Creature Feature: Superworms

Superworms (aka Darkling Beetles)

Zophobas morio



Reptiles Alive Name: Too many to name!

Hissstory: We purchase our superworms from an insect “farm” that caters to zoos and other animal related organizations.

RA Diet: Our superworms dine on oatmeal, whole wheat bread, greens and other veggies.

Natural Diet: Superworms will eat just about anything.

Range: Zophobas beetles are found in Tropical Central & South America.  (Beetles are found in every continent except Antarctica)

Habitat: They love to hide in rotting logs and leaves.

Size: Superworms can grow to 2 inches long and can be as thick as a pencil.

Lifespan: From egg to beetle, superworms have a total lifespan of about 1 year.

Reproduction: Female darkling beetles lay eggs, which hatch out into tiny, baby superworms. The superworms will molt many times as they grow.  After a few months of growing, they morph into a pupae form, (what I like to call the “alien stage”) and emerge as a black beetle called the darkling beetle.  Superworms will only morph into a pupae form if they are “stressed” such as lacking food and water. The larvae will turn into a pupae when food and water are scarce; a perfect time because pupae do not need to eat or drink. Then, the superworms emerge as beetles at a time when food and water are plentiful.

Conservation: As decomposers, superworms are extremely beneficial recyclers of organic material.   They are also a tasty treat for many animals and, even some humans!

Cool Facts: In many countries, superworms and mealworms are cooked and eaten by humans. They are healthy and a valuable source of protein. Taste a little like almonds. (No really, they are delicious.)

Creature Feature: Boa Constrictor

Boa Constrictor

Boa constrictor

Reptiles Alive Name: “Dennis & Sunflower (the albino)”

Hisssstory: Dennis was an unwanted pet left with reptile rescue organization that adopted him to us in October of 2003.   Sunflower came from a special boa constrictor breeding facility in April of 2009.

RA Diet: Frozen, defrosted and then warmed up jumbo sized dead rats.  Yummmmmmmmmmm.boa_constrictor

Range: Boa constrictors have an enormous range from Mexico to Argentina.

 Boa constrictors  live in many habitats:  rain forests, dry tropical woodlands, grasslands, farms, and even urban regions.

Natural Diet: Boa constrictors will consume birds,  small mammals, and occasionally reptiles.

Size: The boa constrictor grows to an average length of 9 feet. Record length was 13 feet 1 inch. (The biggest snake, the anaconda, is a type of boa.)

Reproduction: Females give live birth of up to 50 babies at a time.

 Boa constrictors are  long living snakes and can live for 40 years.

 Threats include:  human predation, roads, habitat loss and the pet trade. This is one of  the most commonly abandoned pet snakes.   Boa constrictors  get large, requiring custom built reptile enclosures, high heat and humidity, and food is not often found at the local grocery store!  Not a good pet choice for most people.

Cool Facts: 
Boa constrictors are the kings and queens of the jungle.  Most rain forest animals are adapted to live in a specific layer of the forest.  For example:  Amazon river turtles live in the river, giant toads live on the forest floor,  and iguanas live in the canopy.  Boa constrictors, however, are adapted for living in all the layers of the jungle.  Like all snakes, they swim, so you can find them in the river.  Their beautiful colors give them camouflage that makes them almost invisible while resting quietly on the forest floor.  And, boa constrictors love to hang out in the canopy!  The boa constrictor is the master of the rain forest.

New Snake Apartments at RA HQ

Its hard to believe, but Reptiles Alive has been around for over 15 years.  Even before then, Caroline Seitz was presenting shows as “The Reptile Lady.”  That was well before there was an “Animal Planet” and before there was a huge industry selling reptile products.

In the  early 90′s, Caroline was on the cutting edge of reptile husbandry (the care of captive reptiles) when she hired a cabinet maker to build her some “snake racks.”  Before then, most people kept small or medium size snakes in glass fish aquariums.  Fish aquariums are perfect for fish, but not so good for snakes.  Snakes can easily escape by popping of the top, snakes can injure themselves rubbing on the screen lid, and the aquariums are very heavy and hard to keep clean.

Snake racks, on the other hand, are designed with snakes in mind.  Plastic tubs with holes drilled into the side slide in and out of slots in the rack.  The plastic “drawers” fit perfectly into the slot so there is no way the snake can escape.  The racks are super easy to clean and heat and most snakes and snake keepers love them. (Snakes spend most of their time curled up under a log or down in a nice dark burrow where predators cannot get to them.)  Snake racks provide a perfect hideout for our small ground dwelling serpents, where they snooze or take a  dip in their big water bowls after working a long day of shows.  AHHHH.

The snake rack at Reptiles Alive, however, was now almost 20 years old – and it was driving the RA team crazy!  Back in the 90′s, there were no companies building snake racks – most people had never heard of such a thing.  So the cabinet maker Caroline hired used melamine (particle board sandwiched between sheets of plastic.)  It was a great idea – and really the only material available at the time.  But after 20 years of hard use, the melamine started cracking and the particle board inside swelled.  This caused A LOT of frustration when opening and closing the drawers.


Arrrgh! These drawers are driving me nuts!

We decided it was about time for a brand new snake rack.  So it was OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW!  We ordered a new rack from Animal Plastics and eagerly awaited its arrival.


Ooooh – we were so excited to open these boxes.  Jen started putting the rack together, while Caroline continued to clean and feed all the RA animals.


Jennifer – putting it all together

Later that same day Jen had to present two Ecosystems Alive assembly shows at an elementary school.  She packed up the animals and left.  Luckily, the rack was pretty easy to put together and Rachel came in that afternoon to help out.

Between Caroline, Jennifer and Rachel, all the animals were taken care of, phone calls and emails were answered, school assemblies were performed, an old snake rack was destroyed, and a new snake rack was put together.  WHEW!  What a day!!  It was TOTALLY worth it.

To see a video of our new snake rack, visit the Reptiles Alive Facebook Page.

Creature Feature: Russian Tortoise

Russian Tortoise

Testudo horsfieldii

Reptiles Alive Name: “Russiano”

Hissstory: Russiano came to Reptiles Alive in May 2001 when his owner decided tortoises do not make good pets.

RA Diet: Grasses, leafy greens, veggies, and commercial zoo tortoise food pellets.

Natural Diet: Grasses, plants, and flowers.

Range: Central Asia:  Russian Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Western China, and Iran.

 These hardy tortoises dwell in deserts and dry grasslands with sparse vegetation.

Size: Russian tortoises are relatively small tortoises.  They can grow up to about 8  inches long.

 As with many tortoises these can live over 50 years.


Russian tortoises breed soon after they emerge from hibernation. They lay 1-5 large eggs which hatch in 8-12 weeks.

 Most Russian tortoises sold as pets in the United States have been captured in the wild by commercial animal collectors and then sold into the pet trade.  Due to improper care, most pet tortoises suffer from a variety of diseases, bone deformities,  and many die from lack of care.

Cool Facts: Russian tortoises are great at tunneling and digging.  With their powerful arms and long, tough claws, they are able to dig burrows long enough and deep enough to survive the extreme heat and cold of the dry grasslands and deserts where they live.