Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reptile Ramble

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.”)

Tom and Coachwhip 5-27-2011 10-29-28 AM 3607x1995Tom “Snakeboy” McDonald and coachwhip snake

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.

Nightsnake eating zebratail 2 8-6-2012 8-45-54 AM 2131x2567Nightsnake eating zebra-tailed lizardKL and her favorite kingsnake 4-20-2012 10-43-40 AM 3394x2328KL and her favorite kingsnake

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.

gila monster tongue 10-23-2009 2-10-48 PM 2816x2112 Gila monster Sonoran Desert Toad Hopping 9-21-2012 10-43-33 AM 612x406Sonoran Toad

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.

2 rattlesnakes at Ramble 6-3-2011 11-12-47 AM 2120x1471  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.

Ramble Kids

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!


  1. Yes! Save the snakes! I don't know why people (near and dear to me) insist they should be KILLED RIGHT NOW! Also -- spiders. Spiders eat nasty bugs. You should welcome them into the house! And you should get a king snake to curb your pack rat population.

    1. Please don't kill any snakes. Fake it.

  2. In my experience with "hands-on" herp activities, the kids are the first to lean in, followed by the women. Then, the men are about 50/50, with many quite afraid. Macho? I guess that runs away with their ideas about reptiles and amphibians! GO, Kids!!

    1. One time a fat middle-aged guy with a gun in his belt (a common sight in AZ) showed up and told me that he shot snakes whenever he had the chance. I don't know why he thought I would welcome that information. It did make me think that he probably was very lacking in the... er... package department.