Article From Delmarva NoW.com

Reptiles invade Pocomoke for day of fun

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POCOMOKE CITY — A prehensile tailed skink hanging from its tail like a monkey, a fat, black and white Tegu lizard with a flicking forked tongue, and an amazon river turtle named “Podocnemis” were among the reptiles that held kids rapt at the Delmarva Discovery Center’s Reptile Festival.

Caroline Seitz, director of the Reptiles Alive animal show, made lessons about habitat and adaptation interesting with stories of tarantula-chomping and rotten fruit-slurping lizards.

“I liked the turtle,” said 10-year-old cub scout Wilson Davis, who was accompanied by his brother and fellow scout, 7-year-old Noah Davis.

“She really brings things to life,” said their mother and cub scout leader, Sandy Davis, after watching Seitz’s show. “She really interacts with the audience and the kids.”

While the presentation was aimed at younger audience members, Davis and other adults clearly enjoyed the show, which featured a dynamic Seitz handling several exotic species.

“You can’t do this with other lizards,” Seitz announced, letting a prehensile tailed skink wrap its tail around one of her hands as she pulled her other hand from the leather glove it clung to with its sharp claws. “Some people call them monkey skinks for this ability.”

As the skink hung from its tail, gripping the empty glove, she went on to explain how the lizard adapted to the forest canopy with its sharp claws and strong tail for climbing.

While the tengu and other reptiles in Seitz’s show are naturally rainforest natives, Reptiles Alive literature explained most of the animals in its shows were rescued as abandoned or confiscated pets.

Reaching out to those looking for an experience closer to home, the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas group was in attendance, signing people up to volunteer with its efforts to document species in the area.

As part of its conservation efforts, the group will establish a baseline for monitoring changes in the distribution of reptiles and amphibians in Maryland.

MARA’s statewide coordinator, Heather Cunningham, said the group is looking for MARA observers to report day-to-day with animals, as well as MARA surveyors to conduct more formal surveys of nearby blocks or quadrants.

“It’s not just common species found,” Cunningham said. “We’ve had volunteers find a number of rare and uncommon species, like the mountain earth snake.”

Visit the MARA website at www.marylandnature.org/mara for the latest information. Visitwww.meetup.com/marylandnature to join the Natural History Society of Maryland Meetup Group and help plan searches in your area.

Inspiring Children to Love Learning – with Reptiles

Do you know a child who loves snakes? How about a child who loves exploring in the park and asks questions about every leaf, rock, and worm?  Or a child who wants to know how an airplane flies or what makes the trash truck so loud?  If so, you know a child who is interested in science.

While hiking in the cold winter woods the other day, I began thinking of all the family members, teachers, and other adults who encouraged my interest in snakes , reptiles, and the natural world when I was a child.

Although no one in my family loved (or even liked) snakes, my parents allowed me to explore the woods and swamps near my house,  bring home and even the keep garter snakes and frogs I found.  My grandparents brought me to reptile lectures at the zoo  and baked cakes in the shape of snakes and lizards for my birthdays.  When I was 9 years old, my grandma even snake-sat for me while I was on vacation – and my pet brown snake gave birth to over 20 live baby snakes while under her care!

Due to the encouragement of my family, I developed a life long love of and respect for nature and science.   My goal in creating Reptiles Alive over 16 years ago was to inspire the same interests for science in other people – especially children.

Watching television shows or looking at a computer screens are two dimensional experiences that have little impact on our senses .  Seeing a snake or lizard in a picture will not inspire the same excitement as seeing a real, living, breathing animal up close.

Imagine the difference between looking at a picture of an apple on a computer screen and holding a real apple in your hand.  Which experience will give you a better appreciation for what an apple really is?

A child who comes home from a Reptiles Alive show wanting to learn more about reptiles,  is a child who has been inspired to learn.  An interest in snakes and animals can lead to interests in other aspects of science.  A love of nature and animals can lead to compassion for all living creatures and our planet itself.

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Snake Heads (and we’re not talking fish!)

You are in the garden.  As you bend down to pick a tomato, you see a:  snake!  Whoa – that snake has a triangular shaped head!  Is the snake venomous?

Many people mistakenly believe that all snakes with triangular shaped heads are venomous.  And not just people: a recent study in Spain has even shown that predators such as hawks and eagles will often avoid snakes with triangular heads!  Valkonen, J., Nokelainen, O., & Mappes, J. (2011). Antipredatory Function of Head Shape for Vipers and Their Mimics PLoS ONE, 6 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022272

The fact is, however, that many harmless snakes mimic the viper-like head shape when they are frightened.   Harmless snakes including garter snakes, rat snakes, and water snakes will flatten their heads and bodies when they feel threatened.  And snakes in the garden feel threatened when they see people.

So is there an easy way to know if a snake is venomous or harmless?  No, not really.  Herpetologists and snake experts learn to identify snakes using a variety of physical characteristics.  There is also individual variation within species: albinism, melanism, and pattern variations that occasionally occur can cause confusion when trying to  identify a snake.

At Reptiles Alive, we suggest that people  just leave all snakes alone.  If you leave snakes alone, snakes will leave you alone.  That way it  does not matter whether the snake is venomous or not  – even venomous snakes will leave you alone if you don’t bother them.

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Comparison of Snake Heads

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Northern Brownsnake

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Harmless Eastern Gartersnake

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Harmless Common Water Snake

S.O.S: Save our Snakes (from landscape netting)

Every year we get calls from gardeners about snakes trapped in their soft plastic landscape netting.  Landscape netting is often used to protect fruit and vegetables from nibbling deer, birds, and rabbits.  Unfortunately, it can be a death sentence to snakes, birds, and small mammals.

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Tony carefully restraining the first Copperhead while his coworker cuts away the netting

Small animals become trapped in the net and as they struggle to free themselves,  get even more tangled up.  The netting not only traps the poor animals, it also causes very serious injuries due to the thin plastic cutting into their skin and muscle.

If a human does not intervene, it is a long, slow and sad death for any trapped creature. Some animals are lucky – they are found and rescued.  Recently our very own TuataraTony was called upon to rescue two copperhead snakes that had become entangled in landscape netting in a garden in Great Falls VA.

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Tony (right) and his coworker helping to free the second trapped Copperhead Snake

Tony and other professional Naturalists, Wildlife Educators and Animal Rehabilitators are experts at handling all sorts of animals.  If you find a creature in need of rescue, contact your local animal control agency for help.

Alternatives for protecting crops do exist: Fences 8 feet tall or taller will protect areas from deer.  Using chicken wire, wire mesh, kennel fencing, or snow fencing attached to fence posts will protect against most animals, including rabbits.

If deer are your main problem, you might also consider an electric fence. Motion sensors that trigger a blast of water can scare off birds and other wildlife from fruit trees and bushes. And a good old fashioned scarecrow (especially if it has bright, shiny, moving parts) is always a festive addition to any garden.

Here are some great links for more suggestions on how to save your garden without hurting snakes or other wildlife: