REPTILES Magazine Interviews Brian Barczyk"My whole goal in life is to leave a legacy for people to see how much I love these animals and how much I hope others do too.”

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REPTILES Magazine Interviews Brian Barczyk

This interview was conducted in April, 2023.

"My whole goal in life is to leave a legacy for people to see how much I love these animals and how much I hope others do too.”

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In the world of YouTube influencers, Brian Barczyk is considered by many to be the original architect. Brian began posting YouTube content in 2008 and his channel has not only stood the test of time but has since grown to more than 5.43 million subscribers, with more than 2.9 thousand videos at the time of this writing. In addition, these numbers do not include his other social media platforms.

Brian’s breeding operation, BHB Reptiles, located in Utica, Michigan has been around for decades. In 2018, Brian opened The Reptarium, a 6,000 square foot reptile-focused zoo also located in Utica. The Reptarium houses an amazing assortment of animals and tens of thousands of visitors come through its doors to visit every year. Brian’s zoo is also unique in that it allows for live interaction with many of the facility’s animals. In addition to reptiles, Brian also has a love of fish, and had begun to construct a public aquarium.

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Brian Barczyk

“My whole goal in life is to leave a legacy for people to see how much I love these animals and how much I hope others do too.” Photo by Jay Tomsky

Having traveled the world, Brian has made multiple trips to Africa, Australia and other countries. Brian makes it known that his mission in life is to get people to love reptiles and other animals.

All in all, it could be said that Brian has led a life that most reptile enthusiasts could only dream of. In March 2023, after several weeks of doctor’s office visits because of a sudden onset of back pain, Brian was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Less than a week later, after several additional tests, Brian was informed that his cancer was inoperable. This news hit the herpetocultural community like an avalanche, with Brian and his family receiving an outpouring of support from across the globe.

On January 14, 2024, Brian passed. This interview was conducted in April, 2023.

Foster Reves: Hello Brian and thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this interview. You obviously have a lot going on, however for those readers who may be unfamiliar with all of your videos, can you tell us a little bit about your early interests in reptiles, fish, and other animals?

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Brian Barczyk: Ever since I was 2 years old when I visited a local aquarium and saw all the fish and a ball python I have been obsessed. I remember that day still and remember being in awe of the ball python, not to mention some huge fish that they had on display. I knew at that moment I wanted to spend my life around animals and I never really have wanted anything else as I grew up.

Brian Barczyk Reptarium

Brian’s life and legacy will
always inspire others. Photo by Jay Tomsky

FR: Did you keep any reptiles or amphibians as a child?
BB: My mom was terrified of reptiles, so she would not allow any snakes or lizards in the house. So every summer from when I was about 5 years old I would collect snakes and tadpoles every day from the woods right down the street from my house and keep them in the family garage. I would dig worms up to feed the snakes and fed the tadpoles flake fish food until they metamorphosed into little toads. I would say on an average year I would have about 30 snakes and about 200 to 300 tadpoles. I was always sad on the fall day when my mom would make me release the snakes I had cared for all summer. Although the winters were long without my scaly friends, I knew each year I would be back to collect more again.

FR: What was the first species that you bred?
BB: When I was 15 years old I was working in a pet shop named The Pet Vendor. I bought a pair of adult cornsnakes in the middle of February. I knew the best results would result from brumation, but we were close to the end of when most people started to warm their snakes up. I cleaned them out for a couple weeks and put them into a 12 day brumation, not knowing if I would have success or not, I gave it a shot. Sure enough about 8 weeks later the female laid 22 eggs! Those were the first snakes that I actually bred. Prior to this I had taken a handful of snake eggs home that were laid at the pet shop and hatched them, but they were not ones we bred, they just came in gravid.

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FR: Do you have a favorite species?
BB: I really don’t have a favorite species. I think of them all as individuals and there is something magical about each species, and even each reptile within that species. It’s like asking a mother of four who her favorite child is.

FR: I know that you were the first to produce the amelanistic strain of Honduran milk snakes back in the early nineties. Can you tell us about some of the other strains and morphs that you have worked with over the years?
BB: I have been so fortunate to pioneer a bunch of new snake morphs during my career. Some I produced the first of and others I was second in on it but did a lot of the marketing to increase interest. Like the albino and pastel pink hognose. I was not the first but the second, but we really marketed them to see the interest explode and become even to this day super sought after. I produced the first axanthic and snow hognose. My biggest bangs were in the ball python world. Producing the first pinstripes, sunset balls, and scaleless ball pythons were huge. Now I was second in on dozens of other morphs and probably have about 50 mutation combinations that we produced the first of. I never have bought into the hype about producing the first. I know if I didn’t do it someone else would have. I just felt honored to have my name on some of these mutations that have now become so popular.

FR: As previously mentioned, you are considered by many to be a founder of the reptile influencer genera. When you first began producing videos, did you ever imagine that this popularity would grow into what it has?
BB: When I first started social media I literally thought nobody would watch or care. I just wanted people to see my love of the animals with the hope that they would start to give reptiles a chance. Of course back then there were zero dollars to be made and really nobody realized how huge social media was going to be. I guess I was just lucky to be one of the first on most of the platforms and to grow my following. I made plenty of mistakes as I learned my way through the social media world. I think now after 15 years of putting out content we don’t make nearly as many mistakes. We want the image of these animals to be at the forefront and for people to fall in love with them. My whole goal in life is to leave a legacy for people to have seen how much I love these animals and how much I hope others do too!

Brian barczyk and Mr. Beast

Brian with Mr. Beast, a social media influencer. Photo by Jay Tomsky

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FR: What led you to open The Reptarium?
BB: I think it goes back to that 2-year-old Brian. I wanted to have that feeling everyday. It was always the dream, even from the very beginning of me breeding reptiles. I wanted to evolve into an educational and entertainment venue for reptiles and amphibians, and now of course fish as well. I wasn’t sure it would work or even be successful enough to be profitable, but after five years it’s a local hit. We are almost always sold out and have tens of thousands of people come through each year, not to mention we do more than 1,200 educational events each year. It’s truly a blessing beyond what I can ever express.

FR: Can you tell us about the Reptile Army and what led to this concept?
BB: Reptile Army is a merchandise company with more than 100 designs. To me it’s not really about making money on the merch, it’s about what the mission statement is. To be a part of the Reptile Army means you wear the clothing and you use it to break the ice to people that say “Hey that’s a cool shirt” or “Hey I really like that backpack.” It’s a way to raise hundreds of thousands of reptile soldiers into recruiting people to love reptiles. So the Reptile Army is very special to me and the loyalty from it has been insane.

FR: You have been fortunate enough to travel the world and see so many different animals in the wild. Thinking back on these adventures, which one stands out the most?
BB: Much like each animal has a special place in my heart, so do my travels. I have been all over the world and visited so many countries and had animal adventures that people would die to have. With that said I still have a soft part in my heart from my nine trips to Australia or any of my trips to Africa. I think those two places are tops on my list of places to go for animal adventures. I have also had so many amazing and unforgettable experiences in so many other places around the globe, and boy do I pray I get to see more in the future!

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FR: Looking back over your life, if you could change one thing, what would it be?
BB: I work too much. I probably missed out on family time because I was building my companies or I was traveling the world. I have no major regrets and I rarely look back and dwell on what could have been. I just have to continue to evolve into the person I will be the most happy with looking in the mirror.

FR: Unless one has been living under a rock for the past few months, the reptile community around the world has heard of your recent diagnosis. How has your focus changed?
BB: I think it’s more about legacy now, and of course family. That’s why I am working so hard to build my LegaSea Aquarium and Reptarium. With any luck we will be open in December of 2023. It’s a bit crazy being under treatment and all the other things that go along with this diagnosis to be chasing this dream, but its all I know how to do. No matter what happens, I want to see this come to reality knowing my family will be okay and that hundreds of thousands of people each year will attend and get educated and entertained. Some of those kids will have the same experience I had when I was 2 years old and who knows one day they will be the next Steve Irwin?

FR: Thank you again for agreeing to participate in this interview. Are there any thoughts that you would like to share with our readers before we conclude?
BB: Just remember that life is so precious. Embrace it and live it to the fullest. No matter what happens to me I know that I have lived the life of 10 people, have seen and experienced so many things I care about. I hope I will leave a mark on this world in a positive way. I plan on beating the odds and being around for a long time, but I also have to prepare for the worst and make sure I leave my legacy! The say you never die until the last people speak your name. I pray people will remember no matter what for decades to come, not from an ego standpoint but from an inspirational standpoint.


Foster Reves is a SW Virginia- based hobbyist, reptile breeder, and freelance writer. Special thanks to Stephanie Kent for providing the photos taken by Jay Tomsky.

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Thoughts From Brian’s Friends and Fans

I was about 15 years old when I first met Brian Barczyk in 2009 at the White Plains, NY Reptile Expo. I was so stoked when I heard he was coming to an expo that I attended very frequently. I finally built up the courage to introduce myself, and we ended up having a conversation that lasted well over an hour. He asked me what I kept and bred, to which I listed off the few dozen species I had been keeping and breeding for a few years. We’d see each other at a few more shows over the next year or so, and he even asked me to help behind his table a few times as well if I wasn’t setup myself.

Brian Barczyk and Jeremy Turgeon

Brian and Jeremy Turgeon. Photo courtesy Jeremy Turgeon

In 2011, when I graduated high school, my parents surprised me with a week long trip to Michigan to hang with Brian at BHB. We drove out to Michigan, and we had an absolute blast! I had never seen so many reptiles in one place —it was insane! The week we went out was also the week of July 4th, so not only did we spend time at the facility, but we also had some down time away to just hang out.

We caught Transformers 3D in theaters, and spent time at his family gathering for the holiday at his in-laws place. That trip was also one of the most impactful for my keeping career, seeing how collection diversity was a solid way to approach the industry as a breeder, as well as collection size being important too.

Over the years, we’d become great friends. When I took over as the facility manager at NERD – he and I spoke about how he though that was a great move for me, and Kevin McCurley, which meant a lot to me as he and Kevin have known each other for so many years, and I respect them both tremendously. It was always a blast getting to spend time with him, and Brian with Kevin in the same room was always a great time too.

On one of my trips to the Reptarium a couple years ago, he had asked me to join him going to Home Depot to get some supplies—to which we both joked along the way that it seemed like any time I came to visit, a trip to Home Depot was always on the itinerary. I remember being at The Reptarium when he learned about the building across the street becoming vacant. I was to snag him before he ran out the door to film something, but as soon as he left, I said to myself “He’s gonna buy that building.” Low and behold, the next time we got to chat, he mentioned how he was about to lock it in!

My last trip to see him was in early December to surprise him with an Amazon tree boa I had produced that he had reached out to me about months prior. I was excited that he was excited about them, and was interested in one. I had sent him pics of one and told him “it’s got your name on it.” When it was finally ready to go, I had reached out to Jay Tomsky to plan a surprise for him. It meant the world to me, after all the things he had done for me, and all the years of friendship, to be able to do something for him, and to bring a huge smile to his face.
I’m thankful that I have been able to call Brian a friend for so many years. I’ll miss my friend. I’ll miss the random Home Depot trips. I’ll miss the catch up calls, and chats, and so much more. I am thankful for all the time we shared, and memories made.

Jeremy Turgeon
Owner
www.brassmanreptiles.com

How Meeting Brian Barczyk Changed My Life

Back in the Spring of 2011, I had just graduated from college, was still living in Tahoe, and trying to figure out the next step in my journey. I had a handful of reptiles which I loved. I heard about the Stand Up For Snakes video contest put on by Brian, in partnership with REPTILES Magazine, Freedom Breeder racks, Rodent Pro and Zoo Med. The objective of the contest was to create a video that showed snakes in a positive light, rather than how they’re normally depicted in movies and– especially–in the media. I created a video for the contest using my boa, Ruby, and my old dog, Bear.
Competition was TOUGH, but amazingly I won. This was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The prizes included a plethora of reptile supplies and three baby ball pythons from Brian Barczyk; 1 male piebald, 1 female pinstripe het pied, and 1 female normal het pied. One of the true honors was getting that phone call from Brian to congratulate me.

But the journey was just beginning, and I had no idea what winning that competition would do for my life and my career. After I won that competition, I was contacted by the Reno Herpetological Society and invited to attend one of their meetings. Eventually, I became secretary for the RHS and met and befriended so many amazing people including John Potash who owns the business Get Rattled. Get Rattled conducts rattle snake aversion training for dogs all over the west.

Even after moving home to Paradise, I stayed in touch with John and a lot of other great people from RHS. In early 2016, John reached out to me and asked if I wanted to join his Get Rattled crew as a dog trainer. My time with Get Rattled jump-started my career in dog training. If it weren’t for those clinics we worked with Get Rattled, Lee and I wouldn’t have met Shirley and Mike Mesa of MesaHaus dog training who completely changed our lives for the better when it came to helping us train our beloved dog, Jack.

Later in 2019, Lee and I moved to Oregon after the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise and Magalia. Right after we moved, I flew to Utah and Colorado to work a Get Rattled clinic with the crew. During the flight home, I slept wrong on my shoulder and completely tweaked it out of place. I had to find a chiropractor, and fast, to get back into alignment. We found a fantastic chiropractor in Newport who fixed me right up. Lee and I really liked our chiropractor and thought he was a really nice guy. Later in 2020 when Lee and I were house shopping we found our dream property; a gorgeous home on four acres. This was during the height of Covid and the housing market was extremely competitive. We loved the house, but were discouraged to hear our offer would be 3rd in line behind two others. And we offered as much as we could possibly afford to borrow, so we just had to cross our fingers. Then in an amazing turn of irony, we found out the owner of this dream property was our chiropractor. When he found out one of the submitted offers was ours, he told his realtor he wanted the house to go to us.

Now Lee and I work from home as dog trainers for Koru K9. We live on the Oregon coast with our dog, cats, skunks, goats, chickens, ducks, snakes, lizards, tortoises and turtle, and eventually our horses will live here too. If I trace our journey back I can’t help but come to this conclusion;

  1. 
If I had never won that competition I would have never learned about the Reno Herpetological Society.
  2. 
If I would have never become a part of the Reno Herpetological Society I would have never met John Potash
  3. 
If I would have never met John Potash I would have never been a part of Get Rattled.
  4. 
If Lee and I had never joined Get Rattled we would have never become the dog trainers we are today.
  5. 
Even stranger, if I had never been on that Get Rattled adventure in 2019 and thrown out my shoulder we would (most likely) have never met our chiropractor when we did. And then we would have been just another couple putting in our offer on this dream property of ours.

I can’t help but attribute the results of our journey to winning that contest that Brian Barczyk originally created in the first place. And that’s a crude, very abridged story. So many amazing other things have happened along the way. You never know how life is going to turn out, you just have to follow your heart and trust the journey.

We love Brian, and can’t thank him enough for everything he has done for the animal community. We still have those three ball pythons I won in the competition more than 10 years ago. I still haven’t been successful in breeding them – though the normal het pied turned out to be a girl, lol! – but they’re healthy and happy and we love them all the same. Brian, you will forever be a legend. We love you always—Natalie Lane.

 

How Brian Taught Me To Be Kind

Brian Barczyk and Emma Lock

Brian and Emma Lock. Photo courtesy Emma Lock

Brian first visited me in the UK many years before I became “Emzotic,” and I was working as a traveling animal educator. During our 15-year friendship, Brian’s honesty, belief and support of me never faltered, even when I could offer him little in return. His positivity, generosity, and passion for reptiles inspired millions of animal-lovers around the world, but perhaps the most lasting and important impression Brian left on me from the years I was lucky enough to know him, was the appreciation I gained from watching him choose to be kind, because kindness is a choice. His life and legacy will always inspire me to be a more conscientious influencer within our community, a more daring innovator, and a more insatiable and curious explorer of the natural world, but above all, I will choose to be kind.
Emma Lock
emzotic.com

Followed My Dreams

Brian showed me to follow my dreams in reptile keeping. He taught me so much. I am now a certified non-profit reptile rescue in Vermont! Thank you Brian Barczyk for all that you did and your legacy continues to do!
Jayme Palmer