MISSOULA — After 18 months, thousands are flocking to Missoula to attend the Big Sky Reptile Expo, where you can take home your very own snake, spider, or other critter. And owner and operator James Dvorak says the industry in Montana is growing.
“The industry, in general, has been really, really fantastic,” Dvorak said.
Dvorak said he took over in 2018 for the event that had been going off and on around Montana for about a decade. He said he’s seeing a positive shift in the industry since the pandemic.
“People, because they're spending more time indoors in their homes, they're spending more money on animals, and on the enclosures,” explained Dvorak, adding that popularity depends on the animal: “Monitor lizards, there's a major demand for them right now.”
Beyond the reptile industry's recent growth, Dvorak said it was good to be back.
“It has been difficult, not being able to have a show, and we have a lot of customers that contact us constantly and say 'hey, when's the next show, when's the next show,' but to be able to have a show and be able to put this on so people can come in and enjoy it again and have some normalcy, it's been really great.”
Dvorak fought back on one misconception about the reptile animal kingdom.
“Everybody thinks snakes are slimy. People actually secrete oils on their fingers, and when we're feeling snakes and we're like 'the snake is slimy,' it's actually us. So humans are slimy, snakes are not,” Dvorak said.
Inside the expo, a few dozen vendors displayed and sold their creature inventory.
Nathanael Johns, Eden Exotics owner in Lolo, said he carries species from South America and Africa.
“I have a lot of tarantulas for sale today and a few cockroach species, and I also market fertilizer that I developed called Optimal Growth,” Johns said.
He said tarantula interest is growing as stigmas change for the better - despite the large size and hairy eight legs.
“It's nice meeting people here today. Some people they've never held a tarantula before. I love introducing people to these animals,” Johns said.
Other vendors echoed the positive growth in their business. Andrew Ingold, owner of Andering Pythons, said he's been breeding snakes for over 20 years, and last year showed positive growth for his trade.
“The reptile community, surprisingly enough, last year, when all started, it was my best year that I've had in many years. Even though we didn't have any expos, we were shipping snakes all over the country,” Ingold said.
And the number one recommendation for reptile ownership? Research.
“If it's a milk snake, corn snake, ball python, do your research. Find out what they do in the wild, find out what the requirements are for captive keeping. And once you have all of your stuff, then start looking at getting a snake,” Ingold said.
After researching and swapping currency, some lucky attendees went home with a new friend.
Butte resident Alexandria Aguilar was there with her family. She bought a normal snake and a pastel lesser breed.
“This pastel lesser is mine, and her name shall be Ka, named after the snake in the Jungle Book,” Aquilar said.
Aquilar said she’s been waiting two months to attend this expo and has been wanting a pet snake for over a year. She tole MTN News some words of advice for future snake owners.
“You should be prepared, and you should learn about what you're going to buy before you buy it because hundreds of animals are being bought at conventions or from other places and don't go to proper homes. Myself as an animal lover, I hate to see when that happens,” Aquilar said.
This family-friendly Expo travels. Next time it will be in Billings near the end of July, according to Dvorak.