FARMINGTON -- Perhaps the scariest creatures at Repticon this year were poison dart frogs. It is generally recommended to give creatures with the word "poison" in their names a very, very wide berth. However, Todd Wetzel, owner of Tropical Ecos in Logan, said his poison dart frogs are harmless.
"They're poisonous in the wild from what they eat. In captivity they're completely harmless. We feed them flightless fruit flies."
Wetzel said poison dart frogs make attractive pets because of their colorful skin. "A lot of people think they're plastic until they start moving. They're really low maintenance. They thrive in the right conditions and you can go out of town for a week at a time without worrying about them."
The right conditions for poison dart frogs mimic their natural, tropical habitats with temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees and humidity levels at or above 80 percent. Wetzel also said that they're more of a fish-tank, look-don't-touch animal and live for 15 to 20 years.
Wetzel wasn't the only one carrying animals with the potential to elicit a fight or flight response. Whitney Mugleston, wife of Joey Mugleston, who owns J. Mugleston's Exotics in Provo, was selling tarantulas and scorpions at Repticon. Mugleston said tarantulas and scorpions are good pets for apartment dwellers.
"They don't take up a ton of space. Even with a fish aquarium you have to worry about water. Water damage is something that apartments are worried about. A tarantula, you don't have to worry about the possibility of damaging anything, so you don't have any of those risks or liabilities involved and they are actually just really interesting to watch."
Mugleston also said tarantula behavior is pretty entertaining. "They turn over on their back and molt and you can watch the process of them shedding their exoskeleton and see how soft they are afterward. Or see them bulldozing areas and carrying things around. People don't usually picture a tarantula doing that."
Kaeden Lagunas, 8, was at Repticon helping his mom, Sharell, show off animals for Bertopia Geckos. Kaeden said the corn snake he was holding was his favorite and that if he were to be sorted into a house at Harry Potter's Hogwarts, it would be Slytherin.
Sharell Lagunas, a breeder for Bertopia Geckos in Stansbury Park, said she got involved with reptiles because they're hypoallergenic.
"I'm allergic to everything, so reptiles were my category. The crested geckos are so sweet and they're soft. They feel like suede leather. So, that really drew me to them. And their personalities, they're just fun, I love them," she said. But she also had a word of caution for anyone considering a reptile for a pet. "Just do your research if you're going to get a reptile, because you're not getting a dog."
Tina Russell, event operations manager for Repticon, said the company keeps her busy with exotic animal shows.
"We produce reptile and exotic animal shows across the entire United States from Baltimore to Los Angeles. We run about 100 shows per year right now. We're just trying to educate and bring people into the industry."
Russell also shared why she thinks reptiles make excellent first pets for children. "They're a lot less responsibility than a lot of pets. So if a child wants to take those first steps of learning responsibility for caring for an animal, if they have a snake it only needs to be fed once a week, the cage only needs to be cleaned once a week, so it's a good first step before owning a puppy or kitten, something that would take a lot more work."
Justin Julander, owner of Australian Addiction Reptiles, said he hopes events like Repticon help to dispel the belief people sometimes have that reptiles and other exotic animals are "out to get them." When talking about snakes, Julander said, "They're the most shy, harmless creatures on the Earth. If you leave them alone, they'll be out of there. They don't like to have any dangerous interactions.
"Rattlesnakes are very polite. They'll warn you that you should stay back. I think people need to start looking at reptiles not out of fear, but out of common respect for another living creature."
More information can be found on Repticon's website, www.repticon.com.