Earth’s Eco Reptiles and Amphibians founder and owner Troy Marrs with family dog Ma’ma Lou. Marrs and his wife Shannon renovated the shop space at 98 Dean Goss Road, Jasper, directly off of Highway 515 (next to Shiloh Baptist Church). They have two children, Kirby, four, and Rowan, two.
Troy Marrs grew up in Canton and now lives in Ball Ground. After considering a career in criminal justice, Marrs decided to blaze his own path. He recently founded Earth’s Eco in Jasper, which takes a natural approach to raising reptiles and amphibians through all organic enclosures called vivariums.
You’ve loved reptiles since you were seven. Why do you like them so much?
I’m not too sure. I enjoyed dinosaurs a little bit, but we were an outdoor involved family. We were always outside playing in the creek or whatever, but as kids you get bored so you find stuff to do. We were intrigued by how nature worked. We loved reptiles because they were so hard to catch. It seemed like they were always around if you knew where to look. Me and my best friend Dale, it’s what we did as kids.
Dale Epperson is a big part of Earth’s Eco, right?
Yeah. I’ve known Dale since I was like two. He’s always been there, like a brother. He’s completely through hiked the Appalachian Trail and right now he’s doing the same thing on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. When he gets back he’s going to come help.
When did you decide to make reptiles your career?
I was originally in school for criminal justice, but I realized I wanted to follow my passion for animals so I changed my degree to biology. Then I realized the career path I wanted didn’t really exist, so I quit going to college because I wasn’t learning exactly what I wanted.
I felt like I could take my own path and research stuff on my own accord. I wanted to hike in the Amazon and learn about animals and minerals. I played with terrariums and stayed up way past my bedtime messing with them and I figured out layering methods. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries.
A lot of people in the pet trade, especially in reptiles, they go off opinions of how to care for the animals. To me, I want to know facts. I spent a lot of time looking up facts about how they live in nature so I can try to mimic that.
Mainstream pet corporations advise you to house your animals on paper towels or wet carpet. We try to get far away from that. We have paper towels, but they’re in the bathroom. The pet store’s policies and procedures got in the way. I almost got fired a few times for trying to teach people how to make bioactive setups. I felt it was necessary to get out of that.
Where did the criminal justice interest come from?
At one point I really wanted to be an undercover officer so I could help people; find the bad guy or whatever. I wanted to work in undercover sex crimes, and one of the biggest things I wanted to do was help take down the sex trafficking rings in Atlanta. It’s one of the trafficking capitals in the world, and that’s awful. I thought I could make a difference.
Another big part of that change was when my fiancé found out she was pregnant. I gave up on the idea because it could potentially endanger my family. I wanted to do something more on the peaceful nature side than the mad criminal side.
How are vivariums beneficial to the animals?
It’s the best of terrariums and aquariums; It’s part land part water. Often, people put glue and silicone on the back of the enclosure and throw dirt on top and glue on some wood, but we don’t’ do that. Soil instead of silicone helps plants grow better, so we use stacking methods.
You have to care for a desert animal like it’s in the desert or a tropical animal like it’s in a tropical environment. We can get huge fluctuations of humidity in there to mimic the natural habitat. We also put earthworms and isopods and small springtails that eat almost all the fecal matter and poop it back out and it turns into soil and fertilizes the plants. It’s an ecosystem in a box.
And you teach people how to make them, right?
Yeah. Anything you need. We’ll go to the house, or doctor’s office or restaurant and put it together. We can deliver. We can teach you how to do it. You can buy the supplies here and watch YouTube videos. We can Facetime or Skype. We have anything to take care of reptiles and amphibians.
We’re really good at building outdoor fish ponds, too. We could build 30 organic waterfall features or ponds in Bridgemill, which is decimated with concrete, and that’s 30 ecosystems frogs can lay their tadpoles in or birds can drink from. It benefits the ecosystem.
All the species you have here are endangered. Why?
In the reptile industry people are trying to get the next snake, or whatever. They want an albino boa, or some crazy color, and they go further and further away from nature. You can breed bearded dragons to be some crazy color, and sure it’s pretty, but what did you do to that animal? If that animal goes extinct and the original lineage is lost, that’s that. You can’t put hybridized reptiles back in nature. You need healthy lineage that evolved naturally.
We’re very particular about not having inbred animals. We want proven, wild caught lineage. To us, catching an animal out of the wild and housing it in captivity is cruel, but we have a better heart. We’re not just getting a wild caught chameleon to look at like a diamond ring. We bring in others to breed. If we can do this on a big enough scale and they are healthy and trained to survive in natural habitat enclosures and hunt efficiently, we can take some back to their native land to be released. We will sell for pets, but we also want to reestablish populations in the wild.
What was your first pet reptile?
My mom and dad had a pet black caiman, but someone stole it from our backyard. My personal first, I was 12 and my mother graciously bought me an African fat-tailed gecko. That was my first lesson on how to build a terrarium and care for a reptile and it took off from there.
Do you have a favorite reptile?
That’s a really hard one. I’d have to say, even though it’s very simple and nothing crazy, I love box turtles. I find them fascinating.
Any other hobbies?
We like to hike and camp. I used to go rock climbing and caving, but since my son’s been born I haven’t because it’s dangerous. I don’t want to be a quadriplegic. I want to be able to hike with my son when I’m 40. Paddle boarding is great, and free diving. Anything outside.