The New England Reptile Expo falls somewhere between a trade show and a petting zoo. Displayed across the length of the Radisson Expo Center are thousands of geckos, iguanas, turtles, frogs, and of course, snakes. Lots and lots of snakes. Indiana Jones would be freaking out.
Just about everything is for sale. Some vendors, hoping to create new reptile enthusiasts, encourage squeamish sightseers to touch and hold the animals. Others, like snake breeder Rich Parrinello, seem more comfortable chatting with experienced reptile owners. He’s the spitting image of the late James Gandolfini, and the proud owner of one dog, two cats, and 800 snakes.
"Snake people are more interesting. It’s a different type of pet. It’s not cuddly, soft… It’s a much neater thing to see somebody walking down the street with a snake, than somebody walking with a dog on a leash."
Only a few minutes after the doors open at ten, a long line has already started snaking its way through the long hallways of the Radisson. Waiting patiently to get in, animal trainer Nathalie Bragdon tells me what she thinks are the benefits and drawbacks of owning reptiles.
“They’re an easier animal to take care of in the respect that they don’t have to be fed and cleaned everyday single day, like a mammal would. [On the other hand] Some people don’t like the idea of having to feed mice or rats to their animals. So there’s different aspects to them.”
A number of vendors and attendees are sporting tattoos, facial-piercings, and black on black ensembles – perhaps the stereotypical look of a reptile enthusiast. Still, for many breeders the interest in reptiles stems less from a gothic fascination with scaly creatures, as it does from a genuine love of biology. Lisa, a vendor selling dozens of a crested geckos, described the attributes and history the species like a veterinarian might.
They're fruit eating geckos, so they eat a powder mixed with water. They were thought to be extinct, up until they were rediscovered in 1994. They’re absolutely one of the softest lizards you’ll ever touch. Almost like suede.”
As opposed to the snakes, which are mostly held in heavy plastic boxes, Lisa’s crested geckos are housed in light tupperware containers – the kind you get when you buy pasta salad at the deli. Throughout the expo, almost all the action takes place right up against the tables - except for one young vendor standing in the middle of the floor, casually sporting a three foot boa constrictor around his neck.
"This is a Colombian Red-Tail Boa – these are found in Colombia in South America. You can walk around the expo you’ll find hundreds of these guys for sale, but right now there are people that are trying to make these illegal in legislation."
The snake leans its diamond-shaped head forward and interrupts the interview by licking the microphone. Like most of these cold-blooded animals, he doesn’t have much to say.
Not all vendors are selling the scaly stuff; some tables are stacked with bulky chunks of driftwood, bark bedding, and other accessories designed to create a homey reptile environment.
One seemingly empty booth sits discreetly among the rest. There aren’t any bright, colorful geckos or slithering snakes on this vendor’s table – Michael Hano understandably keeps his wares out of sight.
“My name is Michael Hano. I’m selling frozen rodents here today. People can buy a bag of 25 or 50 and keep it in their freezer. When they need to feed their animal, they take out whatever they’re going to use that day and thaw it out. Just like you take meat out of your freezer before you cook it. I actually have some frozen guinea pigs as big some Chihuahuas.”
Outside the expo, you can tell which attendees are going home with new pets - they stand near the elevators chatting and clutching tupperware terrariums. One new owner laughs nervously, a 18-inch long Meller's Chameleon clinging to his left shoulder. I ask him if he's going to name his new pet, which cost him $300.
He laughs again, then thinks about it for a few seconds.
Click here to find our more about the New England Reptile Expo. Special thanks to Tiffany Quimby for taking most of these great pictures - unfortunately, we forgot to write down which species were which, so if YOU know the names of these animals, please leave a comment and let us know what we're looking at!