Tarantulas, scorpions and pythons, oh my! Tampa reptile expert talks exotic pets

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Joe Fauci has seen a thing or two in his 62 years. The reptile expert has lived a life of adventure, one that began with a fascination for wild things at a young age.

Exotic pets

“I grew up in Florida. I had a pet monkey at 13 years old,” Joe told News Channel 8. “I’ve just been fascinated with keeping animals.”

That attraction was a bit of foreshadowing, as it turns out. For Joe, his love for nature grew into a profession.

RELATED: Lakeland 6-foot gator wears clothes, rides on motorcycle

As a young University of South Florida student, Joe decided to travel the world, starting with Central America. Back in the 1970s, he realized that by bringing certain reptiles back to the states, he could pay for his college classes. And, that’s exactly what he did.

His studies took him all over Central America, then South America.  His love for other cultures and exotic animals inspired him.

“It opened my eyes to the world,” Joe says. He returned to the states and set up a wholesale business in Tampa 35 years ago – Southeast Reptile Exchange, Inc. Over the years, he’s worked with zoos throughout the country, as well as Busch Gardens. He’s had clients all over the globe but now deals within the U.S. primarily.

Exotic pets

Exotic pets

RELATED: Venomous pet snakes, pythons abound in Tampa Bay area neighborhoods

To see Joe in action is truly fascinating. He has a comfort level among the most precarious of creatures, cradling scorpions, tarantulas and, yes, large and small snakes at ease. His passion for reptiles and respect for nature is evident. He encourages people interested in keeping exotic pets to educate themselves before doing so.

“The last thing we want to see is animals who are turned loose in the wild if someone can’t take care of them at home,” he explained.

When he sees headline-making stories like a Lakeland woman who keeps an alligator named Rambo as a pet, he doesn’t judge.

“To each his own,” Joe said, smiling. “I think they get attached to them, just like a dog or a cat.”

Joe told us the world of exotic pets is more popular than ever. It is, indeed, a booming multi-million dollar industry. “It’s almost unbelievable to people who aren’t in the business. You know, some lizards go for thousands of dollars, snakes go for thousands of dollars,” he said.


Are you wondering what kind of pets your neighbors keep? The map below shows residents with licenses to possess or exhibit venomous reptiles or reptiles of concern.

Here is more information about the snakes and reptiles identified above.

  • VIPERIDAE: A poisonous viper known for long fangs. It’s found around the world, such as true vipers, bush vipers, rattlesnakes, pit vipers and adders.
  • ELAPIDAE: These tropical and subtropical venomous snakes include cobras, adders and mambas.
  • COLUBRIDAE: This is the largest snake family, comprising 2/3 of all snake species. It’s a  catch all that includes venomous such as boomslang, as well as nonvenomous snakes including king snakes, garter snakes and rat snakes.
  • HELODERMATIDAE: These venomous lizards include gila monsters. They have grooved hollow fangs in their lower jaw.

 

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