Meet three amphibian and reptile enthusiasts

Frogs, cresties and bearded dragons, oh my!
dart frog on a leaf
Amy Stocklein

A Frog Fancier
Wendy Young

“I have always loved animals and have had quite a variety of pets over the years,” says Wendy Young, an east side Madison resident. About six years ago, she attended her first Wisconsin Reptile Expo, or WIRE, at VFW Post 7591 on Cottage Grove Road in Monona.

“I saw more snakes and geckos than I had ever seen before,” she says. “But as soon as I saw the brilliant colors of the dart frogs, I was hooked. I bought three.” She now spends an hour a day feeding and caring for her 25 frogs and six tadpoles, which are housed in nine small vivariums.

Young tends to the eggs they lay and raises the tadpoles and frogs before selling them to pet stores and individuals. The money she makes goes toward the purchase of more frog-breeding supplies.Meet three amphibian and reptile enthusiasts

In 2017, Young joined a group tour into the Amazon rainforest of Colombia. “There are more than 130 frog species native to that area, and it was a dream come true to see so many in their natural habitat,” she says.

A part-time special education teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School, Young occasionally brings her frogs into the classroom.

“Children love learning about creatures they are unfamiliar with, and they are especially captivated by the frogs’ vivid colors,” she says. “And many dart frogs are endangered. Destruction of their natural habitat is a huge threat for many amphibians. I believe that raising awareness is the first step in protecting the rainforest.”

Reptile Ambassador
Morgana PopeMeet three amphibian and reptile enthusiasts

While Morgana Pope is relatively new to reptile keeping — she got Leaf, her crested gecko, in July 2018 and Rock, a bearded dragon (pictured above with Pope), a year later — they have inspired the Oregon High School senior to educate fellow members of the Oregon chapter of the Future Farmers of America about the importance of reptiles.

“I’ve included my reptiles in my activities in the FFA and Supervised Agricultural Experiences project,” she says.

Her project documents how snakes play a role in keeping rodent populations down in agricultural areas — rodents that would otherwise damage crops.

Cassandra Pope says her daughter wants to pursue a career in environmental science and zoology — fields Morgana believes would do well to care more about reptiles and amphibians.

The teenager also volunteers to show her animals at events the Madison Area Herpetological Society gets invited to.

“I love what I do and I hope that I can continue to educate and inspire others as I continue to grow and learn all I can,” Morgana says.

Crazy For Cresties
Laura DePaolaMeet three amphibian and reptile enthusiasts

Laura DePaola of Deerfield started breeding crested geckos in 2000 and has since added other gecko species native to New Caledonia, a group of islands west of Australia.

“I really enjoy them — their fun personalities and goofy behaviors always make me smile,” she says.
The New Caledonian geckos (pictured below with DePaola) have similar and simple care requirements. Because they don’t need supplemental heating and lighting, she says she keeps them in individual enclosures and “I can just control the temperature of the entire room,” she says.

DePaola says the money she makes through GirlZilla Geckos, her online business, covers what she spends on food and electricity and the time she spends cleaning cages, photographing her animals and advertising them for sale.

“I love seeing the results through many years of very selective breeding, watching the babies grow up and then seeing them go off to great homes [with people who] love them as much as I do.”

Read more about exotic pets here.