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!

2009 Wildlife Exhibitor Annual Report

This has been another great year for Reptiles Alive!  Between September 30, 2008 through September 30, 2009, we presented 735 shows for approximately 63,000 people!  That is a lot of people who have been educated about reptiles and wildlife conservation.

During that period, we also had some changes to our animal collection and our staff.

Jennifer Rafter left us this past summer to join the team at the new Delmarva Discovery Center.  She is missed – but we know she is having a great time setting up a brand new, 7,000 gallon aquarium and setting up new reptile and amphibian exhibits as well.  Last weekend, we transferred a corn snake, an America toad, and a gray tree frog to the DDC for her to display.

A few of our animals have left us as well.  We transferred a healthy carpet python to another reptile organization because the python was not “happy” doing shows with us.  He will have a great new home where he no longer has to go to work.

Two of our animals died this year.  We lost an eastern king snake and a pueblan milk snake.  Both were very old and were suffering from a gastro-intestinal disease.  We were very sad, but we had them both humanely euthanized so they would not suffer any more.

Four new animals made their way into the Reptiles Alive permanent collection this year.

This spring, Sunflower the albino boa constrictor made her way to us.  She is still less than one year old and is less than 2 feet long, so you might not see her at shows for a few more months.  But we are VERY excited about having her here – she is so beautiful.  It is rare to see albino boa constrictors exhibited in animal shows or at zoos, so you will be in for a treat when you meet her.

albino boa

Later in the year, we received another “regular” colored boa constrictor and an albino Burmese python.  The new Burmese python we named Moonlight and you can see him in shows starting this month.  The “regular” boa is named Aztec.   He is very handsome and healthy, so you will get to see him in shows starting this month as well.

Lastly, we just received another albino Burmese python.  This snake came from the Alexandria Animal Welfare League as an abandoned pet.  He/she seems healthy, but we have to quarantine all of our new animals for at least 3 months to make sure.  This new snake does not yet have a name, but we are thinking of naming him “Cloud.”  What do you think we should name him?

We are looking forward to the coming year and meeting all of you!  Be sure to fill book your show now, our calendar is filling up fast.

Snake Invaders!

Fall is the time of year for beautiful foliage,pumpkins, hot cider, and snakes.

Snakes?  What do they have to do with fall?

Throughout the year we are contacted from people who are concerned about finding snakes inside of their homes.  During the fall, however, these calls increase.  Why?  What happens in fall that makes it more likely to find a snake inside of your home?

will-with-big-pumpkin-300x200Two phenomena occur in fall to increase the low probability of finding a snake inside your house:

1.  In most of the United States, snake eggs typically hatch in September and October.  Therefore, a surge in the population of baby snakes occurs in the fall.

2.  Snakes and other creatures are searching for hibernation sites.  In the wild, these sites might include caves, crevices, and hollow cavities under rocks or fallen trees.  Human dwellings are very appealing to animals wanting to hibernate.  Animals ranging from Asian stink bugs to black rat snakes will often make use of accessible human homes to keep cozy during the winter.

So what is a homeowner who prefers not to share their home with wildlife to do?


There are many “treatments” touted online and by pest control companies that are ineffective and sometimes even dangerous that you should avoid.   Chemical products labeled  to keep snakes away are waste of your money.  Mothballs are also not going to discourage snakes and may even cause health problems in humans.

The only effective treatments for deterring snakes from your home are physical.

You need to seal your home from invading animals. Any hole or space into your house, even as small as a pencil, can allow mice, snakes and other creatures access to your home.

Start in the attic.  Check the vents and be sure they are securely covered in fine mesh hardware cloth (hardware cloth is like a really tough metal screen that comes in sheets or rolls).  Search the perimeter of the attic for any spot allowing light in – this might be an access point that needs sealing.  Remember, rat snakes can climb straight up a brick wall to gain access to your warm attic for the winter.

Walk the perimeter of your foundation, both inside and outside, checking for access.  Common access points include:  the area around wires, plumbing or cable entering the home, doors, windows, and vents.

Check the basement and/or crawlspace as well.  If animals can gain entry into either of these areas, they can probably gain access to your home.

Caulk, weather stripping, steel wool, plumber’s foam, and hardware cloth can all be used to seal up your home.

If the idea of handy-man work or the prospect of climbing into an unfinished attic does not appeal to you, there are a few pest control companies that specialize in wildlife exclusion and will remove any wildlife they find and repair your home so animals cannot get back inside.  When contacting an animal exclusion company, be sure to get references and check with at least two companies.  Remember, if they want to use a chemical snake deterrent, do not use that company.  You can find animal control companies in the yellow pages under “pest control” or by googling “animal trapping service” and your location.

While they do not belong in your home; remember, snakes are part of both the rural and urban environment.  They play a very important role and are as important to the health of the environment as the birds, butterflies, and other wildlife more commonly associated with a healthy ecosystem.

Enjoy these wild animals outside of your home, and you will have a healthy, happy habitat for you and nature.

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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

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Tianchan Niu

22:09 17 Dec 17