Photos by Scott and Kelsey Walters
Summer is here and for a lot of us, that means more time outdoors, enjoying the beach, springs and waterways while we soak up the sun. Living in a coastal community, it’s easy to forget about Florida’s other non-oceanic ecosystems and the abundance of wildlife we are surrounded with on a daily basis.
The Reptile Discovery Center in DeLand is a unique facility dedicated to exposing the public to hundreds of reptilian species – not only from Florida, but around the world. Home to one of the country’s largest collections of venomous snakes, you’ll come face-to-face with dangerous species you would hope to never encounter otherwise.
Reptile Discovery Center – DeLand
Like so many businesses this past year, the center was greatly impacted by COVID-19 and was forced to close its doors to the public for 14 months. After a long wait, they reopened in May and the center’s resident reptilian specialists, Carl and Mara, are thrilled to continue to educate the public on these incredible creatures.
Behind the scenes, however, the staff of the center were hard at work serving an even greater purpose with worldwide benefits. The Reptile Discovery Center is also home to Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, where Carl and Mara carefully raise, care for and handle a collection of around 750 venomous snakes from around the world. Each week, they perform venom extractions on numerous snakes and the venom is sent to pharmaceutical companies around the world to create lifesaving antivenom.
View Live Venom Extractions at the Reptile Discovery Center in Volusia County
This process isn’t just behind closed doors, though. It’s included in admission! In addition to exploring dozens of the world’s deadliest creatures in the serpentarium, the center offers a front seat to live venom extractions twice a day. Safely tucked away behind glass, Carl and Mara intensely focus while they handle the likes of coral snakes, western diamondbacks, southern copperheads, cobras and more. We sat on the edge of our seats as we watched them delicately collect the venom from some of the world’s most famous slithering critters.
Prior to the extractions, you’ll get to meet some of the gentler, and significantly less dangerous, residents. We held Sunflower, an albino ball python, and Picasso, a piebald ball python. Avery is fearless when it comes to animals of all kinds, and scrambled at the chance to hold them. She was so interested in studying their scales and flicking tongues that she could barely tear herself away to smile for a photo. The presentation also includes details on how the Medtoxin Lab works and the process of caring for and working with these animals.
Snakes, Turtles and Other Reptiles to Experience at the Reptile Discovery Center
If snakes really aren’t your thing, don’t write this place off just yet. Scott is absolutely terrified of snakes – I’ve seen him jump three feet in the air just at the sight of a large stick he thought was a snake. He was still enthralled with the opportunity to see some of these beautiful and incredible creatures just a few inches away…as long as there was glass between them, of course. He even took the chance to give Sunflower a quick, gentle poke just to say he touched a snake before quickly backing away. The center offers a safe, controlled space to get to know reptiles and amphibians from around the world, and maybe even face some of your biggest fears.
Outside the serpentarium, the Discovery Trail through the woods leads you down a path of even more (non-venomous) creatures. Here you’ll find massive alligators, an assortment of turtles and tortoises, and enormous constrictors and lizards from around the globe.
Although it’s a smaller facility, the center really packs a punch. We met several families that have returned again and again over the years to visit some of their favorite animals and see another extraction. The Reptile Discovery Center is truly a hidden gem right here in our own backyard!
REPTILE DISCOVERY CENTER
Hours and Admission:
Thu – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Sun: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Venom extractions at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
$11.50/adult; $9.50/child (kids 3 and under are free); $9.50/senior
Annual passes for individuals and families available
To take a look behind the scenes of this trip and see where the Walters Family is heading next, follow Florida or Bust on Instagram at @FloBust
View more photos from this trip here!