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Article updated: 6/29/2013 5:52 PM

Reptile extravaganza is a family event in St. Charles

By Elena Ferrarin

Watching her first crested gecko hatchling tentatively break out of its shell and peer onto the world is something that Jennifer O'Connor will never forget.

The Elgin resident, who now regularly breeds the tiny lizards, was among a few hundred people who attended the Chicagoland Repticon show on Saturday at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles.

The event featured all manner of reptiles and exotic animals for sale, ranging from snakes and lizards to turtles, toads, scorpions, sugar gliders and even hedgehogs. There were live animal demonstrations, plus a variety of tank accessories and reptile-themed jewelry for sale.

O'Connor, who bought some moss for her geckos, said she was first introduced to them by a friend a few years ago.

"I loved their feet. They are soft and kind of 'suction-cuppy,'" she said. "It was not what I expected. It kind of opened my eyes about reptiles."

Eleven-year-old Jacob Dugger bought a heating pad and a climbing accessory for Max, his 3-year-old pet ball python.

Jacob came with his father, Phil Dugger, and his classmate Jake Borst, also 11. All three are from Campton Hills.

"I liked snakes since I was little, when I used to watch Steve Irwin," he said, referring to the Australian wildlife expert and TV personality who died in 2006. "Now I want a Brazilian rainbow boa. I just really like their color."

Brothers Sean Griffis, 23, and Ryan Griffis, 21, are way ahead of Jacob. The brothers have 15 ball pythons and 25 boas in their Glenview home. Sean Griffis said he's been fascinated by boas since he was about 14 years old.

"Males and females don't breed right away when you put them together -- they have a 'dating period,'" he said. "They also give birth to live young. They don't have eggs."

Others who attended were novices to the world of reptiles. Nitesh Thakker, of Naperville, came with a group of 14 family and friends who bought discounted tickets via Groupon.

"The idea was to do something fun but also educational for the kids," Thakker said.

Nine-year-old Simren Mehta said she especially liked the sugar gliders, small marsupials native to Australia similar to the flying squirrel.

"They don't fly, they glide," Simren said. "They're so cute."

Fostering a reptile is a good way to figure out whether they're a good choice for a family, said Erica Mede, president of the nonprofit Friends of Scales Reptile Rescue, based in the Northwest suburbs.

"A lot of our rescues are because people changed their mind. I always hear, 'My kid went to college,' or 'My kid got bored with it,'" Mede said.

Florida-based Repticon hosts reptile and exotic animal expos year-round in 18 states across the country, according to its website. Repticon continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 S. Randall Road, St. Charles. Fordetails, visit repticon.com.

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