RENO — “Why exactly are people so afraid of these things?” one man asked as he let a tarantula crawl from the palm of his hand up to his forearm. Casually, Reno Herpetological Society (RHS) president Justin Meitz told him that having eight legs and relatives with a poisonous reputation usually turns people off.
Meitz and his fellow RHS members were busy associating with reptile enthusiasts at the Northern Nevada Fish and Reptile Expo (NNFRE) during the weekend. Founded as a non-profit organization last year, the RHS has amore than 140 members who meet monthly to discuss their fascination with all things reptile.
“We all love these things and they’re kind of hidden around Reno and it was a way to get the reptile community together and educate people people who like them but do not know a lot about them,” said Jessica Gearhart, head of rescue and adoption for RHS. “We don’t like all of the negative connotations that go with a lot of reptiles so we are just trying to help people understand them more.”
Gearhart said the NNFRE allowed their organization to answer general questions and satisfy the curiosity of visitors while gaining interest in their organization because of the mutual interest in reptiles. Since its founding, the NHS has gathered more than 25 sponsors and attended several reptile and animal events to help spread the word about their shared enthusiasm.
“Everyone always thinks that they are the only nerd in Reno so we’re here to tell them there is a lot of us,” Meitz said. “People have hired us to come out to schools or veterinary offices for educational presentations about a species that isn’t as commonly talked about.”
Geckos, pythons, spiders and frogs are some of the specialties of members of the RHS who share their insight with members during their monthly meetings. The group will often take field trips to catch and release reptiles after discussing them and host well-known reptile specialists from around the country.
A major focus for the RHS is on keeping children involved in the organization. With the Jr. President role, the group allows for young children to present and educate other members during monthly meetings to continue growing their passion for reptiles.
“After a couple presentations you can tell the kids have gotten so much more comfortable speaking in front of people, so it is really good for them,” Gearhart said adding that having public speaking experience and presentation composition skills will undoubtedly benefit them later in life.
Gearhart will be doing a presentation on blue-tongued skinks, which are large lizard-like reptiles, during the July meeting. She said each meeting also has a raffle of prizes donated by their sponsors and the proceeds fund bringing in renowned presenters and the expansion of their adopt and rescue program.
In the future, the RHS hopes to replicate the herpetological society in Phoenix who uses a large trailer to house and transport their animals to and from shows. Meitz said with the proper grant funding the RHS would be able to expand their efforts in adoption and rescue, giving the animals comfortable living situation until they could find an owner.
“With something like (the trailer) it shows that we are not like a pet shop. We are more about learning and teaching because we don’t care about sales and things like that,” he said.
Meitz and Gearhart have personally seen kindergarten-aged children hold a tarantula in their hand and discover a newfound love of reptiles. Though education is at the front of their efforts, the Reno Herpetological Society operates with only one rule: have fun.
“I’ve always said that above all you just have to have fun and that’s what we try to bring to our herp society and to the National Herp Society,” Meitz said.
The RHS holds meetings on the last Wednesday of every month at the South Reno United Methodist Church from 7 to 9 p.m. with an extra hour for socializing after. For more information, visit www.renoherpsociety.com.