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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson Reptile Expo brings nature’s weirdest creatures to the public

    David Northcott

    Elvis, the king cobra.

    The Sonoran Desert is home to many native reptile species. From the Gila monster, to the Western diamondback, the chances of coming skin-to-scale with a reptile are pretty high in Tucson, and those chances just got a whole lot higher today thanks to the annual Tucson Reptile Show.

    Mark Wolfson and his friend, Larry Sedrick, started the Tucson Reptile Show in 2001.

    “We had been to shows in California and Phoenix and had always contemplated about putting on our own show,” Wolfson said. “One day, we were driving along and saw a sign that read ‘Hall for Rent.’” 

    The two ended up renting a 1,500 square-foot hall and amalgamated a dozen reptile vendors and friends, expecting a few hundred people to come over the weekend. They were wrong.

    “Something like two thousand people showed up,” Wolfson said.

    They moved the show to a 4,000 square-foot hall the following year, which drew an even larger crowd, according to Wolfson.

    The event starts today and runs through tomorrow at the Tucson Expo Center. It will be the reptile expo’s 14th annual show, spanning a whopping 50,000 square feet at the Expo Center. Between 8,000-10,000 people are expected to attend the 85-vendor show, according to Wolfson.

    The poison dart frog is one of Wolfson’s favorite reptiles sold at the show.

    “The neat thing about poison dart frogs is in the wild, they produce toxins on their skin,” Wolfson said. “But in captivity, they are nontoxic because the raw materials they use to produce the toxins come from the insects they eat in the wild. Mainly ants is where the toxins originate and no-one feeds their frog ants in captivity.”

    Another favorite at the show are venomous tree snakes, which, unlike poison dart frogs, are actually venomous.

    “For some reason, the venomous tree snakes tend to be some of the most gorgeous animals around, from bright yellow to green with red spots ­— all sorts of neat colors,” Wolfson said. “The exotic snakes are not for sale, but will be on display by the Phoenix Herpetology Society.”

    The PHS has taken part in the Tucson Reptile Show for about 10 years, according to the PHS curator, Daniel Marchand. The society showcases reptiles from all over the world.

    “Our main attraction is our venomous snake collection,” Marchand said. “The collection includes the intimidating king cobra. His name is Elvis, he is well over 12 feet long and is one of the stars of the show.” Elvis will be on display for all to see this weekend.

    “You can literally get right in front of that snake and take a great photograph,” Marchand said. “For everyone’s safety, there will be a barricade between people and the snake, which is about three feet.”

    Other venomous favorites include the black mamba and the inland taipan, which will both also be on display, according to Marchand.

    Christian Kaleta, owner of Predators Reptile Center, has been involved with the Tucson Reptile Show since its conception. Kaleta will showcase his store’s reptiles as well, including 100 red-eyed tree frogs.

    “I go to shows all over the country and this particular show not only has a great variety for sale, but also a huge emphasis on education,” Kaleta said. “The camaraderie at this show is so friendly.”

    My Hermann’s tortoise, Tibbs, came from the Tucson Reptile Show last year. Tibbs died this week but was the greatest companion and a true friend to myself and my boyfriend, Or Chay. A companion, no matter if they are venomous, scaly or fluffy, is a companion, and Tibbs was among the greatest. Rest in turtle heaven and eat a lot of lettuce and apples; I’m sure there are many.

    The Tucson Reptile Show will take place at the Tucson Expo Center today from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids; children under 5-years-old are free. For more information go to

    Follow Victoria Teplitz on Twitter.

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