The exotic animals of the Internet and the people who love them
The stars of Pet Tube model the radical takeover of strange animals. But they are only humans.
Tomas Pasiecznik lives in New Jersey with his parents, dog, and 26 other species of animals, including a reticulated python, a pink-haired tarantula from Chile, a colony of Central American giant cockroaches, and an African pygmy hedgehog named Chloe. . This count does not include all the animals Pasiecznik acquires to feed his other animals. When we spoke one recent afternoon, on Zoom, Pasiecznik vanished for a moment and returned with two electric blue sphinxes squirming in his palm – a dinner for his scorpions and tarantulas. “They’re super cool,” he says. “I have trouble feeding them. I’d rather, like, watch them turn into moths and stuff.
Pasiecznik is 22, with a light frame and a confusing fashion sense. He can wear a chunky logo T-shirt and skinny plaid pants – basically what I wore in college in the 1990s, except I looked like a monster and he looks unbelievable. He is the kind of youngster who speaks sincerely about his passions: “My two main passions are animals and technology,” he said. On Instagram and YouTube, he posts as Tomas Pasie, and he’s an inhabitant of an internet niche known as Pet Tube: a community of people who film their many exotic pets.
There are several reasons why a person can become the owner of a large number of unusual pets. For example, because they are passionate about animals. But also, because YouTube is passionate about animals – the more, the better. “A large number of animals is not my goal, but a large number of animals get views on YouTube,” Pasiecznik said.
At present, Pasiecznik has 31 animals (his colonies of cockroaches and powdered orange isopods are too heavy to be calculated as individuals, so he counts each colony as a pet). That’s a relatively small number for him. His most popular videos of all time include “Feeding My 31 Tarantulas (GONE WRONG)” (3.7 million views), “FEEDING ALL MY PETS (100+ PETS) [INSANE]”(1.6 million views) and the Spanish version of this video,” ALIMENTANDO A TODOS MIS ANIMALES (+100 MASCOTAS) * INCREÍBLE * “(1.8 million views).
Pasiecznik grew up watching YouTube (“I’ve been passionate about YouTube since I was literally a kid”), and its content is tailored to satisfy the platform’s impulses: it marries the demands of mind-blowing quirks and hyper-procedural procedures. practice . In a typical video, he talks to the camera over synthesized stock music, projecting a superficial skill as he explains to his viewers the details of raising spiders, preparing sausages for lizards, and cooking. appropriate humidification of a chameleon enclosure. He promotes his work with colorful photographic collages featuring a central image of his face flanked by a group of strange animals. The titles of his videos emphasize the “crazy” nature of his “collection” of animals. In 2018, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not introduced him as a “prolific collector” of “crazy pets”. But Pasiecznik resists this characterization.
“I don’t like to use the term ‘collection’,” he says. He used to pile up stacks and stacks of Monster energy drink cans – this was a collection. His pets are people he cares for and loves. Pasiecznik credits his mother for empathizing with strange creatures. “She really taught me to love every animal,” he said. “Even the little ones. “
Pasiecznik was born in Argentina – Spanish was his mother tongue – and after moving to the United States “with literally nothing” and occupying a series of rental apartments, his family moved into their own home in the suburbs of New Jersey, where animal ownership was also of absolute value. freedom. Now there was no more owner to prevent Pasiecznik from having a snake, or a lot of snakes. In high school, Pasiecznik won the superlative “Most Unique Man,” appearing in his yearbook in a T-shirt that read, “I’m a reptile type. Just like a normal guy, except a lot cooler. Sometimes his friends would joke about the killing of his bugs that he tolerated. “They might not have known they were being rude when they said, ‘Oooh, I’m going to step on it,'” he said. “But I’ve literally bred this spider ever since she was” – he put his index finger forward towards his thumb until the distance between them was almost imperceptible – “thiiiiiis tall.”
Pet Tube is a fun little scene. His personalities include Emzotic, a former British zookeeper turned YouTuber; Taylor Nicole Dean, a gothic reptile enthusiast who has just returned to YouTube after taking her channel off for over a year to focus on her sobriety; Marlene Mc’Cohen, an actress and bird expert who creates little characters for each of her dozen parrots; and Thmpsn, a classical violinist and influencer who surrounds himself with a coterie of snakes, a huge bunny and several women with huge breast implants.
At first glance, the content may seem to emphasize the exotic character of the animal “collection” and the domestication of nature within the suburban home. Part of its appeal is the sheer visual gag of a parrot hovering over a taupe carpet or a bunch of snakes gliding over a piano. But seen from another perspective, his numbers represent a radical commitment to care, often for animals that most people haven’t considered caring for. These are animal loving people, even strange animals, even potentially revolting swarms of animals.
The idyllic vibe of this place is unsettled by a lingering criticism: maybe its star keepers shouldn’t like all animal; maybe there are too many pets. Sometimes prominent pet tubers are accused of hoarding or neglect. Sometimes their pets – as is the tragic fate of all creatures on this Earth – die. Between offers of condolence, commentators may wonder if the lifespan of a deceased animal was long enough, and wonder if the Pet Tuber was in any way responsible for its disappearance. These reviews underscore the duty of animal YouTubers to model responsible human-animal relationships, and many Pet Tubers also engage deeply with this prompt. Pet Tube is a genre that celebrates animals owned by humans, but it also always asks: why should humans own animals?
When I spoke with Pasiecznik, he was sitting at a computer in a dimly lit converted garage with a paunchy brown sofa and a tower of reptile pens visible around him. On top of the couch, he had placed a copy of his appearance in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” and a YouTube plaque marking his 100,000th subscriber. His online presence had made me so familiar with that backdrop that when it materialized in my Zoom window, it felt like one of those paintings in a haunted mansion suddenly coming to life.
In his videos and Instagram posts, Pasiecznik’s performance of expertise may tend to obscure the emotional depths of pet stewardship. He recently graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and he slowed down his YouTube production as he focused on college and the animals themselves. When we spoke, her 7 year old chameleon Rango had just died (after an appropriate amount of time for a domesticated chameleon to be alive). Rango was, for the moment, in Pasiecznik’s freezer, awaiting Pasiecznik’s determination on how to properly expel him; he plans to keep the bodies of his deceased pets in hopes of donating them to some sort of museum. I asked him if he had heard of death when he was a child because he owned so many animals, and for a moment he was silent. “I’m really emotional when it comes to all the animals,” he said. “I’m getting emotional right now.” He suggested that I watch a YouTube video he had posted on the subject several years earlier.
That night I searched YouTube until I found the video. It is titled “He’s Dead… My First Pet Lizard (FULL STORY)” and is illustrated with a photograph of a young Pasiecznik proudly holding a small slender creature in his hands. A big yellow emoji with a thoughtful face hovers over the image.
In the video, Pasiecznik addresses the camera to a relentless electronic melody. He explains that he acquired Seth, a long-tailed lizard, from PetSmart when he was 5 years old. He had wanted a snake, but he wasn’t allowed to have one, so he got the most snake-like lizard. He loved Seth so much that he couldn’t put him down. “I did what no one should do,” Pasiecznik said. “I held my lizard too much without letting it settle down.”
The next morning, after holding and loving him for so long, Pasiecznik discovered a gruesome scene in Seth’s terrarium. The lizard was dead. His mouth was full of dirt. “It was all my fault,” Pasiecznik said. “I was holding him too much.”
It was a very sad story about a child and his lizard. But it was also a testament to how YouTube established itself in the animal-human relationship, shaping our most fundamental emotional experiences to match its technological specifications. The video description reads: “The first lizard I ever had died…. THE DAY AFTER GET IT! It was a long-tailed lizard from PetSmart! I was only 5 years old! Keeping reptiles as pets is amazing! Pet lizards, pet snakes, and pet frogs are all awesome! “
Surfacing is a column that explores the intersection of art and life, produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben, Tala Safie and Josephine Sedgwick.