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

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

Reptiles Alive LLC visited our 1st grade friends and did the “Reptiles Alive!” show. They exceeded all of our expectations and were excellent at keeping the students engaged. The students have talked about it for days after, even repeating some of the facts they have heard! I would highly recommend Reptiles Alive!read more

Brittney Gjorgjievski

Brittney Gjorgjievski

16:12 14 May 18

Reptiles Alive was a MAJOR hit at the Mattie Miracle Walk & Family Festival. Rachel was incredibly professional, engaging, and clearly loves what she does. She made the show and meet & greet fun for both kids and adults. Can’t wait to have Reptiles Alive back next year to our event. We received a lot of positive feedback from our guests and we were thrilled to see how well attended the show was at our event. Thank you Reptiles Alive!!!read more

Peter Brown

Peter Brown

01:58 22 May 18

Caroline did an awesome job for our kindergarten Reptiles Alive performance. She held their attention and told fun stories. The reptiles are so cool! Every time she introduced a new reptile, the kids were amazed. I recommend the “meet and greet” time as well. My students will never forget touching a boa constrictor! Thanks Reptiles Alive!read more

Michelle Baldwin

Michelle Baldwin

03:00 09 Jun 18

Reptiles Alive! came to our elementary school for a 3rd grade assembly. Nothing ruffles this organization — they can handle kids of all ages, big groups or small, and bring a *ton* of animals. They are engaging, age-appropriate and bring their own mic system so hearing is not a problem. I highly recommend the meet and greet more

Stacey Evers

Stacey Evers

19:25 22 Jun 18

The show was a success, we had around 20 kids between 5-12. Lizzard Liz was great, she was able to keep all of them really interested. The reptiles were amazing, she even brought a small alligator and a boa more

florencia behrensen

florencia behrensen

14:39 02 Jul 18

Caroline at Reptiles Alive! always gives us the best show! It is fun and informative with a variety of reptiles each time she comes. We LOVE Reptiles Alive at Happy Faces Daycare in Centreville, VA!read more

Jessica Roberts

Jessica Roberts

13:56 12 Jul 18

Amazing 5-year old birthday party- Everyone loved the party, especially the birthday boy, who got to be the star of the show (besides the critters). Liz was on time, prepared, AMAZING at answering kids’ and adults’ questions, incredible breadth of knowledge, so good with the kids and animals, made the party fun, arrived on time, totally professional and courteous and an amazing ambassador of animals and representative of Reptiles Alive. We got to meet a few great snakes, a small alligator, a boa constrictor(!), tree frog, bearded dragon, gecko, and more

Stacey R

Stacey R

12:55 30 Jul 18

This organization is great! They have a wide varieties of different shows that appeal to all types of audiences. The educators are very gentle with the animals and engaging with the students. Our educator, Caroline, was awesome! She spoke to the children in different voices, was very interactive, creative, and fun. The kids laughed and loved it. I also really liked the additional education that they provided us, as they told us about the origin of the animals that they were showing. It was also really nice to hear that not only the animals have big, safe, appropriate homes, but also that a great deal of their animals are rescues. I would highly recommend this show and we will definitely be booking them again in the future!read more

Mandi Ellis

Mandi Ellis

13:05 08 Aug 18

Had Reptile Alive for my son’s 5th birthday in October. The party was in Maryland. Paid the travel fee and the animals were there on time. The presenter was so nice et patient to my kids and his friends. She provided a lot of information and interacted very well with the crowd. She went beyond the show time and made sure my son had a good party. He loved it!! Loved the fact that he could hold most of the animals and that she even had some tasks for him!! I was very proud and I will recommend this company!! It was an awesome show!! Thank you!read more

Linda Nana

Linda Nana

14:55 11 Oct 18

Perfect birthday party for my son who loves snakes and reptiles of all kinds. Liz was engaging, enthusiastic and made the birthday boy feel super special. All the kids had a blast!read more

Hina Ullah

Hina Ullah

22:26 22 Oct 18

We had Reptiles Alive perform at my son’s 7th birthday party. It was a great show. Tony did a fantastic job relating to the kids, maintaining the right energy level and imparting knowledge as he displayed the animals. Additionally, it was just the right length for the age group. I’d highly recommend Reptiles Alive for an more

Gage Parr

Gage Parr

15:04 03 Dec 18