Exotic Lizard, Reptile Worlds Explored Locally | News, Sports, Jobs


Dogs and cats are still the most common and popular pets, but there is also a larger current market for much more exotic animals like snakes and lizards.

Last Saturday’s Altoona Reptile Expo held at the Altoona Grand Hotel is proof of that. Several hundred men, women and children visited the Expo over a six-hour period to view the vast array of snakes, lizards and other reptiles that 26 vendors from across the state of Pennsylvania, as well than from states as distant as Connecticut and Virginia, brought in for display and sale.

Among the dishes were reptiles as diverse as non-venomous boa constrictors, pythons, bearded dragons and iguanas. There were even a few species of poisonous snakes.

The fact that all of them sell to the public – and some for as high as $1,500 for a Hypo Jungle Boa – is proof that many people are interested in adopting exotic pets.

“My whole business is selling snakes and fish,” said George Diaz, who owns and operates exotic pet store Off The Hook in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ambridge, and was one of the vendors present at the show last Saturday. “Ball pythons are the most popular snakes. They are small, docile and easy for children to have.

“There are exceptions to the rule, but most snakes that are kept as pets are docile,” Diaz said. “They don’t bite, and when they do, it doesn’t hurt. A dog or hamster bite is much worse.

Reptiles have become popular pets for a variety of reasons.

“Some people want something a little more exotic than a dog or a cat,” Diaz said. “You can keep a snake in a nice terrarium and decorate it like a rainforest. It’s the same reason people keep tropical fish. And a snake or lizard won’t mess around the house or scratch furniture like some mammals do either.

Sherry Sral is the sales manager for the Altoona Grand Hotel, which was set to host six bi-monthly reptile exhibits this calendar year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Expo scheduled for last March has been cancelled, but there will be one last this year scheduled for Saturday, November 28.

“It’s amazing how many people with young children are holding snakes and looking at different reptiles,” Sral said. “I can’t believe how many people are buying these. I just think some people think (reptiles) are easier to care for than a cat or a dog.

James McClintock, who has an office in New Stanton, coordinates vendors coming to the Altoona Reptile Expo, as well as the 12 monthly shows that are held each year in Westmoreland County. McClintock agrees with Sral that the care required for a snake like a small python is far less than for a pet like a dog or cat.

“A couple may want to buy a pet for their son, and if they buy a dog or a cat, (it requires) constant care,” McClintock said. “But if you buy a ball python, you should clean its cage (only) once a week, check its water four times a week, and depending on its feeding schedule, it gets fed once a week or once every two weeks.

“So it’s not a high-maintenance animal, and because it’s not a high-maintenance animal, parents really like it,” McClintock said of the ball python, which feeds mainly on insects when younger and on mice and rats when it becomes an adult snake.

Bearded dragons are also popular pets, according to Diaz. Larry Hoffman of Claysburg said bearded dragons make good pets for children. Hoffman was at Altoona Reptile Expo last week with his sons Ryan and Kaden.

The Hoffmans purchased their light orange bearded dragon, Rex, from Diaz at an Altoona reptile show earlier this year.

“He’s very friendly, good-natured, and likes to be held,” Larry Hoffman said of Rex.

11-year-old Ryan Hoffman was holding Rex at Expo last week.

“He’s very sweet,” Ryan said of Rex.

While harmless snakes and lizards may be considered understandable choices as pets, less understandable pet choices are poisonous snakes which were also on sale last week.

Josh Dickerson, who with his wife owns the A&J Reptiles store in Lancaster, had two poisonous snakes for sale in glass cages – a pygmy rattlesnake with a $175 price tag and a zebra-spitting (cobra) on sale for $150. Venomous snakes often sell very well, Dickerson said, and novelty is a big reason for that.

“It’s more or less a showcase for people buying them,” Dickerson said. “They want to show them.

Even though owning the snakes carries a significant physical risk.

“It’s like holding a loaded gun,” Dickerson said. “But at some shows I’ll sell them, and at others I’ll take them with me.

The vast majority of snakes and reptiles at events are harmless, however, and vendors serve to educate the public about this.

“We love coming to Altoona, we always get pretty good attendance here,” said McClintock, who clarified that since the Reptile Expo is considered a store and not an event, it wasn’t under the restriction limit. State of 25 COVID-19. people gathering for a public indoor activity. “One of the most important things is to educate people about reptiles, and sellers educate people. The reason many people are afraid of (these reptiles) is that they were taught to be afraid of them growing up. People are afraid of anything different, but sellers teach people that these reptiles are not a bad thing.



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