Creature Feature: Black Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake (aka Black Rat Snake)

Pantherophis alleghaniensis (formerlyElaphe obsoleta obsoleta)

Reptiles Alive Name: “Rachel”

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Adult Eastern Ratsnake

Hisssstory: Rachel was a professor’s pet at Marymount University in Arlington VA.  He donated Rachel to Reptiles Alive in October 2009.

RA Diet: Rachel likes to eat frozen mice and rats that are thawed and warmed before she eats them.

Natural Diet: Rat snakes dine on eggs, small mammals, birds, and lizards.

Range: Eastern rat snakes are found in the eastern United States from New York to Florida and west to the Great Plains.

Habitat: Rat snakes live in forests, farmland, swamps, and even in buildings and houses!

Size: Eastern rat snakes grow 4 – 6 feet long, the record is a giant 8 feet 4 inch snake.  In many parts of their range, they are the largest snake species.

Lifespan:
 Rat snakes can live 20 years or more.

Reproduction:
 Eastern rat snakes breed April-June. Females lay 5-30 eggs that hatch in about 90 days, usually around September or October.

Conservation: Rat snakes are harmless to humans and highly beneficial to us because of all the rats, mice, and other rodents they consume.  They also serve as food to other animals including eagles and hawks.   Like all animals, snakes play an important role in the health of the environment.  If you see a snake, please leave it alone.

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Juvenile Eastern Ratsnake

Cool Facts: There are many myths and misunderstandings with rat snakes.  Baby rat snakes are often confused with the venomous copperhead snake because they have a pattern of squares and diamonds down their back that slowly fades to black as they get bigger.  Rat snakes also rattle their tails when they are frightened, and flatten their head into a triangle shape.  Due to these two traits, there is a myth that rat snakes can mate with copperheads and rattle snakes to produce venomous hybrid offspring.  It is actually physically impossible for rat snakes to mate with either copperheads or rattle snakes.  Snake identification can be tricky – even for snake experts.  It is always a good idea to leave snakes alone.

A Summer Saunter in the Sierra

Posting by Caroline Seitz
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There was a lot of snow this June.

NO — don’t worry, no more snowmageddon for us here in the DC area. I just returned from my June trip to Reno. There was plenty of snow in the Sierras and we even had a brief sleet/thunder storm down in the desert around my dad’s house. No shoveling, but we did enjoy some hot soup and a fire in the fireplace.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to hike at my favorite Washoe County park: Galena Creek. Galena Creek Park is located just southwest of Reno, NV and features miles of fantastic hiking trails, horse trails, camping, and picnicking. Galena is in the Sierra Nevadas, but it is low enough in elevation that most of the hiking trails are clear of snow by June.

The air was crisp and cool, the skies were bright and sunny and the relative humidity was around 6%. Really — 6%! Nothing like a typical June day here in Virginia!

Galena Creek itself is usually a small creek — sometimes it even dries up completely. But not the day we were there. The snow melt above caused the little creek to become a raging torrent!

The Sierras are home to some really beautiful wildflowers.  Snowplant, mule’s ears, spreading phlox, and more are all natives.

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My favorite plant in the Sierra is the Jeffrey Pine.  It is a close relative of the Ponderosa Pine, but it’s bark is fragrant with the smell of butterscotch or vanilla and its needles are more fragrant as well.  Another way to differentiate the Jeffrey from the Ponderosa is with their pine cones.  The Ponderosa’s cone has a prickle on each scale that turns outward and the Jeffrey’s cone’s prickles point inward.  Remember the saying:  “Prickly Ponderosa, Gentle Jeffrey” to remember the difference.

 

Due to the cool climate of the Sierra Nevadas, there are not as many reptile species as there are here in the DC area.   There are approximately 13 species of amphibians, including the introduced Bull frog.  About 19 species of reptiles are able to survive in the Sierras and only one is venomous:  the Western Rattlesnake.

While I was at Galena,  I spotted only one type of herp, the Western Fence lizard…

After we finished our hike at Galena, we headed up the Mt. Rose Highway over the highest all-season pass in the Sierras.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
— John Muir

Galena Creek Regional Park 
Galena Creek Regional Park
18350 Mt. Rose Highway
Mount Rose District Ranger: (775) 849-2511

Nestled in a forested area on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, Galena Creek Park is seven miles up the Mt. Rose Highway from the intersection with U.S. 395. Galena Creek flows through the park creating separate north and south portions of the park. Campfire programs, ranger-led hikes, and exhibits in the old stone visitor’s center add to the diversity of the park. The park offers fishing at Marilyn’s Pond and an outdoor education camp called camp We Ch Me. Reservable building and picnic pavilions.

Call the ranger office at (775) 849-2511 for more park information.
Call the Parks Administration office at (775) 823-6501 for building and picnic pavilion reservations.

A Sneak Peek at the New DDC Aquarium

The official opening for the new Delmarva Discovery Center’s (DDC) aquarium is Saturday June 26, but today, I will take you on a virtual tour that includes some special peeks behind the scenes…

We will start our tour with the quarantine facilities that are not in the public areas of the DDC.  This area houses new animals before they go on exhibit; special animals that are used in shows and programs, and the tons of “stuff” that a zoo or aquarium requires to care for its animals.

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I learned just how territorial large mouth bass are when Jen introduced me to this guy:

And check out these totally cool ancient creatures:


Next, we went into the public areas of the DDC. This exhibit features Chesapeake bay creatures:

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The DDC also has some really cool touch tank exhibits featuring some awesome native creatures.

Live reptiles and amphibians are also featured creatures. More live herp exhibits will be coming soon too.

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There are also a few displays featuring taxidermy birds and mammals.

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Finally — we came to the big new aquarium with its new and exciting residents — the STURGEON!

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Now that you have had a sneak peek at the new aquarium, start making plans to visit the Delmarva Discovery Center. The aquarium’s Grand Opening Celebration on June 26 will feature Jen scuba diving in the tank, animal feeding demonstrations, live animal programs and more! Located in historic Pocomoke City MD, about 45 minutes from Ocean City MD and Chincoteague VA — this is a totally fun destination for the whole family.

The Hognose Heaven Zone

There is a mysterious area very near to that place which is known as Washington DC. It is an area as vast as about  1 or 2 square miles and as timeless as infinity (or at least a few million years.) It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between city an country.  Journey with us now into this wondrous land. It is an area which we call the: “Hognose Heaven Zone.”

Our story begins with a foursome of herpers, Caroline, Charise, John W and Jon K, hiking to an undisclosed location near Washington DC.   Years before this journey began, former Reptiles Alive Wildlife Educator and Keeper Jeff Stryker discovered  a population of hognose snakes and eastern milk snakes (two awesome snake species that are not very common in the suburbs) living in this strange spot and named the place “Hognose Heaven.”

As the group’s journey began, they spotted their first herps of the day. There were many turtles and frogs living in the wetlands along the trail.

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Nesting eastern painted turtle

Soon, the  group of herpers veered off the main trail onto a little-used trail that led to the heart of Hognose Heaven. They began turning over logs and rocks.  A four-toed salamander was discovered!  The salamander’s creamy white and black spotted belly helped with its identification.

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Four-toed Salamander

After arriving at Hognose Heaven, something very unexpected appeared to materialize out of the rocks, sticks, and leaves – something that even four experienced naturalists could hardly see until they were right on top of it!

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Newborn Fawn

The fawn was only a few hours old. Its camouflage was remarkable! The baby deer was nearly invisible – the perfect survival strategy for a small animal that can not yet walk or run. Its mother was nearby and would return as soon as the coast was clear. Even though the group was in a strange place, it is normal to find fawns alone in the woods without their mother. As soon as the people vanish, the mother deer will come back to care for her fawn.
After observing the baby deer, the group continued searching for snakes. Caroline quickly found the hognose snake’s favorite food item: toads.

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Toad

As Caroline approached John W to inform him of her find, she noticed he was holding something in his hands. Something about 3 feet long, with orange spots on a black body and a pointy, upturned nose. “Hognose! Hognose!” she yelled with joy!

John W and Caroline yelled for Jon K and Charise to come and see the spectacular serpent. When they arrived, however, the snake was acting strange.

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Does this Hog-nosed Snake Need Help?

As the group excitedly discussed the behavior of the hognose snake, the snake in question seemed to miraculously get better!

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It’s a Miracle! (or maybe just a Hognose)

After making his miracle recovery from his apparent death, the snake made his move and slithered back to the safety of his rocky home.

Now, the group needed to make a decision. Continue the search? Or have lunch? Caroline suggested having lunch after a short hike over to a nearby bizarro-world she called: CACTUS ISLAND!
Believe it or not, (believe it), the prickly pear cactus is native to the Washington DC area. Much of its habitat has been lost to urban development, but it can still sometimes be found in certain micro-habitats around our nation’s capital. That day, the cactus was in bloom!

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Prickly Pear Growing Near Washington, DC

Does the story end here? Did they find an eastern milk snake? Did they have a good lunch? Only they know the answer to those questions. Questions from the Hognose Heaven Zone.

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UPCOMING EVENTS

  1. Fall for Fairfax KIDSFEST with Reptiles Alive!

    September 30 @ 12:30 pm - 3:45 pm
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    October 2 @ 10:30 am - 10:45 am
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 class.read 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 there.read 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 afterward.read 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 constrictor.read 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 turtle.read 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