mark burks repticon

Mark Burks got hooked on ball pythons from the moment he first laid eyes on one up close 11 years ago.

He was fascinated by the different color patterns and the genetics behind their breeding. There’s the Banana Leopard Mojave Het Clown, for example. Or the Fire Het Clown female. And male Pastel POS Het Puzzle. Each one is a different gene which produces the color variations.

“I’ve always loved reptiles,” Burks said. “But ball pythons are interesting because of their colors and genetics. Each one you will see different things. It’s like when you put a chihuahua together with a rottweiler. You come out with something different looking.”

Burks, who owns Ballzout Ball Pythons in Horn Lake, has been an avid ball python hobby enthusiast and breeder now for over a decade. He brings his wide range of pythons every year to Repticon shows to sell to new hobbyists and to help educate people about the reptile.

Repticon was held this weekend in the Landers Center and featured all kinds of vendors selling everything from pythons to geckos to frozen rats.

“It’s a really fun hobby,” Burks said. “These snakes are great starter snakes. They are very docile and very easy to take care of.”

Pythons range from as low as $20, to over a thousand dollars depending on the genetics that produced the coloring. Burks said all you need to get started is a simple plastic tub to hold your python in and the proper heat and humidity. Pythons require two 88 degree “hot spots” to keep them warm and help them digest their food and are simple to take care of.

“The most important thing is they have a certain minimum heat and humidity requirement,” Burks said. “They stay in their cage. You feed them once a week. You clean their cage once a week. And unlike your dog or cat, they shed in their own house. They don’t shed on the furniture and you don’t have to potty train them.”

And just like any pet, Burks said pythons have different personalities. For the most part, he said they are very shy. Ball Pythons are nocturnal and like to hide during the day and are curious and escape artists.

“I have some that when I open the cage they want to come out,” Burks said. “Others just want to be left alone and get away. We like them, but they only tolerate us. The reason they are called ball pythons is because if you found one in the wild, they are going to ball up and hide their head. They feel like if they can hide their head, they are protected.”

Burks said pythons are a great breed to get over a fear of snakes because ball pythons are very docile and do not bite.

“There was a girl who used to come to Repticon each year who was scared of snakes,” Burks said. “I knew the snake would not bite her. So I told her, ‘if you hold your hands out like a tree, I will put one in your hand to hold. If he bites you, I will give you $100.’ And I held out $100. She went for it and guess what? It did not bite her. So every time she comes back, she wants to hold a snake.”

Burks suggests that people who are interested in owning a ball python do their homework first before getting one.

“Get online and learn about them,” Burks said. “I watch a lot of videos about pythons. It’s really a neat hobby.”

Across the convention hall room, Tim Greenwall’s passion is geckos. Gecko Junkie, based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, specializes in Crested Geckos.

Greenwall said he always found them fascinating and saw a gecko in a pet store about ten years ago and decided to get one. 

“I love these guys,” Greenwall said. “Now, between me and my buddy, we probably have three thousand.”

Geckos are small lizards and come in a wide variety of colors and markings. Crested geckos get their name from the fringed crest that begins over their eyes and runs down their necks and backs. They have prehensile tails and specialized toe pads that allow them to move along vertical surfaces.

Greenwall said geckos come from the islands that make up the New Caledonia islands and range in price from $75 to $30,000.

He added that they are the easiest reptiles to take care of. All you need is a tub or terrarium for them that has the proper heat and humidity and room for them to climb.

“There is no heat or light required,” Greenwall said. “You can actually leave town for a couple of days and they will be fine.”

Greenwall showed off another favorite, a chameleon. Chameleons are known for their ability to change color for camouflage and to regulate their temperature and attract a mate, and have eyes that move independently and rotate like turrets. Their tongues are one-and-a-half times their body size which they use to catch insects.

“She is unique because of her legs,” Greenwall said. “It looks like she has a shirt on.”

Greenwall said chameleons generally don’t like to be handled and are not for beginners.

“They always think we are going to eat them,” Greenwall said. “So she is puffy to make herself look big. We are so big to them.”

Greenwall said owning a lizard like a gecko is a fun hobby.

“I’ve been doing this now for ten years,” Greenwall said. “I just find them fascinating.”

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