Cold Blooded

Redding Reptiles’ Reptile Expo…

Have you ever looked closely into the smile of a child handling a snake? First, the brows go up, giving that “I’m actually doing this!” look. Then comes relaxation, as if realizing that the much-maligned serpent crawling zig-zagged through their fingers isn’t that scary at all. The hand turns, head leans in for a closer look at the patterns, the eyes and that mysterious flickering tongue.

Photo by Richard DuPertuis

Seems like that child never grows up, judging by joy beaming from the faces of scores of attendees at the Redding Reptile Expo. Although there are plenty of youngsters enjoying snakes and lizards and tortoises, most of the visitors here can no longer be called children. Nevertheless, there’s that glow of awe and wonder emanating from grown men and women near everywhere you look in the Redding Holiday Inn Palomino Room.

Redding Reptiles brings this fun event to town one time per year. This popular, cold-blooded pet shop is run by the Dodge-Streich family. Sandra came up with idea for the expo and serves as emcee. Her son, Ryan Allinger, stands at the family table behind rows of small plexiglass boxes, each containing a baby ball python for sale. Her husband Steven mans the ticket table at the entrance.

Nearing the end of the first day of the two-day event, Sandra says attendance is as good as, if not better, than last year’s. “We’re so excited to see 1,000 tickets sold,” she says. “There were people lined up at the door when we arrived.”

Mortgage banker Chris Lamm of Change Home Mortgage sponsors this year’s Redding Reptile Expo. A customer who purchased ball pythons for his kids at Redding Reptiles a few years ago, Lamm says the love he and his wife hold for snakes goes back farther than that. “I grew up catching reptiles and always had an enthusiasm for all reptiles,” he says. “Our kids are young, so my wife and I started getting them into them as well, and taking them out looking for them and identifying them and so they didn’t have a fear of snakes.”

Sandra also serves as general troubleshooter for the event. She circulates up and down the aisles of vendors’ tables, checking in with sellers and checking out their displays of little pythons and geckos in plexiglass boxes, and big pythons in clear plastic cake boxes. Here and there stand tables offering non-reptilian wares, such T-shirts, art and woodcraft, and at a table way in the back one man is selling carnivorous plants.

At two points during the day, Sandra introduces a special guest speaker. One is Raven, center coordinator for Shasta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Anderson. She shares with the crowd some of the more recent rescues, not all of which are reptiles. The other is also an Anderson nonprofit, Tortoise Acres Adoption Center. Attendees couldn’t miss the wood chip-filled tortoise pens while standing at the ticket table in the lobby.

Sandra Missy. Photo by Richard DuPertuis

As the name suggests, Tortoise Acres takes in imperiled tortoises and finds a place for them. Board President Ken Hoffman says they will deliver, either by driving them to their new home or shipping via FedEx to pretty much anywhere in the country. But not to just anyone who claims to want a tortoise.

“I talk to them and I won’t give them one unless I get a good feel for the person,” he says. “They have to have the knowledge to care for them. They must have enclosures indoors and out.” Behind him, his wife and Tortoise Acres Treasurer Katie evaluates a potential adopter over the phone. By the end of the first day, the couple will have found new homes for six tortoises.

Back inside at the Redding Reptiles table, vendor Allinger holds up another small, ornate ball python to show a visitor, and this time his presentation takes on a more complex tone. He’s decoding the cryptic label on this specimen’s plexiglass box: Fire Het Clown. “Het stands for heterozygous,” he explains. “That mean this snake is a carrier of a recessive gene. The genes always come in pairs, so in a het you have both the recessive and dominant genes, but only the dominant shows.”

Take a breath. This isn’t hard as it sounds.

Allinger is a reptile breeder, and he’s talking about variations in a ball python’s skin pattern caused by mutation. Breeders mix the mutations, then wait anxiously for their eggs to hatch. “Fire” in the above label refers to a mutation that brightens a pattern overall, compared to the “normal” or wild-type pattern. “Het” tells the buyer that there’s a gene in there that is not showing, but if it’s bred with another het, there’s a chance to hatch a baby with both genes recessive and the hidden trait now visible.

That could be a prize.

Ryan Allinger. Photo by Richard DuPertuis

“The more genes and rarity of the genes, the more the snake is worth,” says Allinger. “People see a color they really like and they will pay anything for it. A sunset clown sold for $70,000 last year.”

The “clown” part is the fun part. Seems someone a ways back isolated a gene in a ball python that makes it look like whoever painted the pattern on this snake brushed a bit too heavily, resulting in paint dripping down its sides. The discoverer of this gene earned the honor of naming it. At the spur of the moment, this guy thought the runs in the pattern looked like tears in the makeup beneath the eyes of a clown.

So there you have it, a Fire Het Clown.

All said, the Redding Reptile Expo titillated amateurs and pros alike. You could enjoy a snake without a thought of what goes on under its skin, or you could delve into a strange new world where someone can coin a name that will be passed on by snake breeders in perpetuity, based on the results of his or her own personal Rorschach test.

Like the Sonic Hedgehog gene.
Worth a Google. •

Redding Reptiles • 74 Lake Blvd., Redding
(530) 338-2446 •
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am-6 pm

About Richard DuPertuis

Richard DuPertuis is a Redding grandfather who writes. His stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He strives for immortality not by literary recognition, but through diet and exercise. He can be reached at [email protected]

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