Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Pssst...Wanna see my pet snake?

Lisa Didier, Reptiles, February 1994


Louis and his Baby.

On the surface, there is nothing bizarre about Louis Daddano, a mild-mannered insurance salesman. So, when he invited me to his home to show me his cherished pets, I accepted. He refused to tell me exactly what these pets were, but he assured me that they were really unique, especially the one he referred to as his "baby."

Louis greeted me at the front door of his beautiful ranch home, offered me a cold drink and gave me a quick tour of the main living area. I had yet to detect anything out of the ordinary.

We eventually reached the basement door, and Louis reached in and snapped on a bank of switches. Down below, bright lights blazed to life and the exotic strains of jungle music wafted from hidden speakers.

Meeting "Baby"
We descended the stairs and Louis led me over to a huge, floor-to-ceiling, glass enclosure. As I stared into it--at the waterfall, the placid pool and a rocky promontory--what I took to be a massive black-and-tan rock formation stirred, and a huge Burmese python began to uncoil.

My flesh blossomed into a sheet of goose bumps as I smiled limply at my host. Louis beamed with pride and asked, "Well, what do [you] think of my baby?"

"Baby" was not the word I would have chosen to describe this snake. According to Louis, no zoo or nature center in the world possesses such a mammoth specimen of this species. Baby is 13 years old and approximately 20 feet long. Louis cheerfully informed me that the snake would continue to grow throughout the remainder of its 20 year life expectancy. My mind boggled at the prospect. Sharing the habitat with the huge Burmese were two much smaller snakes: an albino Burmese python, and a 7-foot South American anaconda.

Louis is into snakes the same way some men are into sports cars or stereo equipment. He was 7 years old when he bullied his mother, a practicing snake-a-phobic, into letting him get Igor the Iguana.

"Most boys want a dog or a pony, but Igor was my idea of a really great pet," Louis says. "Once my family accepted the idea of a reptile in residence, I began bringing home snakes, salamanders and turtles. I had quite a menagerie."

He flashed an impish smile and continued. "Once, a rather large python vanished from its cage. We knew it was still in the house, and my mom went absolutely ballistic. She got so crazy that we ended up calling a carpenter to remove the entire basement ceiling. He found my snake, snuggled next to a heating duct."

I stepped a bit closer to the glass to stare into Baby's eyes. "I bet feeding him is a real challenge," I managed to squeak.

Louis laughed and gave me an incredulous look. "Baby eats several live chickens a week. And you're right about feeding him, it's tricky."


Close Call
Louis held up his right hand to show me a recently healed wound that required 25 stitches. He blamed himself for the injury, however. "A couple of weeks ago, while I was feeding Baby, I let my guard down and got distracted. Things got pretty hairy. I was lucky to make it out the door of this habitat."

That day, Louis failed to separate his snakes before feeding them. While he was giving Baby some chickens, he failed to notice that the anaconda had slithered up onto a large rock just above the feasting python. In the wink of an eye, the anaconda dropped down, grabbed a chicken in its mouth and began pulling it from Baby's jaws.

"I couldn't allow that," Louis said. "The situation would have escalated and there would have been a terrible fight. I might have lost one of my snakes."

As Louis struggled to free the chicken from the grasp of the anaconda, it clamped down on his hand. The python, excited first by the feeding and then by the frantic activity with the anaconda, looked at Louis and began moving quickly in his direction. It was then than Louis managed to shoot through the habitat door and slam it shut behind him.

"I heard the click of the safety catch, followed by as loud thud as the python's head slammed into the door."


Reptile Paradise
Baby's room is one of three conjoined habitats in Louis' basement. Designed and built by a team of experts from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, the Milwaukee Zoo and Tropic World, these enclosures cost what many people would spend on their entire house. After my introduction to Baby, Louis took me on a tour of the rest of his fantastic collection of reptiles.

Next to Baby's habitat, another enclosure houses a pair of nasty looking South American caimans and a 150-pound alligator snapping turtle.

A rare crocodile monitor was the occupant of the third habitat. The 6-foot-long beauty that was soaking in a shallow pool became my special favorite. She was a basic black, but had lacy, yellow patterns sprinkled down each leg.

Louis also showed me some other creatures, such as his albino kingsnake, but I kept nervously glancing back at the gargantuan python, just to make sure it wasn't sneaking upon me.

The price for indulging in this exotic hobby isn't measured in dollars only. Louis invests at least 25 hours per week on auxiliary duties. These include cleaning the habitats, maintaining the security system, laying in supplies of food and vitamins, and monitoring the heat and humidity of the enclosures.

I did mention that this guy is really into snakes, didn't I?

Anyone want to take a stab at how many feeding errors are demonstrated in the above incident?


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