September 1984: I (Kathy) was passing through the Detroit, Michigan
area and dropped in to visit a pair of up-and-coming herpers - Mark &
Kim Bell - who were
shaking up the herpetocultural scene by getting into and proceeding to
propagate just about every colubrid snake known to science.
They were great customers and trading partners back in those innocent days
of their youths. They didn't yet have fancy facilities and
high-tech equipment to induce their hordes to breed. It was
all done under the house in an average-sized cellar; granted, every
conceivable square inch of space was devoted to the endeavor.
Little did their neighbors suspect that a humongous
collection of snakes lived in that suburban basement in that
innocent-looking house down the block.
The dreary winters finally got to them, and the whole operation up and moved down to sunny southwest Florida back in the early 1990s. They're practically our next-door neighbors now - oooh, all those snakes so close! Cool, isn't it ?
we probably saw them more often when they were still Yankees, we do manage
to get by to check in on them once a year or so now.
They've expanded operations (that's a given if more than a week has passed since any visit) considerably to take advantage of the subtropical climate in their new backyards. Now there are tortoises and lizards galore spicing the racks of cages and pens too. The snake species have increased too to include tons (literally) of boas and pythons. These two seem to possess a green thumb for every species, and they rarely settle for doing any of them in a small way.
From what we can estimate, they are the largest scale commercial breeders in the U.S., and probably the entire world right now. There may be some frog farmers who produce greater actual numbers of offspring, but we've never seen or even heard of anything yet that compares in total scope to their highly organized and spic 'n span clean laboratory-like facilities. They've put their main emphasis into large-scale production over the past decade and rarely advertise their existence anymore except at trade shows. This lower picture is at their classy expo booth, taken about 1997 in Orlando, Florida.