Frogs, frogs everywhere - and nary a squeamish, slime-phobic person in sight.
It was all frog fanciers, tadpole lovers, terrarium enthusiasts, herpetologists and breeders of moist-skinned critters at this weekend's annual International Amphibian Days in Timonium. Hundreds came - some from as far as Arizona and Maine - to buy, sell and swap critters, pick up exotic plants for terrariums and share tips on breeding, raising and adoring amphibians with fellow self-described froggers.
"We call it a hobby gone bad," said Greg Sihler, who works full time as a computer expert and on the side runs a successful frog business, Arizona Dendrobate Ranch, with his wife.
Frogs, the converts will tell you, are oh-so-easy to love. The bright blues and neon greens and spots and stripes are mesmerizing. Their big, bold eyes can seem almost human-like. Unlike other pets, most don't require much room - some are thumbnail size - and are hypoallergenic.
It's a satisfying challenge to fill terrariums with moss, tropical plants and orchids and build little chunks of rain forest in a living room, many admirers insist, and watching and listening to the critters relieves stress.
"It's like living artwork," Sihler said. "It's very soothing." He has 100 vivariums in his house, and at night sometimes turns out the lights and listens to the frogs whirring and croaking.
Sihler and his wife are penning a beginner's book on caring for poison dart frogs, the amphibian du jour at the Timonium event. The frogs, known for their vivid colors, don't produce toxins when raised in captivity, outside of their natural habitat in the rain forests of South America.
"They just look unreal, don't they?" said Scott Menigoz, 43, who works at a drug manufacturing company and breeds frogs in his Frederick home, a hobby he says gives a major boost to his annual income. He has 60 tanks, 400 frogs and a very patient wife.
Pet frogs are more popular now - and not just among the 10-and-under crowd - because they're more affordable and easier to find than in years past, the froggers say. And with a growing number of shows and a wealth of online information, more people understand how to care for them.
Sue Lane tagged along with her son to the show and was fascinated, especially with the little blue-and-black frogs called Dendobrates azureus.
"They're beautiful," she said. "If I had an extra $500, trust me, I'd buy it today and start a terrarium." (Frogs at the show ranged in cost from $25 to $500, but setting up a terrarium can be a major investment, depending on the tank builder's ambitions.)
The event, which included workshops on such topics as spindly leg syndrome and herpetologist art through the ages, had an air of conservation. Breeders will come in handy should a species of frog become endangered, said Dan Calhoun of Port Deposit, one of the show's volunteer organizers. And all the proceeds - mostly from admission and an auction - were earmarked for protecting Costa Rican rain forests.
International Amphibian Days and its nonprofit parent organization, the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show, have purchased nearly 3,000 acres of rain forest in 15 years, said Holli Friedland, the reptile show's program director.
Jessica Simonoff, 9, of Middletown was one of the youngest environmentalists around. She started a conservation club at her school called the Golden Pine Cones, so when she and her father, Robert Simonoff, spotted the amphibians on the way to the stamp and coin show next door, they had to stop.
"I like the little itty-bitty frogs," Jessica said. "The littler they are, the cuter they are."
She wouldn't have minded picking out a frog to bring home - a tiny one, naturally - but her father quickly interceded.
"Bad move," he said. "We don't do that without Mom."