My life with Reptiles began when I was 3 or 4 years old, in of all places up- state New York. I turned over a piece of corrugated tin and there was a pile of 10 or 12 baby Garter Snakes. I grabbed the pile and came up with three snakes. I was hooked then and there – I became a Herper for life.
As a teenager growing up in Miami, I had the Everglades as my backyard wonderland. On the weekends my buddies and I would hitchhike out Tamiami Trail or up to Lake Okeechobee and hunt all day, sometimes finding it hard while hitchhiking to come up with a story of what was in those bags and often not getting home until well after dark. Every day was a new adventure and made us thirst for more. When I was fourteen, I got a summer job working for Ross Allen, who was one of the best-known herpetologist in the country in the early fifties. His Miami business importing snakes from all over the world fueled my desire to travel to the places where these creatures could be found. It was a summer of wonder and excitement and one that I would never forget.
As a young family man run a Real Estate business, my snake hunting was limited to taking my son to the Everglades once or twice a year. He loved it because he always brought a friend or two on our great adventures. I did travel to the Central and South American jungles as often as time would permit.
At age forty-five, I went into semi-retirement from the Real Estate business and started breeding snakes and lizards. Within four to five years I had established a reputation as one of the nation’s good breeders of reptiles. In 1994 I founded the Florida Keys Herpetological Society and remained its president until 2002, when the Society dissolved.
In 2001, I founded Costa Rica Herping Adventures and led expeditions into Rain Forest of Costa Rica to see and photograph reptiles in their natural environment. I have been traveling to Costa Rica seeking reptiles since 1973 and have become a more or less a knowledgeable person on snakes in Costa Rica. I have also collected snakes in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Columbia, Peru, Brazil and Suriname. My plans are to continue taking herpers to Costa Rica so that I can share with others my passion for these amazing creatures.
MY FIRST FER-DE-LANCE: I was road cruising by myself on a lonely road up in the mountains near La Fortuna, Costa Rica about 11PM. I had been on the road maybe an hour and a half. I had just come down a small hill that curved at the bottom. There was fog hanging about three feet off the ground at this spot, and as I turned I saw a large snake on the road. When I turned just a little more and my headlight shined on the fog above the road, the snake struck at the illuminated fog 3 feet off the road. I could believe my eyes. I was about 50 yards from the snake and I sped up a little. The snake crawled up the road a little and then headed off the side. I stopped and concentrated on the spot where she went off the road. Lucky for me there was a large weed at that point, easy to remember. I put on my flasher lights and got out of the car taking my snake grabber. I pointed my headlight at the over sized weed and quietly approached the spot. The snake was there; it was over five feet long and bigger around than a softball. At the time I didn’t know what it was, but from the head I knew it was HOT!! With the grabber I tried to get close to the head. The snake moved and I had her about 8 or 9 inches behind the head. I pulled her on to the road, she was striking the snake grabber and huge amounts of venom were flying all over the place. The snake started wrapping its body around the grabber coil after fat coil. I was holding a four foot grabber and now its tail was at the handle. I was not worried about the tail touching my hand, but the grabber has a trigger that is controlled by a rod that sits under the pipe. Her body was now wrapped tightly holding the rod to the pipe. The snake had more control of the grabber than I did. I didn’t like this at all.
I started tapping the end near the snake’s head on the road hoping this make the snake loosen her coils. That didn’t seem to work. My next thought was to sling the grabber, snake and all, as far into the woods that I could. But of course my grabber would be gone forever. Next I tried to tap harder and then harder still – finally she released her tail and started to uncoil. The last two coils had me worried: would she run or come after me. As soon as the last coil came undone, I released the trigger and move back fast. She headed for the woods and I walked back to the car. I sat in the drivers seat and wanted to start the car and get away from there as fast as I could. But my knees were shaking so bad I couldn’t even push in the clutch. So, I sat there thinking what would I have done if that big snake had tagged me. I was twenty to thirty minutes form La Fortuna; would they have a way to treat a venomous snake bite? I felt lucky to have things turn out as they did. Just thinking about this night even now scare the hell out of me.
I refereed to this snake in the female gender. After years of snake breeding, I know this snake was a gravid female, ready to drop her babies very soon. A big girl like this could easily drop 50 to 60 babies. I’ve have since seen many five plus foot Fer-de-Lances and none even close to the width and thickness of the snake I encountered that night.