Dale Ertel, Reptile Wrangler
Winding through the "crooked and steep" roads of the Ozarks near Berryville, Arkansas, it would have been easy to miss the intriguing and very colorful hand painted sign on the side of the road, but Veronica caught a glimpse of it. "Did that sign say Snake World?" We hit the brakes and HAD to turn around.

Lucky for us, Dale Ertel was standing in the front yard of the dilapidated dwelling that houses the exhibition. Dale and his family originally cohabitated with the snakes and he bragged that his fifteen year old son used to sleep with two cobras on his headboard. But as the menagerie expanded, new human living quarters
had to be rolled in. He now shares the lot in an adjacent trailer home.

Mr. Ertel was more than happy to show us his impressive display…for a price. We slipped him a dozen dollars and the two of us advanced tentatively into the viper’s den.

The interior looked just as we expected, considering the upkeep of the outside of the premises -- not a place for the queasy or the faint of heart. Tidy was not a word that leapt to mind and the smell was front and center, even on a chilly spring day. The glass on the displays were too filthy for Snake World to be considered museum quality and crap was just strewn everywhere. Little homespun touches like snake skin buntings and a stuffed turkey adorned the walls.


In its favor, the exhibits are intriguing and Dale is so enthusiastic in his presentation that it was hard not to be taken in. He sped from one exhibit to the next with a very informative, yet downhome spiel about each reptile. We had to wonder how much of it was fact and how much mere folklore.

"Here’s a 15 foot python that weighs 130 pounds, they get big enough to eat a donkey, here, look at this picture, this is a local pygmy rattler, just 15 inches, now he’ll put you in the hospital for a few days, but you won’t die." Helpful hill country rhymes like "Red touch yellow - Kill a fellow - Red touch black - Venom lack" to distinguish the venomous coral snake from the bite-friendly milk snake are included at no extra charge.

Dale’s female African Rock Python was about to lay her turkey egg-sized eggs, so he explained to us how he used a chicken

incubator to process them. He then "sells them for dirt cheap," telling the buyers "don’t feed them too much or you’ll have a too big snake on your hands."

In addition to snakes from all over the world, the presentation includes monitor lizards, snake neck turtles, iguanas and hissing roaches that he breeds as children’s pets.

Many of his specimens are local indigenous wildlife he has rescued. When neighboring folks are confronted with a cantankerous asp, they call Dale for snake removal from motels, homes and restaurants (Who

you gonna call? Snake Busters!). When asked where he gets his non Arkansas snakes he informed us that he "horse trades with reptile people all over the states."

Dale Ertel is just a good ole boy just doin’ what he loves to do best. Everyone should be so lucky.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com


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