Creature Feature: American Toad

American Toad

Anaxyrus americanus  (formerly Bufo americanus)

Reptiles Alive Name: Tony & Walkertoad-300x239

Hissstory: Tony was found on RA Wildlife Educator Tony’s driveway in May of 2009.  Walker was found in the RA tortoise yard in August of 2010.

RA Diet: Meal worms, crickets, and earthworms.

Natural Diet: Insects and small animals including baby snakes and other frogs.

Range: The northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States north into Canada.  American toads are native to the Washington DC area.

Habitat: Toads can be found nearly anywhere there is shallow water in which to breed including suburban and urban parks, yards, and gardens.

Size: On average. American toads grow  2-3.5 inches, however, the largest on record was 4 and 3/8 inches.

Lifespan: Can live up to ten years.

Reproduction: Toads breed March-July. Females choose the males with the best song.   She then lays the eggs in long spiraling strands in vernal pools and roadside ditches.

Conservation: If you have a toad living in yard, consider yourself lucky!  Toads provide pest control by eating a huge amount of insects daily. One American toad can eat up to 1,000 insects every day!!  Protect toads you find and provide shelter for toads in your yard to encourage them to stay.

Cool Facts: You can’t get warts from touching a toad – but you can get poisoned!  The warts on a toad’s body are actually poison glands.  When a toad feels threatened, thick sticky white poison will ooze out of the warts.  The poison isn’t strong enough to seriously hurt a human – but if you eat a toad, you will probably get a bad stomachache.  So, don’t eat toads!

Creature Feature: White Lined Gecko

White Lined Gecko (aka Skunk Gecko)

Gekko vittatus


Pilau the White Lined Gecko

Reptiles Alive Name: Pilau

Hissstory: Pilau was an unwanted pet left at a nature center.  The nature center sent Pilau to us in April 2010.

RA Diet: Crickets.

Natural Diet: Insects and other small invertebrates.

Range: India, Indonesia (Java, Timor), New Guinea, Oceania;Belau, Admiralty Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Rennell;Bellona, Santa Cruz Islands.

Habitat: The canopy and understory of tropical rain forests.

Size: 5-8 inches long, including the tail.

Lifespan: Probably 10-20 years.

Reproduction: Females lay 1-2 eggs at a time by “gluing” them to surfaces such as leaf stalks.  The eggs hatch in 3-6 months.

Conservation: Most of the white lined geckos for sale in the United States have been collected in the wild and imported.  Most geckos (and other wild animals) do not survive this process.  The few that do survive to be sold as a pet are usually very ill.  If you are thinking of getting a gecko as a pet, we recommend you adopt from an animal rescue organization or purchase from a legitimate breeder.

Cool Facts: Like all “true” geckos, white lined geckos have microscopic scales in the shape of hooks on the bottom of their feet. These scales grab on to microscopic imperfections found on every surface. This enables them to walk vertically or even upside down on almost any surface! Scientists are studying gecko feet in order to develop super strong tape, and maybe even gloves and shoes you could wear to walk up a wall. Just like Spider-man – or GECKO MAN!

Creature Feature: Leopard Tortoise

Leopard Tortoise

Geochelone pardalis


Janis the Leopard Tortoise

 Reptiles Alive Name: “Janis” (aka Dash)

Hissstory: Janis was donated to Reptiles Alive by our former Lead Keeper, Janis Gerritts in October of 2002.

RA Diet: Janis dines on grass, weeds, hay and occasionally gets some fruit as a special treat.

Natural Diet: Leopard tortoises graze on grasses and weeds.  Kind of like cows with shells.

Range:  Leopard tortoises are found in Africa from South Africa north to Sudan.

Habitat: Deserts and savannas are the primary habitat of leopard tortoises.   They hide in burrows during the hottest part of the day.

Size: Leopard tortoises are big turtles.  They can grow over 20 inches long and weigh around 50 pounds. The record weight for a leopard tortoise is 96 pounds.

Lifespan: Tortoises can live for up to around 100 years.

Reproduction: Leopard tortoise females lay around 20-25 eggs in a clutch.  The eggs hatch in 120 to 150 days.

Conservation: Leopard tortoises have two main threats:  habitat loss and collection for the pet trade or bush meat markets.

Cool Fact
: Leopard tortoises have voices!  When mating, a male tortoise makes a series of grunts that can actually be quite loud.

Creature Feature: Black Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake (aka Black Rat Snake)

Pantherophis alleghaniensis (formerlyElaphe obsoleta obsoleta)

Reptiles Alive Name: “Rachel”


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.

 Rat snakes can live 20 years or more.

 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.


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.