Creature Feature: Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle

Spiny Soft Shell Turtle

Apalone (Trionyx) spinifera

Reptiles Alive Name: “Apalone”

Hissstory: Apalone was transferred to us from the Virginia Living Museum in February 2005.

RA Diet: Apalone likes to eat aquatic turtle pellet food, worms, crickets and super worms.

Natural Diet: Soft shclled turtles prey on fish, worms, insects, tadpoles, and frogs.

Range: Spiny soft-shelled turtles live in much of the eastern United States.  They are found in the far southwestern corner of Virginia and there is a tiny population of them in far western Maryland.

Habitat: Hangouts for soft-shelled turtles include slow moving water with muddy or sandy bottoms.

Size: Spiny soft-shelled turtle females can grow to about 15 inches long.  Male spiny soft-shells are much smaller and grow to around 8 inches.

Lifespan: Soft-shelled turtles can live over 25 years.

Reproduction: Soft-shelled turtles lay from 4 to 33 spherical eggs on land in the spring. The eggs hatch around August and September.  Sometimes, the  eggs & babies remain in the nest and  hatch in the spring.

 Soft-shelled turtles are being over- harvested for the Asian food market.  They are now a threatened and protected species in parts of their range, including Maryland.

Cool Facts: Soft-shelled turtles are very bizarre looking turtles. They have a smooth, leathery shell that looks so different from other turtle species. This shell is made of bone like other turtles, but it is covered in thick skin made of keratin.  The lighter shell allows these turtles to rocket through the water away from strong alligator jaws.

Reptiles Alive Question/Answer Time…

We receive questions about reptiles every day from people at our shows, on the phone, or from email.  Here is a question we recently received:

You recently came to my school and preformed for us. I was amazed with the reptiles you brought!
My mom said I can choose a new pet and I wanted a snake! But when I told my mom I wanted a snake she said “it can’t bite that often! And try to find a snake that won’t eat us!” So I have been looking online but I am having a hard time finding one that fits that profile! Can you help me? Or are there any places around Lorton that sell snakes that are well taken for? Thank you!


We do not generally recommend snakes as pets. They are more difficult to care for properly than most people imagine and often become sick, unwanted or worse.

However, if you are committed to caring for your pet properly, I highly suggest adopting a snake instead of purchasing one from the pet store. Since snakes don’t make good pets, there are many, many snakes at animal rescue groups and shelters.

All snakes will bite – so if you get a pet snake, expect that it will bite you at least sometimes.

A few snakes that are typically available in rescue groups that do not get more than 6 feet long:
Ball python
Corn snake
King snake

Please do a lot of research on each of these species BEFORE making you decision. Make an appointment with a veterinarian who treats reptiles.  In the northern Virginia area we recommend Stahls Exotic Animal Veterinary Clinic.

Make the appointment for the week of your adoption so that your animal can get a check up and you can be sure that you have all the right equipment and information to properly care for your pet.

Here are few possible places where you can adopt a snake:

The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria Animal Shelter

Virginia Reptile Rescue

There are many other animal rescue groups that adopt reptiles to the public.  You can do a search for “reptile rescue” and find many of them.

Good luck!

Creature Feature: Honduran Milksnake

Honduran Milk Snake

Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis


Reptiles Alive Name: “Soy”

Hissstory: Soy was transferred to Reptiles Alive from another wildlife education organization in April 2008.

RA Diet: Frozen mice that are defrosted and warmed up before being served.  Mmm mmm good!

Natural Diet: Milk snakes will eat small mammals, eggs, and other reptiles – even other snakes!

Range: You can find Honduran milk snakes in Nicaragua, Northeastern Costa Rica, and the Caribbean slope of Honduras.

Habitat: Honduran milk snakes live on the forest floor of tropical rain forests.

Size: Honduran milk snakes are one of the largest species of milk snake in the world!  They can grow over 5 feet long.

Lifespan: Milk snakes typically live around 20 years.

Reproduction: Female milk snakes lay 3-24 eggs which hatch in around 10 weeks.

 Due to their beautiful colors, milk snakes are highly valued in the wild animal pet trade.  Even though these snakes are pretty, they don’t make good pets for most people.  Like all snakes, they will not play with you or want to cuddle.  Most pet reptiles end up unwanted, sick, or worse.
Cool Facts: Milk snakes use quick, jerky movements so that their bands flash, startling predators. Their bright colors signal danger and often confuse predators, making these snakes hard to follow. Other animals in the rain forest may use the same defense such as colorful parrots and highly venomous coral snakes, which milk snakes resemble.

Some people say the poem “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow.  Red touch black, venom lack” to help them remember if a snake is venomous or not.  The problem is,  there are SO MANY different species and subspecies of milk and coral snakes that the poem does not always work!  So at Reptiles Alive, we teach you this poem:

Red touch yellow, leave snakes alone.

Red touch black, leave snakes alone.

Pocomoke City Discovers Reptiles Alive!


Last Saturday morning, March 20th, I packed up the Reptiles Alive van full of great animals including Sunshine the python, Logan the Nile monitor lizard, and B.A. the alligator.  We  drove across the Chesapeake Bay down to Pocomoke City, MD – home to the Delmarva Discovery Center.

Pocomoke is a historic Eastern Shore town located right on the Pocomoke River. Last year, the awesome new Delmarva Discovery Center (DDC) opened to the public. The DDC features exhibits that tell the story of the Delmarva’s natural and cultural history.
As we set up and got ready, we had a huge crowd excitedly waiting to see the first show.
We started each of the three shows that day with a couple of animals native to the Eastern Shore: Lucky our black rat snake and T Rex the snapping turtle.100_1325

Then we featured an animal from the other side of our planet: the Australian blue tongue skink, Mystique. Next, we learned why we should all be really grateful there are no mommy pizzas when we met Logan the Nile monitor lizard.
The alligator B.A. (which stands for “Bad Attitude” helped us learn alligator love songs. Last but definitely not least, we met Sunshine, our albino Burmese python. The audience, as usual, went wild for Sunshine.

Big thanks go to the Delmarva Discovery Center for hosting this fun reptile festival. We are hoping to make this an annual event, so start planning your trip to Pocomoke City for next year.