Meet Brooke: Mama to Many, Many Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates

Some little girls grow up with kittens in their laps or asking for a puppy of their own. Brooke Elder liked furry friends, but reptiles captured her heart at a young age and turned her into a reptile, amphibian, and invertebrate super mom as an adult.

"I've always loved reptiles. I remember being around five or six years old and catching frogs and snakes outside while growing up in Wisconsin. Basically, from the time I could walk, I would search for any living creature. From bugs to mama garter snakes, I wanted to interact with them all," Elder shared.

It's no surprise that Elder's first job at the age of 12 was at a fish store, and her animal-loving personality landed her future jobs at pet stores and an internship at the Milwaukee County Zoo in the Aquarium and Reptile Building.

"Between my pet store jobs, owning my own animals, and being at the zoo, I was exposed to different veterinarians' knowledge and have been able to pick up on a few first aid things," she elaborated. "If anything was more invasive, they always go see a professional licensed vet. Besides using primarily Western veterinary methods, I also use a few holistic at-home methods as well."

After a recent move from the Midwest to her new home in Texas, Elder is looking for a job where she can work with animals. And, she will continue educating her Instagram friends about proper reptile care, building bonds, behavioral tips, and reptile communication on her self-proclaimed "Reptile Nerd" account, @BoeLizard.

Meet Brooke's Reptile Friends

As you scroll Elder's feed, it's quickly apparent that she has many, many pets. Over the years, she's adopted, collected, and bred several varieties of lizards, snakes, spiders, and frogs. Here's a snapshot of her evolving menagerie:

  • 20 snakes: Seven Sonoran hypo leopard boas, three ball pythons, one super dwarf reticulated python, and nine Mexican indigo snakes.

  • 12 lizards and geckos: five New Caledonian gecko species, one nuu ana leachianus gecko, one tokay gecko, one leopard anole, one bearded dragon, one Mindanao yellow headed Philippine water monitor, one Argentine black and white tegu, and one rhino iguana.

  • Lots of invertebrates: pink toe tarantulas, a Carolina wolf spider, two African millipedes, two tailless whip scorpions, two Brazilian black tarantulas, one entre rios tarantula, one Venezuelan suntiger tarantula, two rose hair tarantulas and one red slate pink toe tarantula.

  • And... one tomato frog named Ragu!

Of course, this list doesn't count what she's added to her pet family while writing this article. A quick peek at Instagram shows a recent addition to the crew — a female rhino iguana named Rockette that seems to be getting quite close and chummy with her other rhino iguana, Rocco!

Speaking of Rocco, he's basically an Instagram legend. The handsome boy, adopted from a reptile rescue in Illinois, smiles for the camera, comes when called on video, dominates the 'Gram feed, and is one of Elder's top reptile loves.

"Rocco had a lot of distrust towards humans and didn't ever really have any stability, so he was always on the defense. With a lot of treats, patience, and some snuck-in head scratches, Rocco became the confident, bold, full-of-personality rhino 'iggy' you see on social media today," she explained.

"Rocco and my relationship has been something I've never really experienced before. He definitely does derpy lizard things, but he is hands down one of the most intelligent reptiles I've ever worked with. I really feel like I understand Rocco, and we are a great fit. Rocco is never short on personality, and he's taught me to laugh a lot more and enjoy the moment. He is my best friend, and I wouldn't want to spend my free time with anyone else."

This close connection isn't a one-off. Elder also has personal connections with her other pets, including Morpheus, the Argentine black and white tegu, that basically runs the household at the spry age of four.

Brooke and Morpheus

"Tegus were my first larger lizard that I fell in love with simply because, if they're raised right, they can have such the easiest-going personalities. I think they're the perfect intro to a larger lizard as long as you have the space for the enclosure," Elder added.

And then there's Orpheus, the Carolina wolf spider. Elder says she is so full of personality and stares at her with "her big cute eyes" and has become one of her favorite spiders.

Reptiles Allow Elder to #RepYourself

It's pretty clear Elder has found her passion. Her love, empathy, and dedication to the care of so many unique varieties of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates shine through on every social media post and conversation you have with her.

"I have grown more as an individual since owning my reptiles, and I am more able to confidently express and embrace myself for who I am. Reptiles teach you to find beauty in everything and to be true to yourself," she shared.

Elder explains she initially used her Instagram account to post videos and photos she thought were cute or funny to express herself and her passion. And now, it makes her happy to see other people love her pets too, and she recognizes her education is changing minds about having reptiles as pets.

Tips for Connecting with Your Reptile Pet

Elder says time and patience are keys to bonding with any pet. Working with them during feeding time or offering snacks is a great way to initially build rapport, but she also advises having patience with yourself and the rest will fall into place.

"I find that reptiles are more drawn to those who have confidence in themselves. They will come right to you when you are confident and calm — especially when you have food. It's important to have fun with whatever you are doing, and I promise the animal will have fun too," Elder added.

Brooke Training Rocco

She also explains that learning how her animals communicate helped to build her bonds. They don't speak English, so it's been a journey of watching for smaller expressions, including head bobs, body positioning, and eye movement.

"A big topic I speak about on my page is anthropomorphizing and how it's so crucial we do not put our own emotions onto our animals. People love their animals and should love them wholeheartedly, but they should also let those animals come to them to receive love and affection rather than seeking it out for themselves," she explained. "When we push our love and affection onto animals, it can go badly, break trust, and make the animal feel smothered and even unsafe."

Trying Out Some Zilla Goodies

With their recent transition to Texas comes the rebuilding of habitats and setting up new environments for her babies. During this process, she explored a few products, including the Zilla Rapid Sense Decor Log, Zilla Jungle Mix bedding and Zilla Tropical Mist Humidity Spray.

Elder says the Zilla Rapid Sense Decor Log added color and a fun hiding space to one of her habitats. She even used it as a feeding dish for her water monitor — making it useful beyond the awesome UVB sensing that it's designed to do!

"I really think owners will appreciate that, for some animals, you can have a mini water dish on top of their hiding space to help hold humidity," she shared. "What's better than décor that tells you when it's time to change your UVB!"

She also road-tested the Zilla Jungle Mix bedding while setting up the enclosures. Elder explains it's a great option to mix with other substrates; it's lightweight and not very dusty like some other beddings.

"It really helps hold burrower holes, and it's very helpful for holding humidity," she added. "I feel like the opportunities are endless for what you can use Jungle Mix for when keepers mix it with other substrates. I recommend mixing with Cypress mulch for a lot of tropical snakes and lizards. But it also can work great with sand to add some dimension for digging for arid species as well."

And finally, Rocco was pampered with the Zilla Tropical Mist Humidity Spray. Elder says the aloe in the mix is a refreshing way to keep a reptile pet's skin hydrated and feeling nice. It's a good idea to spray your pet from a distance of a couple of feet to avoid startling your pet.

"I really think a lot of animals can benefit from this spray, and I would even say this could be great to mist on a snake while shedding just to help with the natural process," she explained. "Rocco will be using his Zilla spray regularly. We will be giving it a try next after a nice warm shower. So stay tuned on our page!"

Oh, we will! We can't wait to see how the love affair between Rocco and Rockette develops, see what the spoiled Morpheus is up to, and get some cute close-ups of your wide-eyed geckos and their wild pink tongues!

Read about more intriguing pets and their parents in the #RepYourself series: