Back to School Time…

September is a busy month in the office at Reptiles Alive.  After a super busy summer filled with performing shows at summer camps, fairs, libraries and more, we are ready for the change that fall brings.  Summer is very intense – there are many days where all of us start work at 7 am and don’t finish until 10 pm.

In September, the number of shows we do becomes much more reasonable.  Fall festivals and birthday parties still fill our weekends, and scout meetings eat up our nights, but the weekday school programs are just getting started, so we have time during the day to catch up on all the office work we couldn’t get to during the summer.


As soon as the school year starts, our phone starts ringing and our email inbox fills with requests for school assemblies, classroom visits, and after school classes.  Since we work as animal keepers in addition to working in the office, there are many times that the phone starts ringing right when we are opening the door to a large python or getting ready to feed an alligator – YIKES.  There are even times when we answer the phone and take an animal with us, so while we are talking to you, we might have a snake in our other hand.

Most people only think about the shows they see us perform, but a lot of work goes on “behind the scenes” to get ready for your show.  And don’t worry – we will be sure that none of the animals eat the paperwork for your booking.

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.

Grand Cayman Island Adventure Part II: Blue Dragons!

I was very lucky…

In February 2008, I went with a group of my friends to the QE II Botanic Park on Grand Cayman Island.  Since I love gardening, I always get excited about touring botanical parks, and this was a GREAT one.  But it was about to get even better!


Caroline and friend

The QE II Botanic Park is also the home of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. I knew about the program from my friend Janis (a former Reptiles Alive animal keeper) who now works as a Keeper at the National Zoo Reptile Discovery Center.  The National Zoo is a partner with the Blue Iguana Recovery Project, and maintains a breeding colony of them right here in Washington DC.   A few years ago,  the Zoo sent Janis to Grand Cayman to help out with the iguana program and learn more about Blue Iguana natural history and husbandry.


Blue Iguana

While touring the Botanic Garden, we came upon the public area of the Blue Iguana enclosures. They were fantastic – the iguanas had tons of room to roam, bask in the sun, dig in the ground and just act naturally. I was thinking things couldn’t get any better when John the Iguana Warden noticed my Reptiles Alive shirt and started chatting. He invited my group into the “behind the scenes” area and we got a great tour of the facility!


Inside the dragon’s lair

The staff and volunteers are totally dedicated to the care and comfort of these endangered reptiles. From the newly hatched iguanas to the old adults, all the animal receive top-notch care – the Botanic Garden even grows the native plants that the iguanas eat.


Beautiful Blue Iguana

After the tour, John invited me to come back the next day and spend more time learning about the iguanas. That day, I met the director of the project, Fred Burton. Fred was a total expert on both the iguanas, the plants, and the ecology of Grand Cayman Island. He graciously took time out of his super busy schedule to spend time showing me more of the park and teaching me about the iguanas.

To learn more about the Blue Iguana Recovery Project, visit


Fred and the iguana

So, the moral of the story is: Wear your Reptiles Alive shirt when traveling! You never know where it might take you…

Scientific Names for Elementary School Students

We had a great Question from Sujan at our After School Class last week.

“What is the name of the lizard we met in class?”

Well Sujan, the Sudan Plated Lizard has TWO names!

The lizard we met is named Gerrhosaurus major, or “Gary” for short.  Why such a long name?


All animals, rocks, plants, even types of clouds are given a special name called their “scientific name.”  This helps scientists put things in groups with things that are all alike.

For example:

Tree frogs that have sticky feet may be put in one group while frogs that have webbed feet and live in the water are put into another group.

They are grouped by the type of feet they have.

You can have fun doing an experiment in your own house!

Think of different ways you can group things in your house.  Some ideas may be.  Arranging things by color, size, or what it’s made of.

Choose a way to group things, then write down the different categories of groups.

Say you chose to group things by color.  Your categories will be different colors; red, blue, green, yellow..etc.

Then walk around your house and put objects in your house in its correct category.  (Yellow things go in the “Yellow” category.)  Write it down.

For extra fun, do this experiment with other people in your house.  Have them choose a different way to group things.  Compare your lists at the end!

You will find things that may be hard to put in one group.  (maybe it’s blue & yellow)  You can only put it inone, that means you have to decide!

It is lots of fun to be a scientist that classifies things!  They are called Taxonomists.