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Reptile man on a mission

Reptile Man on a Mission

Like most kids, Jesse De Luca, National Reptile Specialist for Hagen, was fascinated by dinosaurs when he was a boy. His interest in pre-historic animals eventually evolved into a passion for reptiles and amphibians. When he was just 5, he kept slider turtles as a hobby.

He later got his first anole when he was a teenager and soon had a collection of nearly 50 lizards, which he housed in about 20 habitats. He bred and sold the lizards online and through reptile forums. He was particularly interested in watching reptiles eat their food.

He jokes that he’s not your typical-looking reptile aficionado. He doesn’t have any tattoos and his friendly, unassuming personality is more good-natured Clark Kent than bad-boy Johnny Depp.

Herper at Heart

But there is no doubt that his passion for herps, which is shorthand for reptiles and amphibians, runs deep. He says his greatest joy is to observe herps in their natural habitat.

When he was in his early twenties, Jesse was the first person in Quebec to breed Crested Geckos from New Caledonia.

“Captive bred Crested Geckos make good pets as they take up relatively little space, do not require UV lighting and need only small amounts of heating. They can eat prepared diets and do not necessarily require crickets. They live 15 to 20 years and grow to about 8 inches at maturity,” he said.

Wally the Alligator

Jesse’s first reptile job was working as an animator for ReptiZoo, a travelling reptile zoo that provides reptiles and amphibians for parties and other special occasions, including classroom presentations.

There he met Wally, a docile, captive bred, 150-pound American Alligator, who always stole the show at all the events he attended. Wally, who is still alive today, eats rodents and chicken, usually purchased frozen and served thawed.

“In the wild, alligators generally tend to be less aggressive than crocodiles,” says Jesse.

Jesse with Wally the Alligator

Reptile Specialist Rising

Jesse then joined the Montreal Herpetological Association, which caters to hobbyists who have a passion for herps as well as for herping, which is the equivalent of birding, but in this case it’s spotting and observing herps in the wild. He eventually became President of the Association and held the post for nearly 7 years.

Jesse was later hired by Hagen in 2012 as Inside Sales Representative and part of his job now as National Reptile Specialist is to travel around the country to educate hobbyists and pet shop staff about the proper and responsible care of herps.

Jesse's personal herp collection

  • Green Anole – Anolis carolinensis. This is a very common lizard in the pet trade. Even though they move quickly, they sometimes will let you coax them onto your hand and will stay there without moving. This is a great beginner lizard that does not require a huge amount of space and allows you to create a beautiful planted vivarium for it to live in. Origin: South Eastern United States.
  • Amazonian Milk Frog or Trachycephalus resinifictrix (aka “Leche Verde” or Green Milk). This frog gets its name from the poisonous milky fluid that is secreted from its skin when it feels threatened, which rarely happens with captive-bred specimens. Origin: Amazon rainforest S.A.
  • Big-eyed Tree Frog - Leptopelis vermiculatus  I think this one’s name speaks for itself. Origin: Tanzania.
  • Pacman Frog - Ceratophrys cranwelli. Called a “pacman frog” due to its large mouth and huge stomach. You would say it almost looks like the video game character especially when you get to know its voracious appetite. Origin: Argentina, S.A.
  • Tailless Whip Scorpion – Damon diadema. I included this photo as it is quite impressive and it also has a bit of a shocking creep factor. I am one of the few to breed this animal in Canada. Although scary-looking, they are quite harmless to anything larger than themselves. It is an arachnid that has one set of legs that look like whips and act like sensory organs, much like antennae. There are over 155 discovered species worldwide. Origin: Central Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.

Educating Canadians about Herps

He is scheduled to attend many reptile events across Canada in the next 12 months. He plans to crisscross the country driving the official Exo Terra vehicle, a brand new Jeep Wrangler emblazoned with striking Exo Terra livery.

Upcoming reptile shows that Jesse will be attending.

Toronto Reptile Expo

March 1, 2015 - Downsview Park – Toronto, On

Montreal Reptile Expo

Nov. 22, 2015 – Holiday Inn - Pointe-Claire, Q

Canadian Pet Expo

April 3-5, 2015 – International Centre, Mississauga, On


What you should know about keeping a reptile or amphibian

Jesse says that people’s fascination with reptiles and amphibians cuts across all ages. Males and females have equal interest in exotic pets. Children between the ages 6 and 12 generally tend to have the most unbridled enthusiasm, while kids originating from countries with warmer climates are more careful due to possible venomous nature of some species, something taught early on in their lives.

He notes that many people who get into herp-keeping are generally not prepared and often get fed up after a short period of time due to such things as the work required, expenses, boredom, or simply because the pet grew too large.

There’s also the squeamish factor, especially when it comes to feeding, as some species need to be fed live crickets or rodents.

Jesse says that while disillusioned new keepers who quit the hobby early are generally more compassionate about their pets and try hard to find a new home, in many cases, unfortunately, the pets are released into the wild, which is not a good idea for the pet or the environment.

“Before buying a pet reptile or amphibian, do research online and speak to knowledgeable people. Herps have varying needs when it comes to housing, heating, lighting and feeding.”

“Start with captive bred species. In some cases, there are laws that strictly forbid the importation of wild species. For example, it’s illegal to import turtles to Canada; they must be captive-bred in the country.”

Top 5 Herps for Beginners

If you plan to get involved in the hobby, Jesse’s top 5 recommendations for ideal first-time pets are: crested gecko, leopard gecko, bearded dragon, corn snake, and ball python. He says that they are all good introduction species and relatively easier to keep when it comes to living needs.

Part of Jesse's job is to educate hobbyists and pet shop staff about the proper and responsible care of herps.

Top 5 Herps for Beginners

Top 5 Herps for Beginners: Ball phython, Crested gecko, Bearded dragon, corn snake

Long-term Commitment

Finally, Jesse stresses that keeping a pet reptile or amphibian is a long-term responsibility and should not be viewed as a trendy spur-of-the-moment thing to do just for a couple of months. Some species can live for decades. Crested geckos can live up to 20 years, corn snakes up to 25 years, ball pythons up to 30 years, and the average lifespan of a box turtle is 50 years.

For more information about products for reptiles and amphibians, go to Exo Terra site.

Related links:

Choosing the right lighting for your reptile can be confusing. The Exo Terra Reptile Lighting Guide makes it easy.

Download Exo Terra’s UVB Buddy Lighting App (for iOS only) by clicking here.


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