As a little boy growing up in Holland, Marc van Steenis loved to chase snakes and lizards around on family vacations. His fascination with animals evolved into a degree in zoology, and a collection of around 800 to 1,500 creatures, including reptiles, amphibians and large bugs. Luckily, his wife and two children don’t mind.
“They grew up around these animals, so they are used to it now,” says van Steenis. “They love to pet the cute reptiles like baby geckos and tortoises, but they are less interested in the snakes. Snakes pretty much just eat, sleep and poop.”
When he’s not busy raising his kids, ages 8 and 10, he travels around the city as the Seattle Reptile Guy, presenting his menagerie in classrooms, at children’s birthday parties, and even for corporate team-building events.
“In my experience,” says van Steenis, “when people see and touch animals at a young age, they are more likely to care about them for the rest of their lives.”
Preschoolers are his favorite audience because they have no preconceptions. Whether feeding a lizard, holding a (non-venomous) snake, examining a tarantula up close, or gazing at a giant scorpion, preschool-age children are the most open to new experiences.
“Their eyes light up when they pet a snake or hold some crazy, big exotic bug,” says van Steenis. “They are like little sponges. I teach them all this cool information about where animals live, how they breed, what they eat, and they’re totally amazed. That’s fun to see.”
Parents are often less thrilled about the creepy crawlers, but van Steenis says they can make great pets for kids. A pet snake only has to be fed once a week, and certain breeds of lizards can substitute the traditional live-bug diet for one of powdered nutrients. Van Steenis purchases 15,000 crickets a week from a “cricket ranch” for his creatures, but as he puts it, he has “a lot of mouths to feed.” The crickets arrive via FedEx. He encourages families to do some internet research before committing to a new scaly friend.
With so many critters, it’s difficult to form attachments, but van Steenis has made a few. He’s had one Russian tortoise for more than 26 years. She and her tortoise friends live in the backyard, digging holes and laying eggs. When it’s time to hibernate, van Steenis puts them in a refrigerator to sleep for up to six months.
Taking care of so many animals is time-consuming, but van Steenis loves every minute of it: “It’s a little bit of an obsession. I’m one of those people who loved reptiles as a kid and never grew out of it as an adult.”
Sign up for a scaly encounter
A typical Seattle Reptile Guy animal presentation lasts one to two hours, for 20 to 30 children, and costs $195 plus tax. If you mention this article, van Steenis will take 20 percent off your first event. Learn more at seattlereptileguy.com.