LEWISTON — For Matt Lee, a spotted turtle in a swimming pool sparked his lifelong passion for reptiles.

“My dad brought it home when I was a kid, and put it in a little kiddie pool,” Lee said.  “It was the first time I’d seen one. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.”

Lee’s hobby has progressed a long way from turtles housed in small pools. Now, he owns ML Exotics, a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in breeding and selling ball pythons – about 500 of which it breeds a year.

Lee sells his snakes at reptile shows and conventions, some as far away as Chicago or Florida. He also sells snakes, geckos and turtles online.

Lee’s table at the Maine Herpetological Society 2019 Reptile Expo at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston on Sunday was stocked with dozens of ball pythons. He said he has managed to turn his lifelong hobby into a business by creating “morphs,” which are reptiles specifically bred to attain unique colors and varieties.

He said demand for colorful ball pythons is booming.


“This is mainstream right now,” he said. “If you breed for color morphs and variety, it can be very lucrative. But if you’re not doing it for the right reasons, then it can become a chore.”

Lee was one of 23 vendors at the Ramada for the 19th annual Reptile Expo. Doug Kranich, treasurer of the Maine Herpetological Society, said the expo has moved around over the past few years, from Portland to Westbrook and arriving this year in Lewiston.

Kranich said this year’s turnout was overwhelming.

“What’s kind of shocking today is the rush of people,” Kranich said. “That line has been solid since we began. In fact, we had to let people in early. There were a few times I was nervous for space because everybody was coming and nobody was leaving.”

Said Garrett Beesley of Gorham, a hobbyist breeder who sold crested and leopard geckos and ball pythons at the Reptile Expo: “I find them very fascinating. I keep them as pets,  as a hobby. It’s a lucrative hobby. There’s no real emotional reward from the animal. It’s more like you produce these really awesome creatures and they might be worth value if you do the right steps.”

Jeremy Bullock, president of the Maine Herpetological Society, said expos and shows are great ways for reptile hobbyists to connect and discuss breeding strategies and the newest trends. The gatherings are great ways for those new to snakes and other reptiles to get expert guidance.


“Bigger pet stores may have employees that happen to be very knowledgeable, but other times, they do whatever the corporate printout sheet says,” Bullock said. “If you buy something from a vendor here, you can take a business card. And if you have a question in two weeks they can help you out with it.”

On Sunday, each member of the Maine Herpetological Society wore a shirt with the slogan “Keep Responsibly” printed on the back. Bullock said the mantra stems from the society’s goal of protecting pets and educating owners.

A major part of that education, he said, is stressing the importance of not releasing reptiles back into the wild.

“It gets everybody in the hobby in trouble,” Bullock said. “No one wants to stumble across a boa constrictor while they’re walking down the street.”

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