My Interview with Reptiles Alive Director

 This posting is from a recent email we received:

“One of my students has seen you at our school for an assembly and wanted to include info about you and your reptiles in the magazine he is creating as a classroom project –  He would be thrilled to hear from you.”

My Interview with Reptiles Alive Director Caroline Seitz

Q: What is the most common reptile in Virginia ?

A:Hmmm, that is a tough question.  Black racer snakes, black rat snakes, garter snakes, ringneck snakes, brown snakes, worm snakes, and northern water snakes are all very common.  Also, snapping turtles, painted turtles, and five lined skink lizards too.

Q: What do you like more, lizards or snakes?

A:  I love them both!

Q: What habitat do most reptiles live in?

A:  You can find reptiles every where on Earth except Antarctica and Ireland.  They live in forests, deserts, gasslands, and wetlands.  Even in the ocean.  It is hard to say where “most” reptiles live.

Q: What is the most deadliest lizard?

A:  There are reports of Komodo monitor lizards, Gila monster and beaded lizards killing people after they were bitten.  However, the reports are very few and very hard to verify – so in general, I think that lizards are not very deadly.

Q: What is the most deadliest snake?

A:  Many Australian snakes, like the taipan and brown snake, are highly venomous.  The African puff adder and Indian Russell’s viper probably kill the most people, however, because they live in areas where there are lots of people who walk in bare feet and there is not very good medical care.

Q: What is your favorite reptile?

A:  I love them all!

Q: What do you feed most of your reptiles?

A:  Our insectivores eat live crickets, giant mealworms, giant cockroaches and earth worms.  Our herbivores mostly eat home grown veggies like dandelions, collard greens, kale, bok choy, and more.  Our carnivores eat mostly frozen and then defrosted mice and rats.

Q: How many reptiles can you think of?

A:There are about:  27 kinds of crocodilians, 900 kinds of turtles, 6000 lizards, 3000 snakes, 2 tuataras, and maybe 10 amphisbeanians.

Q: How many reptiles do you personally own?

A: I personally own one cat named Mr. Shadow Kitty Berrow.

Q: What is the most rarest reptile in Virginia?

A: Maybe the Northern Pine Snake.

Sunshine Status

Some of you may know that Sunshine, our albino Burmese python, was diagnosed with a bacterial lung infection a few months ago and was on sick leave for about 3 months.  She has made a full recovery and is back at work right now at the Celebrate Fairfax festival.

Back in early March, we noticed Sunshine seemed a bit congested, so we took her to see Dr. Emily Hoppmann, a DVM who specializes in exotic animals, including snakes.  So, you could actually call her a “snake doctor.”  She works at SEAVS (Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services) which is nationally renowned exotic animal clinic located in Vienna, VA.

Dr. Hoppmann examined Sunshine and took a nasal culture to be sent for testing.  Sunshine tested positive for two types of bacteria that can cause respiratory disease in snakes.  Two antibiotics were prescribed and every day for about 30 days, we had to give Sunshine a shot.  She didn’t get a lollipop after her shots, but she did get better.

After Sunshine was finsished with her medicine, we wanted to wait until she had rested for awhile before taking her to work.  Sunshine is now doing great – she is eating lots of defrosted frozen rats and is very active.

We also learned two things about her from Dr. Hoppmann.  One, Sunshine IS a GIRL!  We actually didn’t know for sure until now.  Two,  Sunshine is getting to be a senior citizen.  Dr. Hoppmann explained that most albino Burmese pythons live around 20 years or so, and Sunshine is around 16.

We are so grateful to Dr. Hoppmann and all of the great reptile vets at SEAVS.  Thank you all for helping Reptiles Alive keep our reptiles alive!


Snapping Turtle Invasion!


Eastern Snapping Turtle

Posting by Caroline Seitz

This past weekend was invasion of the snapping turtle time. Mama snappers left the comfort of their wet homes to invade suburban yards to lay their eggs.  So, here at Reptiles Alive, we got a ton of calls from people concerned about the turtles and wanting to know what to do.

“There is a snapping turtle laying eggs in my yard – what should I do?”

Well, the short answer is, nothing.  If you leave the mama snapper alone, she will simply lay her eggs and leave.  The mama turtle will not guard her nest or take care of the babies.  If and when the eggs hatch, the babies will go on their way.

The long answer:

Snapping turtles spend most of their lives at the bottom of ponds, lakes, and rivers.  They eat carrion, fish, and other creatures that get too close to their powerful jaws.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, female snapping turtles will leave the water to lay their eggs in late May and early June.  The female turtles may walk a mile or more away from the water to find a suitable nesting site.  Once she finds a good spot, she will dig a hole with her back legs.  She might dig multiple holes before laying and she might lay eggs in multiple nests – so just because you see a turtle digging a hole in your yard does not neccessarily mean there will be eggs buried there.

After laying the eggs, the turtle may hang around for a day or so because she is tired, but she will soon leave.  Like most reptiles, turtles do not care for their young or protect their eggs.  The female will simply abandon the nest and head back to her watery home.

Most of the eggs laid by turtles will  never hatch.  Many of the eggs are predated upon by raccoons, foxes, and insects.  Some of the eggs may be infertile.  So, if a turtle has laid eggs in your yard, the eggs may never hatch at all.

Some people ask if they can dig up the eggs and re-bury them in a “better” spot.  This is NOT a good idea.  If reptile eggs are moved or rolled, the embryos inside the egg can die.  Also, the female turtle instinctively knows the right depth, temperature, moisture level, etc… that the eggs need for proper development.  If you dig a hole and “plant” the eggs, they will almost certainly die.  If you feel you must re-locate the eggs, the best chance the eggs will have is for you to artificially incubate them.  There is a good article about turtle egg incubation at

If the eggs do hatch, the quarter size babies will usually scatter away from the nest and head for the nearest body of water.  If you have artificially incubated the eggs, you need to release the babies in a pond or other slow moving body of water as close the original nesting site as possible.  Do not attempt to feed the babies or keep the babies for any length of time.  Release them immediately.

If the babies are very lucky, they can live up to around 30 years or more and grow from a tiny quarter size to giant 20 pound turtle.

Memorial Day or Reptile Day?

Memorial Day was a particularly busy day, herpetologically speaking.  I started the day in my garden with a cup of coffee and a Northern Brown Snake basking on top of some thyme.  I was careful not to disturb the little foot long snake, and he seemed happy to hang out.  I love having brown snakes in the garden since they love to eat slugs and snails.  I also just happen to like snakes in general.

As Rachel was getting ready to drive in to work, she spotted her neighbor about to hurt a Black Rat snake that was in his front yard. Luckily, she was able to save the snake and move it to the woods in the back of his property.  Black Rat snakes help control rodent populations and are not dangerous to humans in any way.

Later, while Rachel was loading animals to go to her show, she heard our next-door neighbor scream!  She asked if he was ok and he said he just saw a snake in his golf bag in the garage and would she please come and get it.  Rachel had to leave so she would be on time for her reptile birthday show, so she came and got me.  I went over to my neighbor’s and found the 4 feet long Black Rat snake hiding behind a shelf in the back of his garage.  I gently picked it up, carried it to the bushes in my front yard and released it.

Whew – but that was not all!

As usual, I saw the Five-lined Skink lizards that live in the my compost area.  These beautful blue, yellow, and brown striped lizards are fantastic insect hunters and are a fabulous addition to any garden.  They are also fun to watch.

The grand finale of the reptile day was in the evening.  We had a Reptiles Alive Memorial Day barbecue with Jen Pennington, Jen Rafter, Rachel and a few other friends and family members.  As Rachel was walking in the garden, she found a young Eastern Box turtle!  We all looked at the turtle and noted how young and healthy it looked before returning it to the garden.

So, to review, in one day in one neighborhood we saw:   One Northern Brown snake, one Black Rat Snake, two Five-lined Skinks, one Eastern Box turtle and Rachel saw one more Black Rat snake in her neighborhood before she came to work.