Friday, January 20, 2012

Facing my fears in St. Cloud

In my dreams the snake is right beneath my feet and I leap to avoid it – clinging to every ounce of anti-gravity I can muster – knowing that when I come down I'm likely to be snake bit. I trace the dream back to my childhood, when I was running carefree through the grounds of Riverbend Condominium in Welaka Florida and came face-to-face with a coiled up Water Moccasin at the base of a palm tree. I still feel a knot in my belly when I think of it today and even though the manger of the complex got his gun and shot the varmint, the snake's ghost still haunts my nightmares.

So when a friend from the SCA read the review of Reptile World on his smart phone, I was less than thrilled. I knew about the 40-year old attraction but had intentionally blocked it out of my mind. Eventually my love for old Florida roadside attractions overpowered my fears and I entered the gift shop. Right away I was confronted with snakes and snake paraphernalia, but I did not waver. As luck would have it we arrived just minutes before the 3 pm snake-milking demonstration and folks were already crowding the space to watch the show. "The most interesting man in the world" started the show by talking about the venom extraction process, the dangers of coral snakes, and how anti-venoms are made. Behind a a barrier of plate glass, he and his wife brought out one snake at a time from what looked like a Tupperware drawer and dropped them on the counter so we could see them before they were milked. Thick cottonmouths were followed by tiny coral snakes then noisy rattlers and finally huge cobras. I must say I found the whole production to be quite entertaining and if I'm going to observe snakes I prefer it to be on the other side of a big glass window.

Owner George Van Horn preps the audience

This Cottonmouth slipped of the table causing me to make sure there were no snake-sized holes in the wall between us

Van Horn and his assistant (wife?) worked in a very precise, businesslike fashion.

This stunning cobra closed the show - it was so long it barely fit back into its drawer

In addition to the snake-milking show, there is a turtle pond, a couple of large alligators, some tropical birds and a gallery of 50 or so varieties of snakes. It doesn't take long to see the place, but I noticed in myself a shift in my consciousness, that I found a beauty in these serpentine creatures I had never allowed myself to notice before. The way they move, their variety and texture and patterns of their skins are wonderfully displayed in this L-shaped room full of snakes. I was very cautious, however, when my friend warned me that one of the cobras was violently attacking the glass. I made sure to give that exhibit some distance, as I wasn't quite ready for my newly-acquired balloon of fearlessness to burst.


  1. Wow, I would love to watch that show! Now I wonder - what would they do to the cottonmouth snake's extracted venom? Its venom is hemotoxic that it destroys blood cells and can cause hemorrhage. Source:

  2. It's my understanding that they mix the venoms together...