Reptile enthusiast brings exotic animals to Main Street

One glance into its storefront window, which looks out across Main Street, is all it takes to know without a shred of doubt: Revelation Reptiles is not your average pet store.

Instead of the standard puppies, rabbits, gerbils, rats and guinea pigs, the cages and terrariums that line the walls of the small shop are filled with several species of gecko, bearded dragon, turtle and snake, among others.

Revelation Reptiles employee and animal caretaker James Ruft takes Darwin out of his enclosure for a stretch. Darwin is a five-year-old, 150-pound granite Burmese python, and is not for sale. “We’ve had him since he was a baby,” Ruft said. Darwin hissed loudly while being held. “He doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s not a sign of aggression — it’s just kind of what he does.” Photo by Aaron Atkins.
Revelation Reptiles employee and animal caretaker James Ruft takes Darwin out of his enclosure for a stretch. Darwin is a five-year-old, 150-pound granite Burmese python, and is not for sale. “We’ve had him since he was a baby,” Ruft said. Darwin hissed loudly while being held. “He doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s not a sign of aggression — it’s just kind of what he does.” Photo by Aaron Atkins.

The shop had its grand opening May 4, and co-owner, caretaker and breeder Micah Ross could not be happier about it.

“I love this, love doing this, love that we’ve gotten to open this place up,” he said Thursday afternoon, taking a break from speaking with customers and educating onlookers. “I’d be doing it on my own at home anyway, so I figured I’d might as well make a business out of it.”

Ross co-owns the store with his aunt, Carole Shrader, who handles the business aspect of the shop. His cousin, James Ruft, works there as well.

“It’s a family operation,” Shrader said. “We just work with different kinds of animals here than most people are used to seeing.”

As to why Ross and Shrader opened the store, the catalyst, he said, was simple.

“I found a spot we really liked, the location was available and affordable, and we jumped on it. No better time than now,” he said. “This all really started out as a hobby for me, a long time ago. I’ve always sort of been interested in reptiles and started breeding them a long time ago. But it was always just a hobby, and I’ve always wanted to open a shop like this and take it to the next level.”

Ross and Ruft have bred and kept snakes and other exotic animals for years, they said, and Revelation Reptiles was the next logical step for them.

“Me and James had the same interest in reptiles and exotics, so this made sense,” Ross said. “Carole likes the lizards and turtles, but she’s not a big fan of the snakes. They freak her out a little. She’ll get used to it, though.”

While some might think a shop containing a series of snakes and other exotic animals on Main Street would raise a few eyebrows, but Ross said those eyebrows were more out of curiosity and not revulsion. So far the community’s been supportive of the store and its inhabitants, both cold and warm-blooded.

They’ve been great to us, real great so far,” Ross said. “Everybody seems to like it, and like that something like this is here.

“What we want to do here is to have people who are familiar with exotics and ones that aren’t to be able to come into the store and be comfortable asking questions and have them answered by knowledgeable staff. Hopefully they’ll see something they like and buy something, too.”

Revelation Reptiles isn’t just about cold-blooded and amphibious animals — an emperor scorpion, one of the largest species of scorpion in the world, is one of many up for sale at the shop. The arachnids have a lifespan of 5-8 years. Photo by Aaron Atkins.
Revelation Reptiles isn’t just about cold-blooded and amphibious animals — an emperor scorpion, one of the largest species of scorpion in the world, is one of many up for sale at the shop. The arachnids have a lifespan of 5-8 years. Photo by Aaron Atkins.

Ross had bred a sizable chunk of the store’s initial inventory himself — mostly the snakes — and purchased the rest of the animals — a few of the amphibians – turtles and geckos – bearded dragons and other lizards, and hissing Madagascar cockroaches, among others.

A group of Pandinus Imperator, or emperor scorpion, an African native and one of the largest scorpions in the world, were the first creatures born in the store. The emperor stands out to exotic pet owners for several reasons, Ross said. Of them, the fact that they have five to eight-year lifespans, their black bodies glow under ultraviolet light, they’re remarkably docile and have a mild venom, often compared to a bee sting. They bear live offspring, and have a gestation period comparable to that of a human’s.

The snakes’ enclosures have heat lamps on one side, allowing the animals to warm themselves as they see fit, then cool their bodies by curling up on the dark side away from the lamps.

The shop features a 150-pound Burmese python, around 5 years old, in a holding pen atop a rack filled with smaller snakes, also pythons. Named Darwin, the snake exhibits a granite mutation, is around five years old and was purchased by Ross from famed California herpetologist and python breeder Bob Clark, known for breeding for particular patterns and traits, such as albinism.

“He’s a pretty hefty guy,” Ross mused. “He’s been with me a while.” A sticker at the top of Darwin’s enclosure clearly reads “Not for Sale.”

“He’s just here to keep me company, and to show customers what it takes to keep a large snake like this,” he said.

While the store houses many animals, a good portion of the Revelation Reptiles operation takes place at Ross’ Christiansburg home, where he has a climate-controlled room for optimum reptile care and breeding purposes.

“This is kind of the store I’ve always wanted to see open. I mean, there are pet stores that sell some lizards and turtles, but they’re always a small part of it. They usually focus on hamsters and rabbits and such. They don’t give a lot of attention to exotics,” Ross explained. “And the ones that do don’t employ people who know a lot about reptiles and amphibians and how to take care of them.”

Ross used to be a tattoo artist, evident by the ample examples of ink visible on his skin. He had once worked as an employee at Gothic Arts, a tattoo parlor that used to be in the same location Ross and Revelation Reptiles now calls home.

“It’s interesting it worked out that way — it wasn’t designed, that’s for sure,” he said. “I liked tattooing. It was a lot of fun — I’d done it since 1992, but it wasn’t really my passion. I’d always go home and work with my snakes. It was my hobby, my passion, and now it’s turned into my profession.

It wasn’t an easy road to take though.

“It was hard at first to find a landlord with an open shop that would allow animals, much less snakes and lizards, on the property,” Ross said. He, Shrader and Ruft eventually found one in Gilbert Realty.

The store had to obtain a business license from the City of Radford, then obtain a license from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to be able to own and sell native species of snake, specifically corn snakes, Eastern kings, and mole kingsnakes.

One guest, a large snapping turtle Ruft came across in the woods nearby his Christiansburg home, was recovering from injuries to its shell and deep facial lacerations likely sustained in what he believed was a fight with another male snapper.

“I didn’t see it happen, but when I came across this guy he was beat up pretty bad, and it’s breeding season for them,” Ruft explained. “They can get pretty aggressive, especially when they’re on land away from water.”

Ordinarily, a wild-caught animal can only be displayed for 30 days before being released, but in this case, due to the animal’s injuries, Ruft said Game and Fish said the snapper can call Main Street Radford its new permanent home.

By Aaron Atkins

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