Once upon a time I was afraid of snakes. My mother is terrified of them. I'm sure that's where I got it. But now I am caretaker of two at work and two at home, manage my one acre of land to support six different snakes, and regularly go snake-hunting (though just to take photos). Fears can be overcome. And a lifelong passion may emerge from what was once a fear.
I started working here in the fall of 2004. That seems so long ago. When I started working here, I was a full-fledged nature nerd with one area of ''passion'' - birds. But as an educator, one of the things to maintain was the collection of live animals that was coming in on a weekly basis as part of the ''Wild About Wetlands'' exhibit. Most of those things were cold-blooded, being easy to catch and the passion of the catchers. So with a room filled with frogs, snakes and salamanders, I began my ascent into the world of herps (short for herptofauna, also known as reptiles and amphibians).
Through the winter, I not only got to know the animals, but I got to know the kids that were taking care of them. Two boys came in once or twice a week to care for them - clean cages and feed. As the animals grew on me, so did the energy and enthusiasm from these two kids.
A visit with a turtle often brings smiles.
Audubon volunteer Rex Everett catches a water snake.
It wasn't long before spring came and I was introduced to a whole new world of animals to which I had never paid attention. Soon another herp enthusiast joined the group and I was hooked. Turtles had always been a favorite, but now I was learning about salamanders and frogs that I'd never even heard of.
I am now the proud owner of six pet turtles and two snakes (though technically I'm just snake-sitting one, but have been for four years so it seems like mine). I would never have imagined that I would be suckered in by these fairly aloof creatures. All are abandoned or escaped pets for which I provided a home. Some have names, some do not. All are part of the family.
This newfound passion gave rise to a now-annual herp themed event. Last year we focused on turtles. This year it is all reptiles, the event, Reptimania, bearing their name. I want people to see these animals not for their cold-bloodedness, their fear factor, their very un-furry-like demeanor (a turtle will never purr for or play fetch with you) but for their remarkable beauty and design.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and is forever a herp nerd thanks to some very good friends.
The biology of any cold-blooded creature is fascinating when you think about their ability to go dormant or hibernate for months at a time. Even in my house where it stays a balmy 62 degrees all winter, one snake and one turtle still go dormant, slowing their bodies so that they basically don't eat for five months.
Additionally, the scale or scute pattern of snakes and turtles is pure art, adding to their intrigue. Breeders have come up with many different color morphs for their captive snakes that you don't see in the wild so the colors are even more striking. Lizards and geckos have been made famous through movies and commercials, and have some awesome adaptations that you might see first hand at Reptimania.
The point I'm trying to make is that reptiles are amazing animals. Many of us start our fascination with them as children with dinosaurs. Somewhere along the line we lose that interest in favor of girls (or boys), cars, school, sports, or other distractions. Those passionate see that today's lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodilians are the descendants of those dinosaurs we know only from fossils.
Come and meet these magnificent creatures, learn a little but more about them, and perhaps overcome a fear. The event is on Sept. 24 from 10-3 in an open house format - show up when you want to! People will be on hand to teach you a little about each reptile and share its particular story with you. The cost is $5 for members and children, $7 for non-members and children 2 and under are admitted free. All the proceeds go toward supporting the educational live animals and programs at Audubon.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and eagle viewing are open dawn to dusk and the building is open daily from 10-4:30 except Sundays when we open at 1. More information can be found at jamestownaudubon.org or by calling 569-2345.