Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Isaac, the five-year-old, asked me whether the Gabon viper (Bitis gabonicus) was the one that could eat a pig. Gabon vipers are impressive snakes, with chunky bodies and brutish heads the size of your fist, but even with their two-inch fangs they can’t hoark down a pig. I pointed out the reticulated python (Python reticulatus) and the anaconda (Eumeces murinus) around the corner; those are the ones that could down a pig.

While they’ve got pythons and maybe even anacondas in Florida, we don’t even have racers (Coluber c. constrictor) right now (though this December was a little weird) in Pennsylvania. These were all indoors snakes.

Last weekend we took three of Jen’s friend’s kids to the zoo. We had a good time throughout the zoo, but of course for this post I’ll be focusing on the reptile and amphibian house.

More than one person has complained that I’m no fun in a reptile/amphibian house. I get annoyed when I see mislabeled animals, and I can be a little dismissive of animals that are easy to find in the pet trade; if I can see it at the Hamburg reptile show, why do I want to pay to see it at a zoo? Of course most people don’t go to the Hamburg show (and, in my opinion, they probably shouldn’t – very sketchy show), and zoos are for most people, not for know-it-all herp snobs like me. Last, I’m consistently annoyed that reptile/amphibian houses aren’t bigger. Of course I would want larger reptile/amphibian houses – I’d love to see a whole zoo of just herps – but I think I’ve got a good argument for reptile/amphibian house expansion: herps are cheap and easy.

1) How often and how much do you have to feed birds and mammals? A lot and often! Cold-blooded herps, by contrast, need less food to fuel their slower metabolisms and they need it less often. 2) How often does a zoo keeper have to interact with a lion or a zebra? These animals take daily attention from multiple people, while herps generally don’t – at most a daily misting for the moisture-loving critters, so you can have more critters served by fewer people. 3) I imagine the liability costs are also lower for herps, as long as they’re not venomous. I’m sure zoos have to carry some pretty hefty workers comp policies for the potentially-lethal hoof stock and carnivores. Another reptile/amphibian house’s worth of chameleons, racers, toads, and water turtles, however, has to be pretty-near insurance-neutral.

Anyhow, until I run the world or have millions of dollars to donate to zoos to have my own reptile/amphibian houses built, I’ll have to keep my mouth shut and let my friends enjoy the critters.

I had the best time with Isaac and his sister Mary (Jen had to take Owen outside – all the crocodiles and pythons scared him) when we got to the native species corner. Of course I would have loved to have every species native to Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley represented, but it was still cool to look at the timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus), copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), the northern water snakes (Nerodia s. sipedon – I told Isaac we might be able to catch one of those this summer), and one rather gimpy-looking box turtle (Terrepene c. carolina).

What excited me most, for reasons I still don’t understand, were the Pine Barrens tree frogs (Hyla andersonii). These are adorable little frogs, green with black stripes along the sides and across their eyes, and I nearly giggled to see all of them sitting around, stuck to the sides of the terrarium. Follow this link (http://www.cnah.org/detail.asp?id=1108) to see one. Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

By coincidence, I also got a new ringtone for my cell phone – of calling Pine Barrens tree frogs. If you want to hear little Hyla andersonii each time you get a call, check out (http://rareearthtones.org/ringtones/) for the download.