One of my favorite docent activities is assisting at Reptile Ramble, the “snake show” that we offer at Tohono Chul Park on Fridays in warm weather. Our two herpetologists and a few lucky docents demonstrate and talk about snakes, lizards, turtles, amphibians (such as frogs) and other local herps. (Herpetology, the study of these creatures, comes from the Greek for “things that creep.”)
Arizona is herp heaven. We have around 50 snake species, and are the rattlesnake capital of the US, with 13 species. We also have around 50 lizards, 25 frogs and toads, and one salamander. I have always been interested in snakes, because they have such an unusual lifestyle and anatomy. Many of the organs we have two of, they have only one of (or only one that functions), to save space. Other anatomical adaptations allow most snakes to swallow prey bigger than their heads.
The animals we show at the Ramble generally include: gopher snake (called bull snake in some parts of the country); coach whip; mountain kingsnake; common kingsnake (my favorite); long-nosed snake; and rattlesnake, safely displayed behind a small barrier. We also usually show a box turtle, a Sonoran mud turtle, and a Gila monster, the largest (and only venomous) lizard in the United States. Sometimes we also have a Sonoran Toad, an amphibian that lies dormant most of the year, then emerges to mate when the monsoon begins.
We show our audience how to tell the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes, and explain why it's a very good thing to have a king snake or gopher snake in your back yard (they eat pack rats and other undesirable creatures). We also demonstrate why you should not fear rattlesnakes, as long as you respect them and use common sense.
Two western diamondbacks in our special enclosure
A lot of people are afraid of snakes, but after attending a session with us, many lose their fear and begin to regard snakes with respect and fascination; even awe. I love watching an adult's face turn from revulsion to smiles the first time he or she actually touches a snake.
Children love the show, and usually leave with a fascination for reptiles. I like to think that through reptile ramble we have saved the lives of hundreds—maybe thousands--of snakes over the years. Come visit us sometime!