Senior owns and breeds snakes

Senior Greg Ruiz’s room is not the ideal place for anyone afraid of the creepy or the crawly. Cages full of snakes of various breeds, colors and sizes line the walls. Without any reservations, Greg picks up the snakes, holds them with one hand, and tosses them on his bed, exuding confidence and comfort. For him, handling these potentially dangerous animals is a daily ordeal, nothing outside of the ordinary.

Greg began collecting snakes a year and a half ago, and is a database of knowledge on snake care, breeds and genes present in different snakes. Despite the ease he handles snakes with now, Ruiz didn’t start out as a big fan.

“I think I was terrified [the first time I held a snake,] but then I overcame my fear, so I just started liking it,” Ruiz said.

The first time Ruiz held a snake was under circumstances he wouldn’t prefer. It was thrown at him by a snake enthusiast friend.

“My friend was really interested [in snakes] and I hated [snakes], and he threw his boa constrictor at me and I had to catch it cause I didn’t want it to fall,” Ruiz said. “I caught it and it just looked at me like it wanted to bite me.”

After that experience, Greg began feeling more comfortable around snakes, to the point where he bought his own. Days later, he got another one, beginning his collection. He now goes to reptile shows and owns 32 snakes, six of which currently slither around cages in his bedroom. The rest are being stored with a friend.
His room is exceedingly warm, more like being outside on a late spring day than in a teenager’s homework and sleeping space. A humidifier sits on the floor of the largest snake cage, a plexiglass rectangle with a sturdy frame that’s easily 6 feet tall and almost spans one entire wall of his room. Inside, two pale yellow snakes, one about 7 feet long and thick as an arm, move around lazily in the 80-degree controlled environment. Bright lights providing heat shine on them and a cardboard box provides a hiding place.

Two box fans sit in the room, ready to make it a more comfortable environment for humans when the snakes are safe in their heated homes. Three more cages hold four more snakes, one of which jumps and bites the air when Greg blows on it. The most aggressive of the snakes that Greg has in his room is this reticulated python, which clearly doesn’t like to be disturbed. Greg has raised scars on his hands from snakebites, the feeling of which he has gotten used to over the last year and a half. Snake breeding definitely can prove to be dangerous, and large snakes have not only sharp teeth but also strength.

“My buddy got a 20-foot reticulated python and he let go of the mouth, and it was a really aggressive snake,” Ruiz said. “We had to wrestle it, kind of, and it was pure muscle, had to get it in the cage . . . It was pretty scary.”

Snakes of all sizes tend to bite, especially when they’re young, and Greg has been bitten over 50 times, even with his knowledge of how to hold and handle snakes. Even though none of the bites have come from venomous snakes, they still can draw blood and leave marks.
“After I got my first snake, it bit me so I kind of gave [it] to my sister. [After getting bitten again], I just kept getting them. At first it was hard keeping up with them, so I almost sold them,” Greg said.
Dangers may be involved, but Greg’s passion for snakes keeps him from wanting to give up the hobby nowthat he’s put so much time and money into it.

“I first plan on joining the Marine Corps, and then I do plan on owning my own warehouse of snakes,” Ruiz said.

Greg’s sister, who graduated from North last year, likes working with snakes and will help care for them while Greg serves in the Marine Corps. His mother and grandmother, however, are not fans.

“I don’t like them at all. I support it [by taking] him to get the food,” Deya Ruiz, Greg’s mother, said.

Greg is used to people being afraid of or grossed out by his hobby. He focuses on sharing information about the snakes and talking about their lack of aggression due to the environment they were raised in and doesn’t force the snakes on anyone or try to make people nervous. His ease in handling them, along with his level of knowledge, alleviates most snake fears quickly.

Day to day, Greg wakes up 6 feet from the creatures, does schoolwork surrounded by them and spends six hours a week feeding and handling the ones he doesn’t keep at home, currently 24 additional snakes.

The rarest snake Greg has is a titanium retic that cost $5,000. He bought it with money he made selling his other snakes’ offspring.

To breed most efficently, the snakes have to eat more than other snakes that are in the wild, so they grow bigger faster. The snakes eat live rats weekly, which his friend breeds.
“Their food bites harder than they do,” Greg said.

Both the snakes and Greg have been bitten by the rats, and his opinion of the snakes’ natural prey is obvious in its negativity. He hates handling them, but he is more than willing to do so to keep his snakes healthy and growing constantly. Weekly, he feeds the snakes at least one rat each, first stunning the rat and then putting it live into a container so the snake can kill and consume it.

Ruiz enjoys playing football and wrestling, but neither subject makes his eyes light up the way talking about his snakes does. His interest and passion are something he’s quick to share. He loves the colors and patterns on snakes, and he talks about the variations that are likely if certain snakes bred with each other.

His favorite snake in his room is a male albino green burmese with almost no pattern on it, which is rare. The more rare the snake, the more money Greg gets for it’s offspring. Greg makes about $300 for each snake he sells, and he uses the profits to expand his collection. Snakes lay about 30 eggs, and during the summer, when the weather is better, he can expect all of the young to survive.

Baby snakes are less used to humans and tend to bite more. Even the least hostile snakes Greg owns bit him as babies. None of Greg’s snakes are venomous, but he is open to buying venomous snakes in the future. Eager to expand his collection, Greg mentions that he would be willing to take snakes from anyone who wants to get rid of them.

More than just a business, Greg feels comfortable around the snakes and loves being around them.

“Snakes really calm me down. I do my homework with them, holding them,” Greg said.