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.

Creature Feature: Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina

Reptiles Alive Name: “Turtle Rex, aka T Rex”

Hissstory: T Rex was abandoned at the Fairfax County animal shelter and was sent to us in 1998.  He was an unwanted pet that grew too big. Even though he is a native reptile, he cannot be released into the wild because we have no information about where he came from or whether he was exposed to exotic turtles or not.

Reptiles Alive Diet: Dead mice, roaches, and crickets.

Natural Diet: Snapping turtles eat nearly anything that makes the mistake of getting close to their powerful jaws: insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, insects, and any kind of carrion.

Range: Snapping turtles have an enormous range.  They can be found from eastern Canada south through most of the central and eastern United States and down through Mexico into Central America.  They are native to the Washington DC area.

Habitat: Snapping turtles will take up residence in almost any body of freshwater including:  ponds, lakes, slow moving rivers, and will even live in artificial water features.  Some populations of snapping turtles also can be found in brackish water including salt marshes.


Size: Common snapping turtles typically grow 8-14 inches, rarely to 19 inches.  They can weigh 10 to 75 pounds.

Lifespan: Snapping turtles can live over 40 years.

Reproduction: Snapping turtles breed from April-November. They typically lay up to 80 eggs in June in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. They will venture far from the water to lay their eggs in a safe, dry place. Eggs hatch in 9-18 weeks depending on the weather. Females have the ability to retain sperm internally and fertilize eggs as needed.

 Snapping turtles and their eggs are harvested commercially in many parts of the United States as food for humans.  Scientists are currently studying the effects of this harvest on the turtle population.  Due to their high juvenile mortality rate, snapping turtles are not able to reproduce quickly enough to recover from over-harvesting.

Scientists have discovered that snapping turtles in certain areas, like many fish, have high levels of PCB chemicals in their flesh and eggs.  These stored chemicals can be hazardous to humans who eat contaminated turtles and the chemicals will eventually reduce the overall population of turtles.

Cool Facts: While submerged under the water, snapping turtles are not aggressive toward humans.  In fact, they will retreat if they sense a human nearby.  On land, however, they feel vulnerable.  Their shell does not fully protect them, so they “snap” and bite to scare away any threatening figure.  Just remember, they are “scaredy turtles” – if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.  Please don’t try to bother them – how would you feel if a turtle poked a stick at you?  They don’t like it either!

Reptiles Alive visits the National Zoo

Had a great time visiting with some old friends and colleagues at the National Zoological Park (NZP) in Washington DC.


First, we went to see the legendary Janis Gerrits, Senior Keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center (RDC).  Janis is a former Reptiles Alive keeper who left us in 2003 to join the NZP team.   The Zoo is very lucky to have Janis – she is a top notch reptile keeper.  She has an amazing ability to know an animal’s needs.

Here she is demonstrating target training with a monitor lizard.

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Why bother training a monitor lizard at a zoo?

Monitors are very intelligent animals that need something to do.  By training an animal at the zoo, it makes their life more comfortable and interesting.  The monitor in this video has become at pro at target training thanks to Janis’s expertise in training reptiles.

Speaking of monitor lizards, we couldn’t visit the zoo without saying hello to Murphy the Komodo Dragon! What a handsome lizard he is, and big!  I was amazed as how calm he was around Janis.  (You can see Murphy’s head behind the glass of this picture of  Janis.)


We were very impressed with what Janis has accomplished at the National Zoo.  The animals were all healthy and their enclosures were super clean and well designed.  The enclosures had real live plants in them and very cool rock work.  The animals all had nice comfy places to hide while allowing the public to still see them.


After spending the morning hanging out with Janis and all the awesome animals at the RDC, we headed down to the Bird House to meet up with the renowned former Reptiles Alive Wildlife Educator and Keeper – Reade Harbitter.


Reade left Reptiles Alive to become a full time Bird Keeper at NZP about 2 years ago.  Although we specialize in reptiles, both me and Jen love birds too.  She introduced us to some of her favorite feathered friends, including a toucan, some rheas, and lots of other exotic and strange birds.

As we were leaving the zoo, a car pulling out of the parking lot started honking.  I looked over and saw my friend and colleague Debbie Grupenhoff!  Debbie and I used to work together at the Reston Animal Park way, way back.  I had not seen her in years and I was so surprised!  Debbie said she is now working at the zoo’s commissary.  That is so cool – a professional chef for the animals!

What a fantastic day we had.  Thank you Janis and Reade for the tours.

The zoo is a great way to get close to nature in the big city.  Tell us about your trip to the zoo!

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We had a great experience with Reptiles Alive for my daughter’s 6th birthday party. Rachel arrived exactly on time, set up quickly, and immediately engaged the group of curious children. We had an impromptu dance party while waiting for last minute guests and Rachel was very accommodating. The children LOVED the show!! And my soon-to-be 11 year old wants them to come for his birthday! I highly recommend Reptiles Alive for your next event!read more

Kelly Maguire

Kelly Maguire

22:57 12 Mar 18

We just had Reptiles Alive come to our preschool and the kids loved it!! We had 4 shows over 2 days to accommodate all our children and everything went great! Caroline was very easy to work with and quick to respond to all my emails. She was our presenter too and was early each day and ready to go when the kids arrived. She really geared her show towards our audience (2-5yr olds) and had them laughing and answering her questions and touching the animals. It was perfect… we would definitely book them again!!read more

Lauren Dolinski

Lauren Dolinski

20:47 01 Mar 18

We booked Reptiles Alive for our son’s 7th birthday party. Miss Rachel put on an amazing show for the 20 kids we had over. The highlight was when my son and I had the chance to hold a long and surprisingly heavy boa constrictor named Sunflower. The show was both educational and fun for the kids, and it kept them captivated for a full hour – priceless!!read more

Rick Jandrain

Rick Jandrain

01:53 06 Feb 18

Rachel is an awesome instructor and very good with many kids. The reptiles were fascinating. This was a great birthday party for my daughter and her second grade more

Robert McKeon

Robert McKeon

23:26 26 Feb 18

We invited Reptiles Alive for our birthday party. Ms. Rachel did a wonderful job to educate the kids about the fun facts of Reptiles and also kept them entertained and focused. It’s not a easy job facing a bunch of 7-year-old boys and 3-year-old preschoolers. We highly recommend Reptiles Alive show. It’s fun and full of knowledge!read more

Tianchan Niu

Tianchan Niu

22:09 17 Dec 17

We had Reptiles Alive join us for a country club event and they did an outstanding job! Ashley was amazing and so professional. She was very interactive with the children and played the role perfectly. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience!read more

Chelsea Barb

Chelsea Barb

20:20 28 Mar 18

We’ve been working with Reptiles Alive for the past 4 years now and they show up and show out every time. Everything from booking to the day of is efficient and friendly. At our past event, presenter Liz did 6 shows back to back for our campers, which is truly impressive and phenomenal. We will continue to work with Reptiles Alive for years to come and really appreciate the work and educating that they do!read more

Lydia Vanderbilt

Lydia Vanderbilt

21:09 05 Apr 18

Reptiles Alive gave an awesome show at our elementary school! The presenter was so much fun and really engaged the children. Very cool reptiles and a great interactive meet and greet at the end. The kids loved it!read more

Jonathan Grau

Jonathan Grau

14:52 07 Apr 18

I am in charge of grade level assemblies at our school and our 3rd grade has RA in for their Rain Forest show every year to reinforce the things they have learned about in class. This is my second year working with them and I have been absolutely thrilled with the interaction to book the event and with the presenters. They engage the kids and help make them a part of the show. I can’t say enough about this wonderful program and the amazing people that work more

Kim Painter

Kim Painter

23:32 07 Apr 18

We love this show at our preschool!! The kids have so much fun and learn a lot! They are very organized and always start on time. We have always had a wonderful experience with Reptiles Alive and can’t wait to have them back again!read more

Melissa Jones

Melissa Jones

15:06 20 Apr 18