POCATELLO – Talking to Ross Gregersen is like stepping into the pages of National Geographic.
The 34-year-old Pocatello man is celebrating the grand opening of his new exotic pet store inside the Pine Ridge Mall called Aquatic Oasis. But several years before that, he was a reptile breeder and, in 2012, bred the world’s first two-headed Mojave ball python snake.
“It was the first ball python morph that had ever been bred with two heads,” Gregersen tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Unfortunately, it didn’t live much more than a month.”
The fact that it didn’t live long isn’t surprising to Gregersen. It was technically two animals sharing the same organs, he explains, so it didn’t metabolize food well and wasn’t sustainable. But it’s still a noteworthy accomplishment.
“It was a first, and that was a fun entry into (the world of snake breeding),” Gregersen says.
His creation resulted from three years of work, and following that venture, he began breeding and selling poison dart frogs. That eventually led him to other exotic interests, like growing and propagating coral reefs in a home aquarium.
“It’s essentially like keeping a piece of the ocean in your home. You’re creating an environment — a bioactive, living aquatic environment in your home that you take care of,” Gregersen says.
Coral reefs are habitats for numerous saltwater species, like shrimp, crabs and starfish.
Gregersen says coral reefs are the largest animal habitat in the world and produce more oxygen than rainforests.
“They are actually an animal like a jellyfish. They’re in the jellyfish family,” he says. “They have algae that live inside their cells, and this is why corals glow. Because of the algae that lives in them, they act like a plant. So they’re absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen.”
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest coral reef system and is one of the seven wonders of the world.
The main purpose of growing coral at home is to grow frags, or little pieces of coral, into a thriving colony.
“The store is kind of an accumulation of all those things I used to do all in one,” Gregersen says. “The main focus of the store is saltwater aquariums, but it’s all tied into one location and brings it all full circle.”
It all started with a gecko
Though Gregersen was always fascinated with reptiles as a kid, his fascination with wild creatures grew while serving in the Philippines as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He lived there from 2009-2011, and he says finding geckos inside his apartment was a common occurrence.
“They’re almost like mice over there, but it’s a good thing. They eat mosquitoes and flies and keep all those pests away. So you kind of learn to appreciate them,” he explains.
After returning home to Pocatello, Gregersen says he found life without the geckos “a little bland” and that motivated him to pursue an occupation that involved amphibians and reptiles.
The reefing venture was initially intended for his autistic daughter.
“We had a doctor tell us that the colors and movement of the fish would be stimulating and a positive thing for our daughter,” Gregersen says. “I fell in love with it right away. My daughter never cared for it, so that’s (ironic).”
After several years of growing them and establishing a presence selling them online, he crossed paths with Brandon Brown, who owns a game store at the Pine Ridge Mall called LevelUp.
“He was interested in starting a reef in his home. Then he started to look at it as a business opportunity and reached out to me,” says Gregersen.
They’re now co-owners of Aquatic Oasis, which opened July 21. It includes saltwater fish, coral, reptiles, amphibians, spiders, and everything needed for their care.
Since the launch, Gregersen says the most popular purchase is an aquatic salamander from Mexico City called an axolotl.
“It’s the only salamander that I know of that stays fully aquatic its entire life. They keep their gills. A lot of people call them mud puppies. A lot of high school science classes (used to have them). They’re incredibly popular right now because of Minecraft, (a video game in which they appear as a character),” he says.
The store’s grand opening Friday and Saturday coincides with the addition of a new section inside the store that includes freshwater fish and a larger inventory of reptiles.
Gregersen is pleased with the public’s response to his business so far, and it’s a thrill for him to see the evolution of his interests culminate with this store. He’s hoping for a good turnout at the grand opening and that the business will continue to grow.