Reptiles Rock at Warrenton’s First Night Celebration

The animals and I had a fantastic time at the New Year’s Celebration in Warrenton Virginia this year.  Hosted by Bluemont Concert Series:

First Night is a Celebration of the coming new year geared for families with dozens of top-rate performers.

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Reptiles Alive was a featured performer this year in a lovely new building in Historic Old Town Warrenton.  We introduced hundreds of people to our gorgeous animals in three full-house performances.

We look forward to returning next year!

Pet Reptiles for Christmas

Are reptile pets for Christmas a good or bad idea?  For most people, a pet reptile is probably not the greatest idea for a variety of reasons.

Two reasons not to get a pet reptile are:

1.  Reptiles require specialized care that changes with the species being kept.  For instance, green iguanas require huge (4′X4′X6′) enclosures that can be heated to 80-100 degrees F with high humidity, good ventilation, and full spectrum lighting.  Iguanas also need a specialized diet of calcium rich leafy greens and other vegetables fed to them every day.  A red-eared slider turtle will need a 75-150 gallon aquarium with clean water, a dry basking area, and full spectrum lighting.  Many people don’t think of the space and cost of housing a pet reptile until it is too late.

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2.  Reptiles will never become a companion like a dog or cat will.  Dogs and cats are part of the family.  They liked to be petted, played  with, and cuddled.  Even the friendliest reptile pet will not ever play with you, go for a walk with you, or want to cuddle with you.  Some reptiles will even become ill with stress if they are interacted with too frequently.  So many reptiles become unwanted simply because they are seen as objects that require time and money as opposed to loved members of the family.

More great information to consider before getting ANY pet at Christmas, or any other time, can be found atOrlando Sentinel – Pets as presents: Think long-term

So what to do if your child loves reptiles?

You have many options for budding herpetologists on your Christmas list.  There are some very cool reptile toys out there that I would have LOVED to get at Christmas.  Remote control cobras, anatomically correct rubber reptiles, plush and wooden reptiles and more can be found at many zoo gift stores, nature specialty stores, and science related stores.   Books featuring cold blooded critters are also a huge hit with reptile loving children.

Other exciting gift ideas include:

  • Zoo “adopt and animal” programs.  These programs offer people the chance to sponsor a zoo animal.  Most programs will send you pictures, updates, and natural history information about the animal you “adopted.”  You can also take your child to the zoo (always fun!) to visit his or her animal.
  • Give you child “coupons” for reptile-related family field trips.   Trips to the zoo, nature center, museum, aquarium or park where you can search for reptiles and amphibians in the wild can all be part of the coupon book.  Remember to take pictures of animals you see, but not to touch or bother wild animals. You can then add these experiences and pictures into your nature journal.
  • Subscriptions to reptile magazines and journals or a membership in a nature or reptile related club or society is a great gift for young herpetologists.  Most states and some local jurisdictions have herpetological societies that anyone can join.
  • A gift of a live reptile show performed for your child at a holiday party is a great way to give your child the opportunity to safely interact with live reptiles.  Most areas have at least one professional traveling animal show company, and if you are in the DC area, you should, of course, hire Reptiles Alive!

Merry Christmasssssssss and have a sssssssuper New Year!

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Introduction to Reptiles: a Beginner’s Guide

What is a reptile?

A reptile is a vertebrate animal, they have a bony skeleton just like you and me, breathe through lungs, are covered in scales, are ectothermic, and typically lay eggs.

Cold-blooded

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Reptiles are ectothermic (exothermic) meaning, “outside temperature.” This means the animal’s internal temperature changes with that of the environment. If it is 73 degrees outside, the inside of the snake is 73 degrees. Mammals are homothermic, meaning same temperature all the time. Humans are typically 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit all of the time.

Reptile bodies cannot function when it is too cold or too hot. They rely on their surroundings to maintain their body’s preferred temperature. A cold lizard will bask on a rock in the sun, then move to the shade after he becomes too hot.

Types of reptiles

There are over 8,000 kinds of reptiles split into four groups.

1. Chelonia – turtles, tortoisesrussian_tortoise

2. Crocodilia – alligators, caimans, crocodiles, gavialsgatorsmilecutouthead

3. Rhynchocephalia – tuatara

Tuatara
4. Squamata – amphisbaenians, lizards, snakessunshine_profile-300x200

Scientists do not separate lizards and snakes into two groups, but list them under the group “squamata.” Snakes are considered specialized versions of lizards. Why must the scientists be confusing?

Compare and Contrast: Snakes Vs Lizards

All snakes are legless, but some lizards are legless too!

All snakes have no ears, but some lizards lack ears as well.

All snakes have no eyelids, but some lizards also have no eyelids.

Snakes have forked tongues, but so do many lizards.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, from now on we will discuss snakes and lizards as separate groups. Whew! (and you were worried)

Chelonians – Turtles

shellinsideThere are over 300 different kinds of turtles. Sea turtles fly gracefully through the warm oceans of the world with giant flippers, tortoises lumber across the land with strong elephant like legs, and terrapins paddle with webbed feet in freshwater habitats.

A turtle’s ribs and backbone together form the turtle’s hard shell. It is covered in skin just like your bones are, a turtle’s shell is inside its body.

Sea turtles can hold their breath for over an hour by using the powers of their amazing heart. The heart blocks off blood to the lungs and allows the blood to travel to only parts of the body needing oxygen while under water!

The giant galapagos tortoise, aldabra tortoise, and african spurred tortoise can live to be over 170 years old!

Crocodilia – Crocodiles and family

With beautiful smiles and big strong tails, crocodilians number over 20 different species including crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials. Gharials have very long, narrow snouts studded with sharp teeth.

crocCrocodiles and alligators are a bit more difficult to tell apart. Alligators typically have broader snouts and straight rows of ridges down their backs. Crocodiles have narrower snouts and irregular rows of ridges on their back. When a crocodile’s mouth is closed, its fourth tooth on the lower jaw fits into a notch on the outside of the upper jaw.

There are only two different kinds of alligators; the american alligator and the very endangered chinese alligator.

Crocodilians are very shy creatures feeding on insects, snails, shellfish, frogs, turtles, fish, mammals, and birds. They rarely want to be near any human. We taste terrible!

gatorbackThe eyes and nostrils are located on top of their head to allow the animal to see and breathe above the water’s surface. They are covered in bony armor to protect them from both their prey and predators. It’s almost like having two skeletons!

We still have much to learn from crocodiles. We have found they are immune to some diseases, heal quickly, are intelligent, and are wonderful parents. Alligators even help other animals survive during droughts by digging water holes with their huge body. Sadly, most crocodilian species are in danger of becoming extinct!

Squamates – Lizards

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Lizards are the most diverse group of reptiles. They come in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Lizards are split into two clades or groups, the Iguania and Scleroglossa (meaning hard tongue.) Some lizards can grow over 10 feet long like the komodo dragon and Salvadores monitor lizard. Others, like the Jaragua lizard are able to curl up on a dime.

A typical lizard has external ears, four legs, claws, eyes with eyelids, and tails. Scientists have found that lizards can see color, and some can even see in the ultraviolet wavelengths. Excellent eyesight allows the creatures to snatch bugs out of the air and to see spectacular mating displays.

frilleddragon08 A lizards sense of smell and taste is very acute. Monitor lizards even have a forked tongue like a snake to enhance smelling ability.

Lizards have found remarkable ways to survive. Many are covered in spines, some can stick to trees, most are able to lose their tails, others change colors, a few glide out of trees, and one species can even run across water!

What scientists have learned from lizards has been astounding. They are an amazing group of animals.

Squamates – Snakes

No other animal has been both revered and reviled more than the snake. They are the most widely feared and misunderstood animal on the planet. Very few kinds of snakes are able to harm people.

These slender reptiles have no legs, ears, or eyelids. Snakes are dry, not slimy as scales are made of keratin, the same thing your hair and fingernails are made of.

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A snake’s forked tongue cannot sting or hurt you. A snake that is constantly flicking out it’s tongue is simply interested in its surroundings “sniffing’ like a dog. Chemicals or “scents” stick to the tongue as it waves it around. Then the scent laden tongue is stuck into the neuron studded Jacobson’s organ, a small hole in the roof of the mouth, sending instant messages about what it smells to its brain.

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Remarkable organs known as heat sensing pits light up the night for some lucky snakes. Rattlesnakes, vipers, copperheads, boas, and pythons are able to distinguish in vivid detail differences in temperature allowing them to navigate and catch prey in complete darkness.

All snakes are carnivores. To catch prey, a snake must either bite it with fangs and inject venom, or use its body to subdue the animal using strong muscles. Swallowing the food is a challenge for an animal with no arms or legs! Their jaws are not strong enough to chew their food. Tiny curved teeth hook on to the food item, and allow it to only go in one direction, down the throat!

A snake’s head may appear too small to swallow many food items. Jaws of these animals have a hinge allowing them to open wide. The lower jaw includes two jaw bones connected in the middle with a streatchy ligament, so the mouth can open wide sideways as well. One side of the jaw holds the prey while the other side of the jaw slides forward, walking the food further into their mouth.

The largest snakes in the world are the anaconda and reticulated python, both able to grow over 30 feet long and weighing several hundred pounds. Jewels of this blue planet, snakes come in every color of the rainbow rivaling tropical fish and birds in their beauty.

Rhynchocephalia – Tuatara

Tuatara

A living fossil, the tuatara is an unusual reptile unchanged since the days of the dinosaurs. Although they look much like lizards, tuatara have different skulls, teeth, and pelvic bones. Living only in New Zealand in protected islands, these reptiles prefer lower temperatures than other reptiles. Tuataras live for a long time, probably over 100 years!

Unfortunately, they are highly endangered due to humans, habitat destruction, and introduced predators.

The Unheralded Hissers

“AHHHHHHHHH!  Gross, or EEEEEEK,” are probably the most common responses to our guest today.  Meet the roach.  Labeled as one of the most undesirable animals to be found in the kitchen, this insect sure has one bad rap.  Pest control companies have convinced everyone that roaches can make you sick.  While, I would not be thrilled to have an infestation in my kitchen, this is simply not true. “Although cockroaches carry disease organisms, they are not known to transmit it to humans.” Clay Kirby of the University of Maine.

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I have even had a few keepers refuse to even touch the creepy crawlies.  Of course, the little guys with their cute little antennas eventually would wriggle into their hearts.  (Figuratively! Sheesh, you people are gross.)

There are over 4,000 species of roaches scientifically discovered.  There are probably just as many left undiscovered on the planet.  Less than one percent of all these species are known to dwell in human domiciles, the rest want nothing to do with us. http://blattodea-culture-group.org/content/cockroaches-amazing-diversity

Roaches are important decomposers in the ecosystem.  They are able to eat tougher things than worms and many other decomposers, turning dead plants into rich, dark soil.  Without the roaches, plants would have a tough time getting the nutrients they need from the soil.

Our own Malagasy Hissing Roaches are one of the most fun group of animals to watch.  They are more like little goats than bugs.  The males would constantly play king of the cardboard mountain, pushing rivals back with the shiny black “horns” on their exoskeleton.  Each night, a new battle would begin.  Hordes of roaches would crawl out from their hiding places in a fury of hissing and head-butting in attempt to dethrone the king. One tenacious little bugger would perpetually guard the food dish.  Only the tiny fingernail sized nymph could sneak under his radar unnoticed for a bite to eat. We ended up scattering their veggies all over the cage after that.hissingcockroach

One night working late I heard a strange scuffling noise coming from the roach enclosure.  Looking in I noticed a large male wriggle his body around in a sort of dance.  For a minute I thought he had watched too many episodes of Seinfeld with Elaine dancing at a party.  Then I noticed a few females watching him with interest a few inches away.  Either he was making a huge fool of himself, or these guys get on the dance floor to woo a cute girl.

After the wooing, these roaches make wonderful mothers.  Hissing roaches lay a perfect stack of long oval, bright yellow eggs like a line of jewel cases for cds sitting all in a row.  She then sucks the eggs back into her abdomen for safe keeping.  Some roaches even care for their soft little nymphs until they molt a few times and their shells harden.  Good girl!

Find out more about the shy bug that cannot bite, hisses like a snake for defense, and tastes delicious!  (Don’t take my word for it, ask the lemurs.)

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UPCOMING EVENTS

  1. Dulles Town Center Reptiles Alive Show

    February 22 @ 10:00 am - 10:45 am
  2. Reptiles Alive Show at Doodlehopper 4 Kids

    February 25 @ 1:00 pm - 1:30 pm

TESTIMONIALS

"It was fantastic and the whole party was into it. Tony was truly a wonderful educational presenter."

Rachel Karnes, Mom, Potomac Falls VA

5.0
2016-11-16T17:25:35+00:00

Rachel Karnes, Mom, Potomac Falls VA

"It was fantastic and the whole party was into it. Tony was truly a wonderful educational presenter."

"Thank you! The information provided to the kids was so educational and fun. I am a homeschool mom and the way the material was presented...

Patty Coote, Mom, Herndon VA

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2016-11-16T17:28:52+00:00

Patty Coote, Mom, Herndon VA

"Thank you! The information provided to the kids was so educational and fun. I am a homeschool mom and the way the material was presented felt like we were at a fun event! The parents even remarked that they learned something. My son has a lifetime memory because of your program."

"Thank you for an incredible birthday party! All of the children had a wonderful experience. Caroline was so easy to work with and Tony did...

Marcie Blackstone, Mom, Clarksburg MD

5.0
2017-01-02T09:08:56+00:00

Marcie Blackstone, Mom, Clarksburg MD

"Thank you for an incredible birthday party! All of the children had a wonderful experience. Caroline was so easy to work with and Tony did a great job presenting to the kids!"

"Liz was great. She was prompt, organized, knowledgeable, friendly and fun. Having her do the show in our home was effortless, entertaining, and overall a...

Tammy Berkon, Mom, Alexandria VA

5.0
2017-01-02T09:11:36+00:00

Tammy Berkon, Mom, Alexandria VA

"Liz was great. She was prompt, organized, knowledgeable, friendly and fun. Having her do the show in our home was effortless, entertaining, and overall a wonderful experience for everyone!"

"I loved it so much. They teach you about the animals and you get to touch them! Rachel did a really wonderful job" 

Birthday girl and Mom, Chantilly VA

5.0
2017-01-02T09:12:19+00:00

Birthday girl and Mom, Chantilly VA

"I loved it so much. They teach you about the animals and you get to touch them! Rachel did a really wonderful job" 

"I am so glad we hired Reptiles Alive for my son's birthday. CobraCaroline and all her reptiles were a huge hit! All the kids loved...

Elizabeth Poppi, Mom, Reston VA

5.0
2017-01-02T09:12:52+00:00

Elizabeth Poppi, Mom, Reston VA

"I am so glad we hired Reptiles Alive for my son's birthday. CobraCaroline and all her reptiles were a huge hit! All the kids loved it! Even those who seemed a little reluctant were reaching out to pe the animals at the end. Caroline's energy and enthusiasm was contagious and we couldn't have asked for more!"

"The program was outstanding. Caroline was so knowledgeable and was able to teach the children at their level. She handled the animals very professionally and...

Joan L. Mancuso, Director Potomac Nursery School

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2017-01-02T09:13:30+00:00

Joan L. Mancuso, Director Potomac Nursery School

"The program was outstanding. Caroline was so knowledgeable and was able to teach the children at their level. She handled the animals very professionally and the hands on experience for the children was well received. I would highly recommend this program--both for our age group (3-4 yr olds) and for elementary school children."
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