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Some critters are cuddly, others give you the jitters

Ten-year-old Jerry MacDonald pressed his nose against the glass aquarium and watched a Colombian boa flick its tongue.

"He's tasting the air," he said to his father behind him. "He's only 5 dollars; can you buy him for me for Father's Day?"

"I think you're supposed to buy him for me," said Tom, Jerry's dad. "Besides, he's not 5 dollars, he's 55 dollars and your mother would kill us _ you know she hates snakes."

"She'd like him if he was green," Jerry said as he reminded his dad that mom likes anything in her favorite color. Dad knew only too well that Jerry's mom still might not appreciate a snake, no matter what color. Then he carefully walked Jerry past the bright green emerald tree boa a few aquariums away and went looking for a more agreeable pet.

They were pet shopping in Crystal River on Saturday at the Florida National Guard Armory while attending the Pet and Wildlife Expo. The show continues today with the doors opening at 10:30 a.m.

Chuck Taylor, a co-producer of the expo, said about 30 exhibitors are on hand with everything from a chance to see rehabilitated wildlife to domesticated animals for sale. He said he expects about 5,000 people to attend the free two-day Expo.

Justin Larsen, 11, spotted Fancy Taylor of Fancy's Pets in Crystal River, holding a little ball of quills that turned out to be a hedgehog. "He's cute. I want one," he said. When asked if he could afford the $199 pet he said, "I will when I save my money. I have almost $50."

Fancy then reached into an aquarium and picked up a camouflage-colored flattened disk. "This is a Pac-Man frog," she said of the horizontal object with two bulging eyes. "They eat mice and they get as big as a saucer. More boys buy them than girls. The girls are the ones who buy tarantulas."

Perched nearby at the Nature World Wildlife Sanctuary exhibit, sat Crash, an Eastern screech owl. Small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, the owl was struck by a car and found by hunters in November. Sandy Kelley said the owls often fly into the headlights of oncoming cars. The owls try to catch the insects the lights attract.

Another injured bird, a 1-year-old red-tailed hawk, flapped its wings and eyed the aquariums full of snakes nearby. Judi Carter of LaGuardar Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center said snakes are a favorite food of the hawks.

Today, the Expo will host a wildlife photography seminar with Milton Flood at 11:30 a.m. Jack Damtsach will talk about how to care for iguanas in captivity at 2:30 p.m.