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Local couple breeds exotic reptiles, sells them over the Internet

April 08, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Something croaked in Joshua and Jessica Stottlemyers' spare bedroom.

It was a White's tree frog- the loudest of the 30 or so species of exotic frogs and chameleons the young couple breed in their Hagerstown duplex and sell over the Internet.

Poison dart frogs in brilliant hues of yellow, green and blue frolic in moist glass aquariums filled with gravel, soil, plants and moss.

The wide-set, bulging eyes of panther chameleons peer at the world outside their foliage-filled nylon mesh "reptariums."

The room temperature hovers at about 76 degrees in the Stottlemyers' psuedo rain forest. Florescent lights atop each enclosure raise the temperature in the cages a few degrees to more closely simulate the animals' native environments in such countries as Brazil and Madagascar.

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A misting system keeps the chameleons' environment at 70 percent humidity, while the frogs thrive in their 100 percent humid homes.

Plastic sheeting protects the room's carpeted floors from excess moisture.

In his reptarium, "Gomer" the Diego Suarez panther chameleon relaxes blue/green on a ficus tree branch until Josh Stottlemyer unzips the cage and introduces another male panther chameleon, a Nosy Be "blue phase."

Gomer turns red.

"Males cannot tolerate each other at all," said Stottlemyer, 21. "They'll kill each other if left in the same enclosure."

Chameleons change color with their moods and to absorb or reflect heat, not for camouflage, he said.

Mating ritual

In a nearby aquarium, two dendrobates- at 1 to 3 inches the largest species in the poison arrow frog genus- prepare to mate. Stimulated by the sound of running water, the poison frogs engage in a mating dance akin to wrestling, Stottlemyer said.

The male calls to the female in a high, nearly inaudible trill. The female paws her mate's nose with her webbed foot. He follows her through a hole into one of the upside-down flower pots Stottlemyer has placed in each aquarium for such occasions.

They mate. The male fertilizes the eggs, which Stottlemyer removes and keeps moist until the tadpoles hatch.

He loves to sit and observe his animals for hours at a time.

"They're amazing to watch," he said. "They're just wild."

Not really.

Almost all of the Stottlemyers' reptiles and amphibians are bred in the United States. The few wild frogs and chameleons purchased by the couple must be quarantined and treated with antibiotics, or disease can wipe out the entire stock, Stottlemyer said.

Unlike their wild counterparts, poison frogs bred in captivity are non-venomous because their diets exclude whatever it is in nature that causes toxicity, he said.

The phyllobates terribilis, or golden poison frog, is the most poisonous animal in the world. It produces enough toxin to kill 10 men, said Stottlemyer, who will soon add a domestically bred pair of the species to his breeding pool.

Humble beginning

The exotic species Stottlemyer now breeds are a far stretch from his start in the world of amphibians and reptiles.

As a boy, Josh Stottlemyer filled his home fish tank with common toads caught in his yard. One toad was as large as his fist, and continued to eat all the pet store lizards that shared its cage.

Repeat visits to the rain forest exhibit at the National Aquarium in Baltimore fanned Stottlemyer's flame for frogs, he said. His wife, 22, shares his passion.

It's her "dumpy tree frog," a toad among princes, that is the loudest croaker, Stottlemyer said.

Extensive research and networking with other breeders enabled the Stottlemyers to launch their business, which has the potential to become quite profitable.

Jessica, who works as a physical therapist's assistant, and Joshua, who works in construction, could earn an additional $50,000 this year by breeding and selling frogs and chameleons, Josh Stottlemyer said.

That figure could double next year when he increases his stock and begins devoting all his time to the business, he said.

World market

The couple has sold hundreds of frogs and chameleons to U.S. buyers in every state except Hawaii and Alaska, Josh Stottlemyer said.

He said he recently unloaded 60 chameleons within two weeks, selling about 40 of the reptiles at $150 to $300 each, and trading the remainder for species from other breeders.

Frog enthusiasts will pay up to $1,500 for a pair of rare exotic frogs, said Stottlemyer, who just paid $500 for a hard-to-find solid blue Nosy Be. He will breed that chameleon.

Panther chameleons mate about every six weeks. The female lays an average of 20 eggs four weeks after mating, and is usually ready to mate again in two weeks, Stottlemyer said.

Female chameleons lack the bright pigmentation of males, and breeders judge mating readiness by slight hue changes in the female reptiles' peachy colored skin.

"Males are ready all the time," Stottlemyer said.

Frogs are more prolific than chameleons, mating about every 10 days and laying an average of 10 eggs per session.

The Stottlemyers sell their exotic frogs for $50 to $125 each.

Little overhead

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