The cold-blooded animals seen at Repticon Houston aren't usually described as cute and cuddly, but Bonnie Miller, the show's promotions team manager, assures us that they are. Well, at least some of them are.
“A bearded dragon or chameleon is happy to ride around on your shoulder,” Miller tells us. “It's not quite like having a puppy, but some reptiles are very social, even playful. Just like a puppy, they want to bond, so they learn what you like and try to please you. A python will politely curl herself around your arm; she wants to be warm, and wrapping herself around you is a great way to do that.”
Even Miller, who works on some 100 reptile shows across the country a year, admits a ball python might not be the right pet for everyone. “You'll see lots of animals at the show, from frogs to lizards to snakes, even some spiders. Most people can find something they like.”
The idea that reptiles need special care or might be too dangerous to be a family pet is common, Miller says. According to her, it's also wrong.
“Actually, a dog and a snake take about the same amount of attention. They both need caging, bedding and food. The snake might need a special habitat because it needs a particular level of humidity, but other than that, it's nothing special. An aquarium is the same way. Most kids can take care of a snake just fine.”
With dozens of vendors and breeders in attendance, the Houston show features a variety of reptiles and amphibians. “We have snakes, frogs, turtles, arachnids, sometimes even fish and birds.”
Repticon Houston is a family-friendly show, Miller says. “Kids especially love to see all of the animals. Some very well-meaning adults teach their kids to stay away from all snakes. But when kids haven't been taught to be afraid, they'll walk right up to the cages. They reach out and want to touch or hold the animals.”
One especially long, well-trained snake has been a showstopper at previous Repticons. “He's huge! He's 30 feet long and they carry him in a giant [cage.] They put him onstage, open the cage and he starts crawling out. The thing is, he keeps coming out and coming out and coming out. He's incredibly long,” Miller tells us. “But what's so amazing is that at the end of the [presentation], his owner just looks at him and says, 'Go home.' The snake crawls right back into his container, just like that. Of course, it takes a little while. He just curls up and curls up until he fits back in the box. It's amazing.”
She goes on, “There are lots of demonstrations throughout the day. Really, a ton of educational shows, including some that are interactive. You might see a giant snake draped across the shoulders of five or six people standing next to each other, or get to pet a bearded dragon.”
Vendors and breeders offer expert advice on the show's floor. “They can tell you everything you need to know about an animal before you buy it. They'll tell you, 'No, you can't just let it run around the living room unless you want to follow it around with a shovel. It eats a lot and poops a lot.' Babies can be very small, but they don't always stay that way. A vendor can tell you if the [animal] you want to buy is going to need a small cage when he's full grown or if he's going to need his own bedroom.”
Many of the vendors at Repticon are small family businesses. “I've seen it over and over. [A couple] loves snakes or turtles and starts collecting. Eventually they run out of money and space to buy more, so they come to shows and begin to sell some so they can get the money and space to buy some more.”
Miller tells us that vendors and breeders aren't the only ones bringing animals to the show. “People who bought a dragon five years ago will bring it back to show the breeder how well it's doing, how big it is. Breeders, they hatch the animals out of eggs. Those are their babies. So when someone comes back to show the breeder an animal, they love that.”
Miller admits there's a bit of “My snake is prettier than your snake” one-upmanship going on at the show. “It's healthy competition. People are proud of their animals; it's normal. Really, it's just a fun, safe show.
Miller emphasizes the safe aspect as well as the fun. “Every once in a while, a critter jumps out of someone's hand and skitters away, never to be seen again. Most of the time, they don't get very far.”
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Thankfully, all of the animals seen at Repticon Houston are of what Miller calls the “can't hurt you” persuasion. “This is a completely non-venomous show. No one will have any animals that can really hurt you.”
The difference between venomous and poisonous animals, by the way, is pretty simple. “With a venomous animal, if he bites you, you're going to die. With a poisonous animal, if you bite him, you're going to die.”
If you want to go to what Miller calls a “hot show,” that is, one with venomous and poisonous animals, you'll have to go to Columbia, South Carolina, next summer. The Columbia Repticon show is the largest of its kind in the country.
Repticon Houston is set for February 20 and 21. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. VIP admission (goodie bag included) on Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. general admission. Pasadena Convention Center and Fairgrounds, 7902 Fairmount Parkway, Pasadena. For information, visit repticon.com/Houston. VIP tickets $5 to $12 (Saturday only); one-day general admission $5 to $10; two-day general admission $5 to $12.