Vader, a 6-year-old black and white Argentine tegu lizard, has full range and often greets visitors to Arlington Reptiles in Arlington.(Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Vader, a 6-year-old black and white Argentine tegu lizard, has full range and often greets visitors to Arlington Reptiles in Arlington.(Kevin Clark / The Herald)

At Arlington reptile store, you need to watch where you step

It’s a hotbed of scaly, hissy and slithery critters — in cages and on the floor.

ARLINGTON — “Watch your step,” warns a sign on the door.

“Animals roaming on floor.”

What’s up with that?

It’s more like what’s down. Red-footed tortoises and a bunch of their poky cousins call this place home.

“It’s not fair to them not to be able to get the proper exercise,” said Roxanne McKinnis, co-owner of Arlington Reptiles with her partner, Chris Reece.

Ditto for about 250 creatures, including frogs, tarantulas, bearded dragons, ball pythons, crusted geckos and veiled chameleons.

Most of the reptiles don’t have free rein, but many do get a reprieve from their tanks and terrariums daily.

The couple opened the reptile store about two years ago in the green house at 203 S. Olympic Ave. near the downtown drag in Arlington.

McKinnis and Reece opened it because they ran out of room at their Everett home with the critters they collected, many of them castoffs.

“It got to be where we had close to 100 animals in the house at a time,” McKinnis said. “We just sat down one day and said, ‘How can we make this work?’ ”

They found the rental building in Arlington and the rest is history — and a hotbed of things scaly, hissy and slithery. But at least now it’s in their shop, not their home.

There are lots of hungry fangs to feed. Mice and rats for the snakes are raised on site, as are crickets, worms and cockroaches.

Rounding out the reptilian diet are veggies, berries and spring mixes, racking up a grocery bill of about $1,000 a month, McKinnis said. The couple work 12-hour days and keep the thermostat at about 80 degrees.

Duties include educating shoppers.

“This is a 20- to 25-year commitment on these animals,” Reece said. “We try to make sure it’s a match made in heaven. This cute little snake is going to be 4 feet; what are you going to do at that time?”

Prices range from a $20 frog to a $700 snake, he said, plus habitat and accessories.

Reece was a union concrete worker before he injured his back. McKinnis is a former certified nursing assistant and IHOP manager. “I went from taking care of people, to feeding people, to animals,” she said.

Kids who come to the shop can hold and pet some of the reptiles.

Nothing is venomous. But if looks could kill… well, let’s just say there are some menacing faces here.

The land of cute kittens this isn’t.

“There’s not really anything that’s mean in here,” McKinnis said.

A cockatoo named Tanguin gets a little testy at times, though. The five exotic birds that talk up a storm are not for sale. Neither are some of the anacondas, such as 8-foot Snuggles. Those are personal pets.

It’s part rescue, part shop.

“We have a horrible problem of never saying ‘No,’ ” she said.

But sometimes they have to draw the line.

“When we first opened, someone came bearing us a very big tote. They put it in the front door and took off. There was a baby North American alligator. Those get like 14 feet long,” McKinnis said.

She took it to a reptile zoo, and in return received Tiny, an African bull frog the size of a frisbee.

Reptiles might be cold-blooded, but they are more warm and fuzzy than people think.

“They’re like dogs and cats — if you put the time in with them, feed them and love them correctly,” McKinnis said.

“We took in a lizard, and she had one eye and a crooked jaw. She was skin and bones. For 45 minutes every day, I would sit with tweezers and feed her. Two months after messing with her, she started following me around the house. She’d climb up my leg, sit on my head. I’d be watching TV, and she’d climb on the couch with me.”

Reptiles are smarter than you might think.

“We have a monitor (lizard) who comes to his name and is potty trained,” she said.

He also roams the store. His name is Vader. Come see for yourself.

But watch where you step.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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