Brian Robenhurst | Photo provided
IF YOU GO
What: Reptile Emporium & Aquatic Center
Where: 2835 Highway Ave., downtown Highland
Hours: noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, closed Wednesday
Updated: August 16, 2012 6:01AM
“Red touching black is a friend to Jack.
Red touching yellow can kill a fellow.”
— Author unknown
(The former refers to the color pattern of the harmless scarlet king snake; the latter refers to the poisonous coral snake.)
Brian Robenhurst is a snaky kind of guy. I mean that in a good sense.
He has operated Reptile Emporium & Aquatic Center for 15 years. His business is next to Langel’s Pizza in downtown Highland.
Robenhurst, 47, lives in Hammond and has been married to Angie for 25 years; they have a 15-year old son.
As a child, were you interested in reptiles and tropical fish?
“Oh, yeah, even insects when I was too young to take care of reptiles,” he said. “The neat thing about it was, living in Highland 40 years ago was like living in the country. I grew up in the fields and ponds, so I was able to catch bugs, snakes, tadpoles and frogs my whole childhood.”
How many species of tropical fish do you offer?
Are you allowed to sell anything poisonous?
“In Indiana, it is illegal to have poisonous reptiles in your possession. Even when it was within the law, I wouldn’t sell them; I found that unethical.
“I don’t need the government to tell me what is right and wrong. I wouldn’t sell a toxic animal.”
Like a diamondback rattlesnake?
“Or a cobra. A common cobra would make a rattlesnake look like a garter snake. A common cobra can drop an elephant.”
You don’t have any of the tanks labeled.
“The reason I don’t have them labeled is, I like to talk to my customers. I like them to ask questions.”
This isn’t a typical pet shop.
“No, it’s not. I produce these animals; I breed, raise and hatch them. If I don’t breed it, I get it from somebody who does. Generally, I don’t buy animals.
“The worst place to buy an animal is at a pet store. I offer people a healthy, captive born-and-raised animal.”
Are certain species tougher to get to reproduce?
“The green tree pythons are very difficult.”
Do you sell a lot of “snake chow?”
“Food is a large part of the business because if you don’t have healthy food, you won’t have a healthy animal. We raise crickets, mice, rats and rabbits to feed our animals. Everything from newborn to full-size.”
I noticed one customer asked for pinkies.
“Those are baby rodents, either a mouse or a rat. Baby snakes need live, fresh pinkies. They don’t need things out of the freezer; that isn’t good for these animals.”
Tell me about that fascinating creature, the mud puppy.
“I don’t have any mud puppies because they are a native species. A mud puppy is a lot like what is called a hellbender.”
I remember finding a few mud puppies as a kid. Seems like I caught one while fishing.
“You probably won’t see them anymore. They’re almost extinct.”
Do you have a favorite species of tropical fish, reptile or amphibian?
“That’s a very common question I get. But I don’t have any favorites because I appreciate things for what they are. From fish to reptiles, they all have their own fantastic abilities to enjoy.
“I’m a very large proponent of having these animals because it brings about awareness of protecting them.”
Sometimes, snakes get a bad rap.
“Snakes are fantastic animals; people don’t realize how docile they really are. And they’re very easy to care for.
“They provide us with a great service; areas of Texas have problems with rats and mice overpopulating because they have these big rattlesnake roundups. To my knowledge, it’s the only harvest that’s unregulated. They can kill thousands of them.”
“A rattlesnake won’t bother you unless you mess with it. Rattlesnakes have a wonderful method of warning you when you’re messing with them. They don’t want to bite you; they don’t want to waste their venom on you.
“They only rattle at things that are disturbing them. They won’t rattle at a mouse because they want to catch it and eat it. It’s the same when a cobra’s hood flares up.
“Venom is a very difficult and energy-intensive thing for a reptile to produce; they don’t want to waste it on a human.”
No tropical birds?
“I used to sell birds, but it’s too labor-intensive.”
Brian, I’m ready for the dime tour. The big turtles?
“African spur-thigh tortoises.”
“Those are true Old World chamaeleons.”
This yellow-and-white snake is beautiful.
“That’s an albino python.”
Those gators must go about 31/2 feet.
“Yes, in Indiana, they can’t get any bigger than 5 feet long.”
I’ve seen some big bluegills, but that guy takes the cake.
“That’s a pacu. There is a big problem with pacus right now. They introduced them to New Guinea as a food fish about 10 or 15 years ago. People thought they were vegetarians, but they’re omnivores.”
Are they as aggressive as piranha?
“In their way, they are. We’re talking a fish that can get 10 times the size of that one. They can crack a walnut.
“See those baby piranha?”
Yes, looks like about a dozen of them.
“They could consume your thumb in less than 10 seconds.”
Brian Robenhorst does educational programs at venues ranging from day-care centers to universities.
In the past, he bred mastiffs; now, he also keeps bees.