Does your kid have an obsession with things that slither andhiss? Snakes get a bad rap for being ugly and slimy, but they playa crucial role in maintaining the health of our planet. If you’vegot a budding herpetologist in your family, a visit to one of thesesix serpentariums can provide an educational and often hands-onencounter with snakes, lizards, and all kinds of reptiles.
Cape Fear Serpentarium: Wilmington, NC
Surrounded by antique stores and horse-drawn carriages in thehistoric district of Wilmington, NorthCarolina, this snake zoo features over 40 rare and venomousspecies of vipers and cobras, plus dozens of giant constrictors.Each snake is given a danger rating ranging from two to fiveskulls, along with a placard describing how victims die if bitten.During weekend feeding times, handlers dangle dead rats overvenomous residents such as the puff adder and 12-foot deadlybushmaster. For a less gory experience, pay a visit to a crocodilenamed Bubble Boy and learn how to escape a real croc encounter.
RADZoo: Owatonna, MN
Located just over an hour south of Minneapolis,the Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo is one of America’snewest serpentariums. Head to the “Know Your Neighbors” exhibit tolearn about such harmless local Minnesotans as milk and gartersnakes, as well as endangered species such as Blanding’s Turtles.Enter “The Danger Zone” to watch as Bella, a 14-foot python, or BigAl, a 12-foot alligator, consume an entire pig. Hoping forsomething more hands-on? In the “Everglades Encounter,” you can petan alligator or snake from the Florida swamplands. Don’t leavebefore meeting the zoo’s most famous resident: Johnson, the albinoboa constrictor that once belonged to Justin Bieber.
The Serpentarium: Lodi, CA
About 85 miles northeast of SanFrancisco, this zoo is home to a cast of flamboyant characters.You can feed Splash, a six-foot water monitor lizard who leaps intohis pond after feedings; snap photos of your kids holding CrazyLegs, an 11-foot albino Burmese python; or watch a pantherchameleon named Crayola change colors to match your shirt as hecrawls up your arm. This serpentarium breeds 50 different speciesfor purchase, and your admission price can apply toward a newpet.
Reptile World Serpentarium: St. Cloud, FL
Just 25 miles from DisneyWorld lies a working venom farm with over 60 species of cobras,mambas, rattlesnakes, and giant pythons. During twice-daily venom “milking” shows, half a dozen snakes are pulled out of boxes andpersuaded to release their poisonous fluid into containers thatrange from Big Gulp-size for cobras and rattlers to test tube-sizefor little coral snakes. The venom is shipped to universities andpharmaceutical companies for research and anti-venom production.Feeling adventurous? After the milking show, you can step up for ahands-on experience. Reptile World also showcases alligators,crocodiles, turtles, iguanas, and some parrots.
Washington Serpentarium: Monroe, WA
You’ll find few warning signs at this touchy-feely reptile zoo,located 40 miles northeast of Seattle.All the snakes have been surgically de-venomized, so you can holdanything from a heavy ball python to a salmon-colored red cornsnake for as long as you like. At the tortoise exhibit, kids canreach in to pet the animals and handle reptile skulls, turtleshells, and empty egg cases.
Edisto Island Serpentarium: Edisto Island,SC
After hitting the beach on Edisto Island, 40 miles south of Charleston,you can explore this serpentarium featuring snakes and reptilesnative to the American South. The indoor exhibit houses venomoussnakes, while outside their harmless cousins climb trees or swim inlow-walled open enclosures. Edisto is also home to iguanas, turtlesand 19 alligators, including an 11-footer named Trouble and anattack gator named Fluffy. Leave time to attend a snake show oralligator feeding. Baby alligators typically hatch in September.(Closed November-February.)
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