Scales And Tales: Anna Royer’s Pets Are Anything But Common

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Not everyone might appreciate Anna Royer’s choice in “pets.”

“My dad’s mom loved animals, and she passed that love to him,” Royer said. “From a young age, he would catch king snakes, frogs and turtles and bring them in. When we were growing up, he kept bringing them in, even though mom is still terrified of snakes. My siblings and I loved it.”

Royer started collecting exotic animals and reptiles at the age of 11. Now she’s 24, and she’s turned her hobby into a colorful and uncommon sideline, Scales.

“I understand that reptiles don’t show their affection in the same way a dog might,” Royer said, “but I love them. I’m fascinated by learning about them and each has its own personality, its own degree of intelligence or the lack thereof.”

Royer’s reptile menagerie includes panther chameleons, corn snakes, crested, tokay, day and leopard geckos, an amphiuma salamander, a uromastyx, a tegu, a Russian tortoise, red-eye green and Australian-white tree frogs, a bearded dragon, a Cuvier’s dwarf caiman; three Burmese pythons and three boa snakes.

So far, the creatures are a hit at birthday parties, library presentations and other venues.

“Poison dart frogs are only dangerous in the wild,” Royer points out. “In captivity, they don’t eat the toxic plants that cause danger.”

While she is respectful of all her reptiles, she is particularly respectful – and cautious – in handling her nine-foot Burmese python, not yet full grown.

Most of the animals are kept in a separate structure.

“Oden, the albino blue tegu, is very intelligent,” Royer said. “He’s four years old and about four feet long including his tail. He is really good about using his tongue. He detects the smells of rodents, fish, eggs or other meats. He knows what our hands smell like, too.”

Her panther chameleons are the most popular with audiences.

“They are full of personality, real showboats with their vibrant colors, slow movements and long tongues. Mine like to be let out of cages to explore. When they are finished, they make their way back home.”

A novice reptile owner might look at the leopard gecko or bearded dragon to ease his way into this animal kingdom. The leopard gecko doesn’t require much room and lives a long time in captivity, and is active at dusk and dawn when most people are home. The bearded dragon is sociable and receptive to handling, when done properly. The dwarf caiman is the alligator family’s smallest and most primitive species, but looks as menacing as any gator.

“Before anyone considers keeping a reptile, it’s important to do research, to pick the right breeder, set up the proper enclosure and know what to feed your pet,” Royer said. “Some of these pets will live 20 years or more.”

Royer’s food bill can be high, about $700 for three months of food from the bulk market.

“Iguanas and turtles are complete herbivores,” she said, “and their diets consist of more than just iceberg lettuce. Spinach can give them thyroid problems and too much of certain vitamins aren’t good for them.”

Her oldest pet, and her son’s favorite, is Fat Daddy, the iguana that is estimated to be between 16 and 18 years old.

Royer often hears the sentiment, “The only good snake is a dead snake,” but she’s not discouraged.

Her end game is to own and operate a small zoo enclosure that would allow her to make her living doing what she loves, adding to her collection of scales, accumulating interesting tales to educate and entertain others, teaching reptile owner responsibility and warmly sharing her fascination with her cold-blooded companions.