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Snakes, other reptiles, fill expo in Brentwood

A jungle snake is part of the exhibit

A jungle snake is part of the exhibit featured at the Long Island Reptile Expo, held at Suffolk County Community College's Grant Campus in Brentwood on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Surrounded by thousands of snakes, 15-year-old Maeve Halligan didn't know what to do.

As the countless reptiles coiled and peered up at her, the Staten Island native knew she had to make a decision: Which one to take home?

"A lot of people are afraid of snakes," she said. "I think having one [for a pet] is different."

That was the sentiment Sunday for the estimated 2,400 people who attended The Reptile Expo at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

More than 100 vendors from across the country and Long Island had rows of the creatures displayed -- in shades ranging from aquatic blues and electric yellows, to cherry reds and albino whites.

The expo attracted novices and fanatics looking to buy, admire or learn more about the different breeds and how to care for them.

For Halligan, it was an opportunity to buy her first pet snake, a ball python. She works five hours a week educating people at the Staten Island Zoo, where she handles different types of animals, including snakes, while visitors get a closer look.

Halligan affectionately eyed the grayish-brown snake she chose as it curled up in one of her hands, showing off its lighter yellow, leopard-like spots.

"I just find snakes really cool and I've been working with them for a while now," Halligan said.

Other common breeds for people just venturing into the reptilian and amphibious worlds are bearded dragons and leopard geckos, officials said.Lizard breeder Nickolas Agricoli, 38, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, said he fell in love with the creatures at age 10.

"I loved dinosaurs," he said. "The first time I saw one [a lizard], I thought, there are still dinosaurs! They're just smaller!"

As an adult, he turned his passion into a business, becoming a breeder and starting Just Lizards Inc., which has him traveling to a different expo every other week.

Agricoli and other breeders said they like to meet customers at expos to ensure it's not an impulse purchase, and that buyers understand the responsibility that comes with these pets. Many snakes and lizards can live 20 to 30 years, and can have very specific environmental and nutritional needs. In New York State it's illegal to own native species of reptiles or amphibians, so the native habitat is not disrupted. State law also prohibits owning venomous snakes -- and others, such as Burmese pythons and reticulated pythons -- as pets, as well as crocodiles and alligators, although the state may grant licenses for some exotic species.

"The most important thing is to educate yourself on what you want to care for when you're buying a pet," said Vin Russo, 46, of Ronkonkoma. Russo is president of the Long Island Herpetological Society, a nonprofit group that brings together fans of reptiles and amphibians and educates the public on the animals. Russo is also a commerical breeder for his own company, Cutting Edge Herp, which sells a variety of snakes including different types of boas and pythons, among others. Along with the reptiles and amphibians, other vendors were on hand with all the things that they eat (think: worms, crickets, cockroaches, fruit flies, and freezers full of dead mice, rats and baby chicks).

Vendors also offered plants and terrarium preparations to create the most natural environments for reptiles.

Bruce Lowder, founder and coordinator of The Reptile Expo, said the event comes to Long Island twice a year, and will be back March 13. To learn more, visit ReptileExpo.com.

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