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Warming up to the cold-blooded

Posted: August 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Manager Rod Blair handles Baron, a citrus bearded dragon at Frog Tales in Valencia.

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Baron might not look warm and fuzzy, but say his name and he perks up his head just like a dog.

Take Baron out of his cage, and the stunning citrus bearded dragon lays on your shoulder, waiting to be pet, closing his eyes in contentment under an outstretched hand.

Frog Tales, a new exotic reptile and amphibian store that opened a month ago in Valencia, specializes in unique pets. Procured mostly from South America, there’s a colorful array of snakes, frogs and lizards on display in customized glass cages.

With names such as frilled dragons, leopard geckos and neon albino Pacman frogs, the reptiles range in price from $30 to $600.

“I think they make good pets for just about anyone. It just depends on what you’re looking for — whether you want a pet that’s going to be aesthetic or interactive,” said Rod Blair, manager at Frog Tales.

While Baron is a very receptive, affectionate creature, a bright-green emerald tree boa, is not of the interactive variety. Coiled on a native-looking perch in a perfect heat-and-humidity glass cage, the beautiful snake is known to bite, and has to be handled very carefully, usually with long-handled tongs.

An emerald boa can grow up to 5 feet long.

“Their bite isn’t poisonous, but it hurts,” Blair explained. “Higher-end clients, like lawyers or doctors, tend to like emerald tree boas for their offices. They’re just really beautiful to look at.”

Other clients, such as a young boy who recently came in to look for his birthday present, gravitate to a more traditional reptile. Frog Tales owner Cheryl Arthur suggested a crested gecko as a good starter lizard. The boy’s mother purchased the gecko, a cage with vines, sand, bark and a watering dish for $157 total.

According to Arthur, in addition to being cost-effective, most reptiles and amphibians make for low-maintenance pets.

“They’re self-contained, and it’s easy to clean up after them. As for food, just give them a few crickets, and they’re done,” she said. “You don’t have to wash them; they do it themselves, but they do need stuff to play on. These are kids, too.”

Arthur first became interested reptiles after meeting her grandson’s leopard gecko. That interest became a full-fledged passion after traveling to Suriname, which is north of Brazil, with Blair in March.

The trip took Arthur, a former government finance and contracts manager, into the deep of the jungle. She had considered opening a jewelry business following the trip, but changed her mind while spending time in Suriname.

“I feel in love with it. It’s just so uniquely different than anything I’d ever seen,” she said. “When I saw Rod’s passion for the reptiles firsthand, I thought Frog Tales would be an exciting business. So far, it’s been very satisfying. I learn something new every day.”

Blair, who holds an import/export license through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, selects the inventory for the store. A wealth of information, he’s been involved with and studied exotic reptiles for the past 18 years.

“Eventually, we’d like to have an education day every week in the store, so Rod can tell people about each animal,” Arthur said. “We don’t just want to sell; we want to educate kids.”

Frog Tales carries the extensive Zoo Med line of products, including food, vines and sand, and also offers the latest in humidity and heat control, many of which automatically drop the temperature at night from 5 to 15 degrees.

Two- to 5-foot glass and polymer cages range from $300 to $500, including the heating and lighting systems.

“Small reptiles and amphibians can use bulbs, but the bigger animals need thermal-heat emitters. It’s the same technology used to heat the space shuttle,” Blair said. “All have to have the proper heat and UVB lighting.”

While most like it hot, not all reptiles and amphibians like it humid. The waxy frog, a tiny glistening creature with long, lanky limbs, prefers a temperature of 85 to 90 degrees, with no humidity. Others like to be misted regularly; Frog Tales carries automatic misting systems.

Reptile food can include kale and dandelion greens to crickets or even live mice and rats for the larger species. There is a specially manufactured food available for the neon Pacman frogs, which come in every color in the rainbow at Frog Tales, where they nestle under moss.

“Reptiles and amphibians make great pets because kids can keep them in their room. The whole key is that Mom and Dad shouldn’t have to take care of the pet,” Blair said. “It’s fascinating from a science standpoint, too, since they get to learn about what an exotic animal is like and what it needs.”

Frog Tales is located at 23922 Summerhill Lane, Valencia. (661) 513-6810.

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