The idea of being in a room filled with snakes is enough to give some people a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. But no one in the Havre de Grace Community Center on a recent Saturday seems to suffer such phobia.
One young woman in cutoff shorts and platform boots walks around the hall with a 6-foot boa constrictor draped across her shoulders. A girl in a pink sweatshirt enjoys having a chameleon perched on the top of her head.
Lauren Sanza of Fallston, meanwhile, has a bearded dragon peeping out from her half-zipped jacket.
“He likes it in there. It’s warm,” she says.
The All Maryland Reptile Show has returned to the community center, as it does each month except for May. Here, herpetology enthusiasts can find just about any sort of creature with scales — except the venomous ones or endangered species.
Sanza and her husband, Charles, now looking at some brilliantly green tree frogs in the same sort of plastic containers that might hold olives, had bought their spiny-headed reptile at a previous show. Their children, Teagan, 6, and Tanner, 5, named him Flame.
“We brought him back to the guy who sold him to us to make sure he’s growing the way he should,” Sanza says. The consultation confirmed that Flame was thriving on his diet of kale and hornworms.
“He gets a salad in the morning and meat at night,” Sanza jokes.
Sanza and her family are among roughly 600 visitors at the show, which can draw up to 70 vendors, according to organizer Larry Kenton.
The Easton native and self-proclaimed hippie with graying, shoulder-length hair left behind another career as a booking agent for rock bands. He’s been a reptile enthusiast since the time in 1956 when he first caught a snake. He began breeding them in the 1970s, and now will sell only captive-bred animals. He also stages reptile shows in Frederick; York, Pa.; and Manassas and Richmond, Va.
Mario DellaTorre, a New Jersey-based distributor of enclosures, heaters and other reptile supplies, works reptile shows along the East Coast just about every weekend. He says attendance at the one in Havre de Grace is “blowing up.”
While it’s still among the smaller shows he frequents, DellaTorre says, the All Maryland show is nonetheless worth the trip. At a recent Harford show, his receipts totaled $3,500.
“These people are hunkered-down reptile people” who aren’t just there to browse, DellaTorre says. “That is a buying crowd.”
DellaTorre says reptile owners flock to such shows because they can get what they need for the care and feeding of their animals at a steep discount.
“At a pet store, crickets [the preferred food of bearded dragons] will cost you 12 to 15 cents apiece. At a show we sell them for less than 2 cents,” he says. His wife, Dale, has been breeding bearded dragons for seven years.
Barbara Bowen, a Reisterstown accountant, always makes the trip to Havre de Grace. She began breeding panther chameleons in 2014 and now sells the offspring under the name Charm City Glam Chams.
“We don’t like to travel too much with them,” she says, describing them as relatively fragile animals.
But she’ll make the trek for the All Maryland show. She says Kenton “was super supportive” when she first got into breeding chameleons.
At the show, the bearded dragons and chameleons are joined by Russian tortoises, peach-throat skinks, black roughneck monitor lizards and snakes — lots of them.
Fat boa constrictors 10 feet long sleep in glass-fronted cabinets while slender juvenile pythons of 5 inches wriggle in little plastic deli tubs, air holes punched in the lids.
The in-between sizes curl up in individual chambers of plexiglass enclosures.
Buyers take the small snakes home in their plastic tubs. The big ones are secured in pillow cases loosely knotted at the opening.
Within the species and subspecies of serpents, breeders have crafted countless varieties of colors and patterns that account for price points ranging from the tens of dollars to thousands.
Tina Entzian, who has just purchased a 6-inch black and maroon ball python after talking a vendor down from $25 to $20, explains that the “clown” pattern in a python — which is supposed to resemble a clown’s painted face — results from a recessive gene. The pattern, therefore, is somewhat rare.
“That’s what makes it desirable,” she says.
For Entzian, snakes are sort of like potato chips. She finds it difficult to stop at just one.
The self-described “animal person” catalogued a veritable menagerie in and around her home two hours away in La Plata. After a five-year hiatus from reptiles, she has begun accumulating ball pythons again.
“They’re docile, not aggressive at all. They’re easy to have,” she says. “Back in ancient Egypt they wore them on their wrists as bracelets.”
Herpetophiles can find at the show whatever they need to care for and display their scaly companions. In the center of the hall, the company Exo Terra sells various sizes of enclosures and stuff to put in them, from large hunks of bark to gnarled pieces of “natural exotic forest-free java wood” for a snake to lounge under or around.
They’ve got waterfalls with light-emitting diodes and ones with a skull motif. They have “basking spots” so that your cold-blooded critter has a place to stay warm.
At the end of the hall closest to the entrance, one finds hand-held grabbing wands and snake hooks for handling larger and more aggressive snake species. Next to that is where they keep the reptile-themed T-shirts for sale.
All those reptilian pets need to eat, of course, if only once every few days. Across the aisle from a foil tray filled with wriggling “super worms” and a stack of boxes marked “1000 ct crickets, $18,” Michelle Johnson peers down at an 8-by-10-inch plastic tub with some bedding in the bottom. A few dozen squirming baby mice, each about an inch or so long, lie in the bottom.
As a vendor puts her selections into a small paper sack, she chooses from among “pinks” (50 cents), “fuzzy” (60 cents) and “hopper” (70 cents).
“Just picking up some groceries,” she says.
It’s enough to give a person the heebie-jeebies.