This month, Florida made it illegal to own Burmese pythons, anacondas and a bunch of other big snakes not native to this area.
The slithery creatures had become an environmental nightmare after too many of them escaped or were released in the wild. Then, after one killed a child last year, lawmakers said they had to go.
But reptile fans still have plenty of options. Bearded dragons, leopard geckos and even smaller snakes make great pets for the right person, especially if you don't mind feeding them food that moves or used to move. Reptiles are cheap and less work than a dog or a cat but still make good companions — and can live up to 50 years.
To raise awareness of these "forgotten pets,'' Petco is hosting a Reptile Rally on Saturday at its stores nationwide. Area stores will have meet and greets with different reptiles, feeding demonstrations and talks by experts. Reptile owners are invited to come and show off their cold-blooded critters.
"Most people have this bad perception that they are slimy and carry disease,'' said Jen Boyce, general manager of the Petco store in Odessa. "We want to get rid of that reputation.''
An estimated 4.7 million households in the United States have a reptile. Sales of reptiles and their supplies make up a small percentage of Petco's sales but are on the rise.
"People are starting to realize that they are a good pet,'' said Jonathan Williamson, Petco's merchandising director for reptiles, who organized the nationwide rally. "They are quiet, but they have their individual personalities.''
The best candidates for owning reptiles are apartment dwellers, people who travel frequently and families with teenagers looking for a starter pet or one that's non- allergenic. Here are a few things to consider with the more popular kinds.
Bearded dragons: The most outgoing of the bunch, these are a hit among people who like to take their reptiles out in public. They love social interaction and need the sun's Vitamin D. About a foot long as adults, they eat greens, freeze-dried or live crickets and meal worms.
Leopard geckos: These colorful critters make great classroom pets or pets for teenagers. They do well in pairs and could be left alone for a weekend without food. They don't mind being picked up but shouldn't go out in public.
Russian tortoises: Unlike a lot of reptiles, they need to be fed daily. Vegetarians who eat collard greens and romaine lettuce, they live on land and get most of their water through their food. They like social interaction and can learn to come to their names. Their shell circumference reaches about 12 inches.
Aquatic turtles: More work than tortoises, turtles are messy and require a habitat that's 50 percent water. They eat almost anything and don't like to be held.
Ball python snakes: A good starter snake, it sits in a ball all day and grows to up to 3 feet. Ball pythons enjoy hanging out with people but should be watched around children. They eat mice — alive or frozen, then thawed. Petco recommends the frozen ones.