Snakes, snakes and more snakes in Lewiston

Brunswick’s Tracy Fleck petting a snake Sunday held by Nelson Horton of Relentless Reptiles during the 22nd Annual Maine Reptile Show at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — There hasn’t been an official count, but it would be safe to say there were thousands of snakes Sunday at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. And lizards and geckos and frogs and lots of people.

Do not worry. The reptiles were in cages – for the most part – and those that weren’t were part of the organizers’ larger goal of eliminating the stigma associated with cold-blooded animals. All of the reptiles on display and for sale on Sunday were captive bred and are part of an ever-popular part of the pet world.

Children, who entered for free, got to see the animals up close, petting or holding an endless variety of snakes and lizards. But there were also vendors selling reptile-themed jewelry, books, stuffed animals, and more.

A raffle could win you items ranging from candies (for humans) to a container of 500 “superworms”, a delicious treat for certain reptiles.

Andrew Desjardins, right, also known as Mr. Drew, performs a Facebook Live video Sunday of Nelson Horton of Relentless Reptiles during the 22nd Annual Maine Reptile Expo at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

Andrew Desjardins, one of the event organizers, said the 22nd annual Maine Reptile Expo was one of the busiest in recent memory. The exhibit, organized by the Maine Herpetological Society, moved to the Lewiston Ramada in 2019, but hadn’t really been able to hold a real event since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year is crazy,” Desjardins said. “Within 10 minutes of opening this place was packed.”

Desjardins, also known as Mr. Drew, runs Mr. Drew and His Animals Too, a natural science and exotic animal rescue and rehabilitation center in Lewiston. A section of the convention center on Sunday was devoted to children and the organization’s goal of educating people about exotic animals.

A large turtle that lives in the center, which carried a balloon to make it easier to spot, attracted a lot of attention from passers-by.

Desjardins said many of the animals that end up at his center are first bought by people who don’t know them well enough or don’t know how to care for them properly. He said that’s why the show is a great place to make a first purchase, as sellers make sure new owners are educated or can contact them later.

“These guys here are the experts,” he said. “These are all locally raised animals, and all of these breeders have a passion for these animals. If you have questions, they have the answers. »

Thomas Hopf-Lovett of Wiscasset walks the aisles Sunday at the 22nd Annual Maine Reptile Show at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. Hopf-Lovett says he’s “going back to snakes” and owns 10 ball pythons, but expects to have 50 by the end of the year. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

Mr Drew wandered around the exhibit with his iPhone, streaming information on Facebook Live. Every now and then someone would recognize him and say hello. He told a relative about his balloon-clad turtle and made sure to mention that Max, a big lizard, loves being petted.

However, it wasn’t all newcomers to the expo.

Elsewhere at the event, Nelson Horton of Relentless Reptiles stood behind a large display of snakes he is raising. He said he gets asked a lot of questions at the annual breeding event.

“They want to know how do I do this or how do I do that,” he said, referring to what’s called a “morph,” a genetic variation in a reptile’s color or pattern.

Anna Parent, 8, holds an ivory ball python on Sunday at the 22nd Annual Maine Reptile Show at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. Parent, who lives in Van Buren with his family, has two cats, two dogs, a rabbit and a ball python. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

In the bins in front of him were snakes that were all the same species, but different colors. Many people collect them.

“These things, they’re like potato chips,” Horton said. “You will only ever have one.”

Horton said he had over 500 geckos in his collection and produced another 200 each year.

When asked what he thinks draws people to reptiles, Desjardins said it starts with curiosity. He said people often fear or hate reptiles, but that often changes even after a short time with the animals.

“A lot of people see these animals – they’re cold-blooded, they’re not dogs or cats,” Desjardins said. “But then they’re still amazed that it responds to you and that these animals are aware of being treated well and kindly.”

Hundreds of snakes are on display Sunday at the 22nd annual Maine Reptile Expo at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center in Lewiston. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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