Saturday, May 24, 2008

Look into his eyes

As a reward for actually accomplishing some much-needed housecleaning today, we took Jacob to the Edisto Island Serpentarium. We'd heard from friends at church that this was a fun and educational outing (one of our marine biology friends--yes, we have several marine biology friends...maybe because we live near coasts frequently? maybe because I grew up on a island? hmmm--anywho, he liked it quite a lot).

And the Serpentarium didn't disappoint. Note: what follows may not be suitable for the vegetarians among my tiny band of loyal readers (tg and mtg, I'm looking at you).

The Serpentarium (I just really like that word, so I'm going to use it frequently) is a little over an hour's drive from our house through more rural South Carolina. It's really startling how quickly you go from developed areas to trailers and dilapidated abandoned houses abounding in this state. While at the Serpentarium, we learned yet another reason why we should avoid such parts of the state where things are so very overgrown, but more on that later.

We arrived just in time for the alligator feeding, which sounded much more dramatic than it was. The seven or so alligators in this pen were already assembling below an elevated platform from which they were thrown pieces of raw chicken. A demonstration of the dramatic eating practices of this super predator this was not. The animals were so lazy/conditioned that the chicken would hit them on the head and still they would struggle to locate it. But they were massive, paticularly Big George at some 10+ feet. Here's Jacob by some alligators who might be eyeing him as lunch but can't be bothered to act on those impulses.
After the feeding, we wandered around the habitats. There were many, many snakes of course, the stars of the Serpentarium held in open air areas filled with trees and grassy knolls and separated from the spectators by small moats. While we were watching the first area of snakes, we saw one coiled up in a tree very near where we were walking...and then noticed with audible gasps that the trees which almost overhung the walkway were FILLED with snakes. There were literally hundreds of them in the trees, very close to us. It was disconcerting, to say the least. Later, we learned this was the non-venomous pen, but still! There was also a venomous pen, with rattlers and diamond backs and copperheads of impressive dimensions, but their trees were trimmed much farther back than the others. There were also habitats with more alligators and all kinds of turtles and tortoises, the latter quietly munching on lettuce and squash.

Then it was time for the snake lecture, conducted by an imposing but surprisingly well-spoken young woman in knee high boots who clearly enunciated her accentless English, a rarity in South Carolina. She talked about venomous and non-venomous snakes alike, allowing the latter to coil around her while she lectured on things like the shape of snake pupils. Jacob and I only made it through a little of this half hour presentation because he was out of sorts and too distracted to eat, so we went to an outdoor pavilion after a little while and listened to the employees on lunch break (we learned that one of the women prefers her meat cooked "Elvis style," which apparently means burned. Who knew?). After the talk was over, the husband joined us for a picnic lunch of our own before the next event, the feeding of the snakes.

Apparently, these snakes are fed only once a week, so we were assured we were in for a treat, the highlight of a visit to the Serpentarium. When we returned from lunch, we found several employees throwing hundreds of little white mice into the snake pit. And then, there before our eyes, the snakes went at them, striking viciously with amazing speed and taking out poor little white mouse after poor little white mouse. The workers helpfully threw some mice into the trees as well, so many snakes didn't even have to make it to the ground to get their meal. And let me just say, I'm not super squeamish about snakes, particularly those enclosed in pens, but watching them feed en masse was chilling. Here you see Jacob was as enthralled as we we were, but what's really important is what's going on over his shoulder, which you can see more clearly in the next close-up shot.
That's right, that snake is swallowing that mouse in mid-air. CRAZY!

All in all, it was great if carnivorous afternoon at the Serpentarium. There is also an indoor exhibit with more snakes and shots of researchers off doing what they do when they study snakes, it appears: get bit and wrangle really, really large serpents. The husband noted, after looking at some pictures of 6 foot diamondbacks as thick as your calves that what we really never wanted to do was go to Ace Basin, SC, since that's where the majority of these snakes were found. I dutifully promised we would never go there, accursed place that it is...and then we passed the sign directing us to the Ace Basin Wildlife Refuge on our way home, right at the point we saw two teenagers cutting across an overgrown field by yet another run-down house. We had to resist the urge to stop and warn them to get the heck out of snake-infested dodge!

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