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Mention going to see snakes, especially poisonous snakes, and the whole family might recoil.

But, read on, for everyone will be in for a rare treat at this nearby destination full of deadly biting snakes, as well as some more docile ones — even ones you can touch.

Some of the world’s deadliest snakes live in DeLand. You can be almost in range of their fangs, except for a window of strong glass between the fangs and your family. Even more fascinating, twice a day you can hold a large nonpoisonous snake and pass it around.

You can watch the dangerous ones bite the edge of a glass while their venom is extracted for use in making lifesaving snakebite antivenin.

Sound like fun? Head for the Reptile Discovery Center off International Speedway Boulevard (see sidebar), and arrive in time for either the 11:30 a.m. or 3 p.m. extraction events, Thursday through Saturday, or the single program at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Not just for tourists, the Reptile Discovery Center is also in the business of “milking” snake venom from deadly snakes, and shipping it around the world to be made into effective antivenins. So twice a day at the times above, you can watch owner Carl Barden and his lead animal handler Mara Roberts carefully take the most poisonous snakes in the world out of their boxes, and show them up-close to the glass. Kids, teens and adults, watch intently as Carl gets each snake to bite the edge of a glass and shoot venom from his fangs.

A highlight of the show I attended was an Indian cobra. Baden left him (or her?) on the center of his work station; the cobra saw the visitors pointing phones at it through the glass, raised up and displayed its famous hood. The cobra seemed to be deciding where to strike, but Barden explained that cobras follow movements, and it was just tracking people pointing cameras at it through the glass.

Under his business hat as head of Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, Carl supplies venom to be turned into snakebite antivenin, veterinary antivenin and even a dog vaccine against rattlesnake bites. Snakes can be made to give venom about every 14 days. The venom lab has been in business 25 years near DeLand, and open to the public for 10 years.

Along with nonpoisonous snake-handling and the venom-extraction program, the Reptile Discovery Center has eye-level display cases of snakes of the world, and an outdoor reptile walk featuring many of our local reptiles, from turtles to alligators.

On the day of my visit, the crowd of several families seemed enthusiastic about the presentation Barden put on. “Way cool!” seemed to be the general reaction. The center hosts about 10,000 visitors a year.


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