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 (1981-05-18) (aged 73)
Gainesville, Florida
Occupation Herpetologist
Children Carl Tom Allen, Robert Ross Allen, Betty Allen (Bashaw)[1]

Ensil Ross Allen (January 2, 1908 – May 17, 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 venomous 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 close friend Newton ("Newt") Perry, an exceptional swimmer and diver, as well as underwater photographer and stunt man, who later opened a swim school known as Perry's Swim School run by his daughter, Delee, for many years. In 1935, the park owners added a replica of a Seminole village to the park at Allen's initiative.[7] The park owners also added many exotic species, such as "Sophie," a large Bengal tiger, several species of monkey and ape, lemurs, exotic birds and hundreds of free-roaming peacocks, including several albinos. Along with the Ross Allen Reptile Institute, there were several other shops and stores, including the famous striped awning "beach cabanas" which could be rented while swimming at the Springs, and the Bath House, which sold Esther Williams bathing suits among other things and was visited by Ms. Williams several times, run by Bobbe Arnst, who was Johnny Weismueller's ("Tarzan") first wife. Other nearby attractions were the Prince of Peace exhibit, a series of dioramas depicting the life of Jesus and Tommy Bartlett's Deer Ranch, where you could interact with several species of deer.

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] Several television shows were filmed at Silver Springs, most notably "Sea Hunt," with Lloyd Bridges and "I Spy," with Bill Cosby.

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] Allen was also very active in teaching survival techniques to Boy Scouts, and often led expeditions into the forests to teach them about native animals and plants.

On a personal note, Allen was bitten so severely on several occasions in the milking of his rattlesnakes, that he developed his own anti-venom over time. The thumb on Allen's left hand was severely deformed because of the snake bites. Because of this, he often hid his left hand in photos. He kept graphic photographs of the healing of his own hand on display at the institute as a warning to children and adults about the severity of venomous snake bites.

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 two sons and a daughter. Ross married several other times, his last wife being Jeanette, who bore him three sons, Kenneth, Craig and Sydney.

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 {{cite news|last=Rockwell|first=Lilly|title=Spring woes in Florida|url= June 2013|newspaper=Florida Trend|date=June 20, 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]