Jordan Hager tugged excitedly at his father's hand Sunday and pointed toward the large boa constrictor wrapped around a man's arms.
“Daddy, I want a snake!” the 5-year-old Puyallup boy pleaded without taking his eyes off the boa’s black beady eyes and flickering tongue.
Jordan might not have gone home with a new pet, but he and his brother happily bounced from booth to booth at the Reptile Expo, staring at geckos and frogs and grinning when they were allowed to hold the slithering snakes.
“I don’t think we’ll be going home with a snake,” said his father, 29-year-old Eric Hager. “This is really for them to go around and be inquisitive. Let them just be boys.”
The weekend expo was billed as the largest in the Northwest and attracted 50 vendors and nearly 4,000 visitors to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, organizers said.
It’s the 16th year Giovanni and Paula Fagioli have put on the event to support local pet stores and connect breeders of exotic animals with potential customers. Packed into a large exhibit hall were vendors peddling pet supplies, jewelry and caged mice. Fans could buy a subscription to Herp Nation Magazine or look at educational displays on amphibians and reptiles. Some brought more unique items.
Jason Pierce, an Olympia man who began breeding geckos 15 years ago, had some of the rarest geckos in the country for sale.
“People pay for these before the eggs are even hatched,” he said, lifting a plastic container with a teal gecko inside.
The $350 critter comes from Namibia. And Pierce already has a waiting list for babies, even though his pair is not currently breeding.
He mostly sells geckos from word of mouth or posting on forums but decided to attend the Reptile Expo because it’s close to home and offered a chance to network and pocket about $1,000 in sales.
“You’d never find anything like this in a pet store,” Pierce said. “Probably not even in a zoo.”
Darren Meyer was offering poison dart frogs in electric yellows, blues and greens for $40-$75. He spoke passionately about the dart frogs’ diet and habitat and was careful to answer questions that children brought forward.
After her son and daughter briefly stopped by the frog booth, 33-year-old Chery Taylor commented on how knowledgeable the vendors were. It’s the third year she’d brought her children to the expo – and the third year her son has gone home with a new Kenyan sand boa.
“I think it’s really educational for them to come and see the different animals,” she said.