BANGOR, Maine — The first snake Micah Ayer ever owned was a rescue snake.
“It ended up at the humane society and they aren’t licensed” to accept snakes, the Bangor man said Sunday, standing in the middle of the Northeast Reptile Expo. “I work in the reptile department [at Pet Quarters] and volunteer over there, so they called me up and asked if I wanted it.”
The red tail boa constrictor that he has named Isis, was at the Bangor Humane Society in a cage duct-taped closed because “they were all scared of it,” he said.
For Ayer, “the bug kinda struck” and he now owns five snakes — Isis, two ball pythons and two corn snakes — and a leopard gecko that also was rescued.
Hundreds of captive bred snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles and tortoises made their way to the Bangor Motor Inn & Conference Center on Hogan Road for the Northeast Reptile Expo and people of all ages could be heard expressing awe in the colorful variety of creatures available to view and sometimes touch.
Calisha Boyington, 15, of Searsport had a black milk snake wrapped around her arm at one point, with boyfriend Julian Cross, also 15, standing nearby giving advice.
“This is Cher, Sonny is at home,” snake breeder Nate Godin of Bangor said about the legless reptile in Boyington’s hands.
“They start out as a multicolored striped snake and as they age they lose their color,” he said of black milk snakes, which start out orange, black and white. Black milk snakes, which are native to Costa Rica, lose their white stripes first, he said, and look like they are made out of iridescent black plastic when fully grown.
“The black helps them absorb the sunlight and keeps them warm,” Godin said, while allowing a colorful baby milk snake to slither repeatedly from one of his hands to the other.
“They are so easy to take care of I think just about anyone could raise one,” he said.
Godin started breeding black milk snakes in 2002 and works as a network administrator at Dahl-Chase in Bangor.
“I’ve been catching snakes and those sort of things since I could walk,” Godin said.
That is a common theme with reptile breeders, event organizer Christopher MacMillan said while folks looked at his colorful “poisonous” dart frogs, tree frogs, tortoises and chameleon lizards.
“All of us are that 9-year-old at the pond,” he said.
MacMillan, a Searsport native who now lives in Powell, Ohio, makes his living selling reptiles, turtles and amphibians at shows all over the country and wanted to bring his passion home to Maine.
“This is sort of dedicated to the local breeders,” he said. “This is a really good opportunity for them to get out and talk to other breeders” and pets owners.
The expo featured nearly 20 exhibits, and in addition to the creatures for sale, attendees could purchase supplies, cages and food.
MacMillan’s biggest seller is his dart frogs, which are poisonous in the wild because they eat ants and beetles that eat poisonous plants. Bred dart frogs, which are so small they could sit on the top of your finger, are not poisonous, he said.
Mike Krick, of Whiting, who brought more than 20 different types of lizards, amphibians and snakes to the expo and took time to educate a few about Maine law.
“You can’t sell native species,” he said. And since “There are no venomous snakes in Maine, none are allowed.”
Krick said he was still in the womb when first introduced to snakes. His mom was pregnant with him and she and his dad were out on a lake when the encounter happened, he said, with a smile on his face.
“My father saw a snake and flipped it and it landed on her belly,” Krick said. “That’s the story they told me, anyway.”
The love of snakes has stuck and he is passing it along to his kids. His 10-year-old son Dashiel was holding a small orange and black Kenyan sand boa in his hand on Sunday and his sister, Sisaly, 8, told a story about her pet Hermann’s tortoise named Digger.
Snakes in captivity spend a majority of their lives in cages. Ayer said he often takes his five snakes out of their cages to give them exercise and play with them and recently found out Isis is fully capable of finding her own snack.
“I put her in a tree in the backyard and she caught a bird,” he said proudly, showing pictures he had taken on his cellphone. “She got a free meal.”
Ayer said he was just window shopping at the expo, but added that if he found something that caught his eye he might take it home.
“The whole corner of my room is snake cages,” he said.