to harass snakes. "If a snake is passing through your yard," Bryant said, "it's just passing through."

Venomous snakes might require a call to animal control officers, but non-venomous varieties just be left alone, they said.

"Kill a corn snake," Reichert said, "and your helping mice breed."

If a corn snake, which eats mice like candy, kills a mother mouse, thousand of vermin would not be born, he said.

But even with such beneficial uses for snakes, Reichert understands why the creatures are not universally popular. "They're aliens on our planet," he said. "They're just so different."

Except, of course, that they have belly buttons.


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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