Ross Allen (herpetologist)

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This article is about the herpetologist. For the New Zealand politician, see Ross Leslie Allen.
Ross Allen
Ross allen from florida memory.jpg
Born January 2, 1908
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died May 17, 1981
Gainesville, Florida
Occupation Herpetologist
Children Carl Tom Allen, Robert Ross Allen, Betty Allen (Bashaw)[1]

Ensil Ross Allen (1908–1981) was an American herpetologist and writer who was based in Silver Springs, Florida for 46 years, where he established the Reptile Institute.[2] He used it for research and education about alligators, crocodiles and snakes, also sponsoring and conducting collection expeditions.

Allen founded and was first president of the International Crocodile Society. In his research with snakes, he developed many anti-venoms, including a dried form, and professionally milked venoms for poisonous snakes, which was particularly important for protecting United States forces during World War II. He mixed entertainment and science at his Institute.

Early life and education[edit]

Ensil Ross Allen, called Ross, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1908 and attended local schools. He moved as a teenager with his family to Florida. As a young man, Allen made a hobby of capturing turtles, snakes and other reptiles near his home in central Florida. He continued his work and study of them and became noted as an expert herpetologist.


In November 1929, Allen founded the Reptile Institute at the tourist attraction of Silver Springs, Florida.[3][4] He developed it into a 10-acre center for research, as well as of entertainment, staging reptile demonstrations, including alligator wrestling and rattlesnake milking. His larger goal was education of the public about reptiles.[5]

The Institute has been recognized for his research on native Floridian reptiles. He studied and developed anti-venom solutions, including dried powders.[6] This was particularly important during World War II, when he helped procure anti-venom to protect US troops.[5] Allen often collected specimens for the Institute himself, often with the help of Newton Perry, a Silver Springs celebrity. In 1935, the park owners added a replica of a Seminole village to the park at Allen's initiative.[7]

Allen was the founder and first president of the International Crocodile Society.[2] Because of his expertise in handling the animals, Allen was featured in numerous film shorts and newsreel clips. He also served as stuntman and reptile handler on several movies that were filmed in Silver Springs, including Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939) and The Yearling (1946).[8]

He sold the Institute to ABC-Paramount in 1962, but continued as director until early 1975.[9] The Silver Springs Reptile Institute (more commonly known as the Ross Allen Reptile Institute) was a site for research as well as exhibits. Allen developed many snake anti-venoms, including dried anti-venom. He also imported venoms for medical and biochemical purposes.[9]

He worked at Silver Springs for a total of 46 years, leaving in 1975. That year he began work on a new attraction that was to be called Alligator Town, U.S.A. After his death in 1981, however, the project was abandoned.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Allen married Celeste, who sometimes joined him in collecting expeditions, having learned how to handle snakes. They had a family including several sons.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 2000, Cypress Island at Silver Springs was renamed Ross Allen Island in his honor.

Selected list of works[edit]

  • Florida Water Snakes (1941)
  • Fishes of Silver Springs, Florida (1946)
  • Keep Them Alive (1960)
  • How to Keep Snakes in Captivity (1971)


  1. ^ "Spirit lives on". Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Florida). January 15, 2000. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Beltz, Ellin. "Biographies of People Honored in the Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America: Allen, Ensil Ross (1908-1981)". Archived from the original on 22 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Ross Allen's Reptile Institute", Florida’s Lost Attractions, Accessed 2 June 2010
  4. ^ Cook, David. (January 28, 2007.) "Ross Allen sells reptile institute to Silver Springs Attraction". Accessed June 02, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Hylander, Clarence J. (1951). Adventures with Reptiles, the Story of Ross Allen. New York: Julian Messner. pp. 14–15. OCLC 383653. 
  6. ^ Allen, p. 7
  7. ^ Hollis, p. 11
  8. ^ Allen, p. 8
  9. ^ a b Rockwell, Lilly (June 20, 2013). "Spring woes in Florida". Florida Trend. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Congdon, p. 11


  • Allen, Doug. Gamblers with Fate. New York: R.M. McBride & Co., 1945.
  • Congdon, Kristin G. Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
  • Hollis, Tim. Glass Bottom Boats & Mermaid Tails: Florida's Tourist Springs. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2006.
  • Hylander, Clarence J. (1951). Adventures with Reptiles, the Story of Ross Allen. New York: Julian Messner. OCLC 383653. , text available online with photos

External links[edit]