Reptiles Become Popular Pets In HCM City

LAKELAND — If you were in market for an Australian white tree frog, African spur thigh tortoise, aspen snake bedding, iguana bracelets or a batch of small pinkies, you were at the right place.

Inside the RP Funding Center, the Repticon Florida International Reptile Expo (FIRE) 2018 wrapped up at 4 p.m. Sunday, ending the two-day run of everything reptilian and amphibian, from exotic geckos, to frogs and salamanders, to snakes and other creatures from the earth and water.

Walking from booth to booth Sunday, Erica Vogeney had Razor — a 1½-year-old bearded dragon lizard — clinging to her right shoulder. The Citrus Springs resident brought her boyfriend, two sons and two stepsons to the FIRE to possibly shop for another gecko lizard and to buy live food — mostly crickets — for Razor. She said she saw everything any reptile or amphibian lover would need for their pets.

“I just love coming to these; there’s so much to look at and they really take care of the animals,” she said. “I can get things I need for Razor at a really discounted price.”

Price, selection, quantity and curiosity are what brought many of the approximately 4,000 to 5,000 guests to the FIRE over the weekend. Since moving to what was formerly known as The Lakeland Center and now the RP Funding Center in September 2013, the FIRE has become one of Repticon’s largest events in the southeastern United States, said Sam Bearden, Repticon Show logistics manager.

This year, there were 110 reptile and amphibian and pet accessory vendors at Repticon, one of about 120 annual reptile shows.

“I grew up in Florida and this is like a reptile family reunion. It’s one of our best reptile shows and it keeps growing and expanding,” said Bearden, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Set on tables and in cages and tanks all around the convention center hall was an array of the exotic often abutting the average. Repticon guests could as readily find food — small rodent pinkies, fuzzies and weanlings for as little as $20 for 25 — as they could an expensive member to their families, such as a titanium tegu lizard for $800.

Among the vendors was Bill Murray of Redfoot Ranch in Wimauma, who was selling male and female Hermann’s tortoises for $275 and $250 each; Laney Simmons of St. Augustine, who brought out about 50 3-inch baby leopard geckos to sell; and Jeff Goldblatt of Tampa, who had 50 captive-bred hognose snakes — ranging in price from $125 to $1,250 each — on display and up for sale.

“This has been a good show. I’m making a lot of sales and making a profit,” said Goldblatt, who also works as a Tampa tattoo artist.

Bearden said no venomous species are permitted at Florida Repticon shows but some are mentioned during presentations.

To help owners keep their pets thriving in proper living conditions, Scott and Elizabeth Wisneski of Lakeland had their Family Reptiles booth set up. There, pet owners could buy cage dome lamps, bedding materials, water dishes, heat rocks and pads and other items.

Scott Wisneski said there are about 30 reptile shows across the state each year.

“They’re very popular. People have dogs and cats but want something a bit different. The reptile growth in the pet industry seems to be continually growing,” he said.

Paul Catala can be reached at paul.catala@theledger.com or 863-802-7533. He can be reached at Twitter @pcat0226.

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