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Reptile Expo shows off unusual ‘pets’

Spiders, cockroaches and lizards are probably not on the usual list of animals people associate with the word “pet.”

But the vendors at the Fredericksburg Reptile Expo, which was held Saturday at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds, travel up and down the East Coast trying to convince people otherwise.

“I’m not going to tell you that they show affection,” said Anthony LeCompte, owner of Conley Herps, Inc. “But some of them have no fear of you, and will come right out [of their cage] to you.”

LeCompte breeds boa constrictors and pythons in Hampton for pet stores, and does expos as a way to meet new people and educate them about reptiles.

His booth had four rows, each with 12 clear cages filled with writhing brown, black and yellow snakes in different patterns.

LeCompte gets his snakes from Africa and breeds them according to their genes and the type of snakeskin, or look, he wants.

“We have to produce things people like,” LeCompte said as he pointed to a bright yellow python with red eyes.

The first thing Mike Welty tells new snake owners is they are going to get bitten.

“How much it hurt depends on their reaction. If you jerk away from it, it is going to hurt worse,” said Welty, owner of Reasonable Reptiles out of Bloomery, W.Va.

Snakes can live anywhere from 15 to 50 years old and cost about $250 on average, according to LeCompte.

“Snakes are like the land version of sharks,” said Brian Sharp, owner of Brian Sharp Reptiles. “They grow in proportion to how much they eat.”

If animals that can move with no legs are too freaky, the expo also featured lizards, geckos, spiders and cockroaches.

One of the most popular reptiles with the children was a bearded dragon lizard. Kids gathered around and waited for a turn to hold the creature.

“I like him,” said 5-year-old Adrianna Harris.

The little girl drove down with her mom, aunt, uncle and cousins from Maryland for the expo. Her mom, Ashaunte Harris, wanted her girls to do something different and new.

“We are conquering fears today,” said Ashaunte Harris.

However, Adrianna’s uncle was not as brave.

“I couldn’t even look at it. Its claws were like little needles,” said Mark Trent.

Chris Baity, owner of Exotic Enclosures, also specializes in unusual pets. In his case, it’s spiders.

At first, they were a hobby. Baity said he would build terrariums and owned a couple, but soon he had a whole bedroom stacked from floor to ceiling full of arachnids.

“It’s an addiction, so before I knew it I had, like, 200 spiders,” Baity said.

His spiders have since moved out of his bedroom and into a garage that is temperature and climate controlled.

“If I didn’t run shows, I’d be homeless,” Baity said.

The reptile expo was the first one for the region, the plan is for it to return in September.

“We are coming back with even more vendors,” said Larry Kenton, the event’s promoter and manager.

If you are interested in going, check the fairground’s website or for more information.

Jessica Koers: 540/374-5444