Creature Feature: Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Iguana iguana

Reptiles Alive Name: Fritz & Juan Amigo

Hisstory: Fritz is leasing a room with us as his owner, our curator Jennifer, likes having him at work better than having him at home.  Juan Amigo was left at the Alexandria Animal Shelter and we adopted him in April 2010.

Reptiles Alive Diet: Greens, vegetables, some fruit and a special zoo food made for iguanas.fritzheadspines

Natural Diet: Leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Range: Mexico, Central and South America. Introduced into Florida and Hawaii.

Habitat: The canopy of tropical rain forests is the normal habitat of iguanas, but they can also be found in urban areas around homes and hotels.

Size: These huge lizards grow 5-7 feet long from nose to tail and can weigh up to 18 pounds.

Lifespan: Iguanas often live over 20 years.

Reproduction: A female iguana will lay 12-40 eggs buried in the forest floor.  The eggs take 90-120 days to incubate. Babies spend the first part of their life in the under story. They will climb up to the canopy as they grow bigger.

Conservation: Iguanas face threats from the loss of habitat, the pet trade, and they are sometimes hunted for food.

You should know: Iguanas are commonly kept as pets, but most pet iguanas either die from improper care or are abandoned when they get large. Many pet stores buy iguanas bred in “puppy mill” conditions, and sell them for low prices to unsuspecting buyers and without the proper equipment. (Proper iguana housing costs over 500 dollars.) Iguanas have sharp teeth, a strong bite, sharp claws, and do NOT make good pets, especially for children. Thousands are euthanized annualy because proper homes cannot be found for them.

Cool Facts: Iguanas have a big flap of skin under their chin called a dewlap. They communicate to each other by lowering their dewlap and bobbing their head up and down. When threatened, iguanas can whip their spiky tail like a dinosaur. If that doesn’t work, they will leap out of the tall trees and dive into a river below.  They tuck their legs against their bodies and swim like crocodiles.

End of Summer Camp for Matt the African Spurred Tortoise


Matt – the African Spurred Tortoise

The days are growing shorter and the nights are cooling off – which means Matt has to go to his winter home at Janis’s house.

Matt is a 50 pound African Spurred Tortoise that one of our former Animal Keepers acquired in Las Vegas as a hatchling about 10 years ago.  While working as a Keeper here, Janis brought her two tortoises Matt and her leopard tortoise “Dash” (we actually renamed Dash “Janis”) to live at Reptiles Alive.

Both Janis (the tortoise) and Matt were featured in our live animal shows at schools, libraries and other events.  Matt had a great time at shows – he LOVES the attention and the treats he gets when he is “working.”

Janis (the person) left her position here to work as a Keeper at the National Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center.  She left both tortoises in our care, but Matt eventually became too heavy to carry to shows.

Now, Matt gets to come and live at the Reptiles Alive Tortoise Camp in the summer and goes home to live at the Janis Tortoise Resort & Spa in the winter.   Even though we no longer take Matt to shows, we still love his company in the summer.  We really don’t miss his enormous messes in the winter though.

See you next summer Matt!

To see some very cool videos of Matt, visit our facebook fan page

Creature Feature: Leopard Gecko

Leopard Gecko

Eublepharis macularis

Reptiles Alive Name: “Larry”


Hisssstory: Larry came to live at Reptiles Alive in April of 2004.  He was already about 5 years old when his owner decided he didn’t want a gecko as a pet anymore.

RA Diet: Larry loves crickets and meal worms.

Natural Diet: In the wild, leopard geckos will eat just about any moving creature that is smaller than themselves, including: insects, spiders, snails, and scorpions.

Range: Northwestern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

Habitat: Leopard geckos live in some of the hottest, driest deserts on earth, so they spend much of their time in cool underground burrows.

Size: Leopard geckos can grow 6 to 8 inches long.

Lifespan: Leopard geckos can live 10-20 years or more.

Reproduction: Mating takes place during the rainy season. A female will lay two eggs at a time, but can lay several clutches a year. She can even store sperm from one mating for later.

Conservation: Leopard geckos are commonly sold in the United States as pets.  They are easier to care for than most other reptile species, but they still have special requirements to stay healthy in captivity.  Before getting a pet, whether it is a dog or a gecko, be sure you have done enough research to know how to care for your pet for its entire life.

Cool Facts: Leopard geckos store fat in their tail so they can survive for months without food or water.  Camels, another desert creature, use a similar survival strategy by storing fat in their humps.

Creature Feature: American Alligator

American Alligator

Alligator mississpiensis

Reptiles Alive Name: Dean Martin and B.A. which stands for Bad Attitude, which he has.young-golf-course-alligator-300x199

Hissstory: We received Dean Martin in June of 2003.  He was a wedding “gift” that did not work out!  Dean’s original owner had purchased a baby gator for his new bride and she decided a pet alligator was not what she was looking for.  Not only do alligators bite – they are against the law to own as pets.

B.A. came to live at Reptiles Alive in August of 2004.  He was also an illegal pet that became unwanted.

RA Diet: Our young alligators eat roaches, crickets, fish, and their favorite: dead, defrosted rodents.  Yum-O!

Natural Diet: Alligators are opportunistic feeders; they will eat almost any animal that is nearby including fish, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.  Alligators are one of the only animals with jaws strong enough to crush a turtle shell – so they love to eat turtles.

Range: American Alligators live in the southeastern United States from eastern North Carolina south through Florida and west to eastern Texas.

Habitat: Almost any place there is freshwater in the south, you could find a gator.  They live in lakes, rivers, ponds, ditches, golf course water hazards, and sometimes, they try to move in to back yard swimming pools!

Size: Female alligators can grow 8-9 feet while males grow to an average 10-12 feet.

Lifespan: Alligators can live more than 40 years.

Reproduction: Female alligators build a nest out of grass and leaves that measures four feet high by about six feet in diameter.  As the vegetation decomposes, the nest heats up – like a compost pile.  The mama gator then lays up to around 60 eggs.  Unlike other reptiles, mother alligators guard their nest against attacking predators like foxes, raccoons, or even humans.  When the eggs hatch, the baby alligators cry for their mom to come and get them.  The mama gator carries her little babies inside her toothy jaws carefully to the water and will continue to protect them for up to a year.

Conservation: Success story! Populations of alligators were once nearly hunted to extinction for food and leather goods. They were even used as a food source during the Civil War. It is now illegal to hunt, harass, collect, or even feed wild alligators.  Alligator products sold today are from captive farmed populations.

Cool Facts: Alligators have the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom. Their jaws have a crushing power in excess of 3,000 pounds per square inch! Alligators cannot chew, however, so when they eat large prey, they “death roll” in the water to break food up into more manageable portions.

Alligators do not naturally attack humans – they are usually afraid of us. Sometimes, people illegally feed alligators which can cause the gator to lose their fear of humans and look to them for food.  Feeding wild animals can create a dangerous situation for humans and animals – that is why it is against the law.