Three-year-old Katharine Dean didn't flinch when her father placed a 6-inch black scorpion on her head.
She's used to arachnids. Her father Michael Dean raises them for the Exotic Kingdom in central Florida. He will be displaying and selling his animals this weekend at the Repticon Reptile & Exotic Animal Show at the Charleston Convention Center.
Dean said Friday while setting up his display that he wasn't worried the emperor scorpion would hurt his daughter. He would handle it gingerly, he said, so it was unlikely to sting. And if it did, it wouldn't hurt any worse than a bee sting.
Jason Van der Waal, promoter for Repticon, said the two-day event is a trade show for reptiles and exotic animals. More than 70 vendors will display and sell about 10,000 animals and related products, he said. The event also will include presentations on arachnids and reptiles such as bearded dragons and snakes.
One of the weekend's biggest draws will be displays of venomous snakes and other animals, he said. South Carolina is unusual in that it permits the display and sale of venomous creatures, he said.
But people with no experience handling the potentially dangerous animals can't simply come in purchase them, said Van der Waal, who raises cobras.
Vendors will talk with customers to make sure they are informed and trained to care properly for the creatures.
Repticon has escorts on hand who will walk people who purchase venomous creatures to their cars, he said. They will watch until the vehicle drives away, he said.
And the company has hired security to monitor the displays. Thieves broke into a 2004 show in Ladson and stole animals, he said.
Vendors are strongly motivated to monitor themselves in how they handle sales of venomous animals, he said. "We don't want this industry shut down."
Repticon promotes a "clean, family-oriented show that's going to be around," he said.
Not everyone comes to such shows to purchase venomous animals, said Stuart Taylor, an independent snake breeder from Asheboro, N.C. He has raised about 1,000 corn snakes this year, a non-venomous breed he said makes a great pet.
He was fascinated by but terrified of snakes when he was a child, he said.
In his early 20s, he was bitten by a friend's snake. It wasn't bad at all, he said, and it dispelled his fear. A year and a half later, he had 200 snakes, he said. "A cat scratch is 100 times worse than a snake bite."