Scaly fair

At this year’s Reptile Show, things got cold-blooded.

At this year’s Reptile Show, things got cold-blooded.

Photo by serene lusano

Angel Epstein asked for a snake for her birthday 27 years ago. Her husband Jeremy Epstein bought her two. The couple loved them so much, they bought more to start breeding, soon having enough for their own pet store, Pets to Go in Elk Grove. Seeking to gather others like themselves, they launched the Sacramento Reptile Show in an “atrocious” hotel ballroom, Jeremy said. Last weekend, the show celebrated its 20th anniversary, filling 100,000 square feet of the Sacramento Convention Center with scaly creatures.

“They not touching a real crocodile, is they?” asked an incredulous man at the petting zoo hosted by the Phoenix Herpetological Society.

Well, technically, the attendees were petting an alligator—named Baby despite his 125 pounds of girth because he’s “so spoiled,” according to volunteer Chelsea Tulenko. With black tape around his powerful jaws, Baby has visited these sorts of shows around the country his whole life. Layered like samurai armor, his scales made thick ridges on his back and felt “weird,” as three different children put it.

Kids comprised roughly half of the 17,000 attendees of this show, which is bigger than other reptilian revelries across the country. A third of the showroom offered educational exhibits, where attendees could view venomous snakes including a king cobra, a Sri Lankan pit viper and a 9.5-foot-long black mamba that wagged its forked tongue at the edge of its enclosure.

“Dude, that is so scary,” a little girl said to her older sister, who concurred, “Its mouth is, like, partly open.” The handler responded that when the snake reveals its “pitch-black inside,” it feels threatened and warns of a retaliation.

The other two-thirds of the show catered to those seeking to bring home a pet. More than 100 vendors offered an astonishing array of reptiles—including swimming turtles, leaf-tailed geckos camouflaged to look like mossy bark and snakes of every color that can be found in a sunset. The especially striking piebald ball python has scales adorned with a string of swirled Rorschach shapes intercut with patches of pure white—the reptilian equivalent of a spotted dog.

Unlike furry pets, reptiles are bred in captivity for greater control over health. For customers, the show offers an unsurpassed range of selection.

Teen Alex Espinoza bought a black-and-yellow Nile monitor that can grow up to 8 feet long. “I wanted a big lizard,” he explained.

Nearby, a ball python wrapped its muscular body around a handler’s wrist. The common starter-snake had doe eyes, curious head movements and pebbly skin that was smooth and cuddlier than you’d think. When a little boy asked if they bite, the vendor responded, “Well, everything with a mouth bites, but these guys are fine.”