Learning to Love Reptiles   4 comments

An alligator lizard basks in the warm spring sunshine of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

An alligator lizard basks in the warm spring sunshine of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

 

I used to be a bit of a sissy when it came to snakes, and by extension nearly all reptiles.  A few of my childhood friends had pet snakes of course, but I never even got into going to the reptile house at the zoo truth be told.  The only reptiles I liked were turtles, and they are so different as to be considered by most of us as a separate group, incorrect as that notion is.  So turtles were the only reptiles we kept as kids.  We even dug a nice little pond in the backyard and filled it with water for those box turtles who were “lucky” enough to be saved from predators in the nearby woods.

Boomslangs are highly venomous snakes native to southern Africa, here emerging from a tree in Kruger National park.

Boomslangs are highly venomous snakes native to southern Africa, here emerging from a tree in Kruger National park.

 

I taught science some years ago in an outdoor setting, a semi-desert chock-full of snakes and lizards.  I simply had to overcome my distaste at touching snakes at that point, since the school-kids who I taught there would have never taken me seriously if they knew I was afraid of reptiles.  I learned that handling a large gopher snake was not at all as unpleasant as I had believed.  Like anything you just need to go slow and get used to it.  It did not take me as long as I expected it would to get over my aversion to the slimy-muscular feel of their skin.

A deadly fer de lance (mapanale in the local language) hangs out near Angel Falls, Venezuela.

A deadly fer de lance (mapanale in the local language) hangs out near Angel Falls, Venezuela.

 

I encountered plenty of rattle snakes on this job as well, and there were a couple close calls.  One dark evening I was approached by a young girl, just as I was packing up a telescope after an observing session.  She said there was a rattle-snake in their cabin.  I was skeptical but went up the hill to find all of them standing outside in their jammies, beyond excited (imagine a group of school girls on a camping trip and you have the picture).  I scoured the cabin but found nothing.  On the way out, smirking at yet another city-kid over-reaction to being in the outdoors, I heard the tell-tale rattle.  I shone the flashlight around and heard it again, coming from underneath the eaves of the A-frame cabin.  I crouched down and there he was, a big rattler coiled and glaring at me.

A close-up of an alligator lizard.

A close-up of an alligator lizard.

 

I moved the girls further away, getting their slightly less-panicky chaperone to keep watch on them while I fetched a snake stick.  This is a pole with a sort of grabber on the end.  It allows you to grasp a snake behind its head and capture it without getting too close.  I then crouched down and while shining the flashlight with one hand reached under and slowly approached the snake with the snake stick.  Just when I thought he was mine, he decided to make his move.  He slithered right for me.  Since I was laying on the ground, I couldn’t move out of the way quickly enough and had to make a capture attempt before I was ready.  Luckily my coordination was with me that night and I got him.  I don’t like to think about the alternative, with that big ugly snake wanting out of there with nothing in his way but my big ugly face.

A gopher snake shows off the tip of his tongue in eastern Oregon.

A gopher snake shows off the tip of his tongue in eastern Oregon.

 

Since then, I have gotten close to some fairly impressive snakes and reptiles.  There was one in southern Nepal, a rock python who had recently consumed a deer.  This was the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.  And my guide, who grew up around there, had never seen a bigger one.  He estimated it was at least 7 meters long!  I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo and this one was bigger than any they have.

My that's a long tongue you have: a komodo dragon sniffs out a lunch option, the one holding the camera.

My that’s a long tongue you have: a komodo dragon sniffs out a lunch option, the one holding the camera.

 

In Venezuela, I got pretty close to a fer de lance, the deadliest snake in the Americas (see image).  I saw a black mamba crossing the road in South Africa, and got much closer to a boomslang (see image).  And in Indonesia I visited the islands of the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard.  It is very disquieting watching these monsters watch you.  The look they give you is unmistakable: they are waiting for you to make a mistake, just calmly waiting for you to become their dinner.

A small lizard perches on the back of the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon in Indonesia .

A small lizard perches on the back of the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon in Indonesia .

 

On a hike recently in the eastern Columbia River Gorge near home in Oregon, I saw a couple snakes and an alligator lizard (see images above).  It’s been a long winter and a long time since I’ve seen a reptile.  I suppose I am completely over any lingering fear of snakes and lizards.  Now all they do is make me smile, as I know they are harbingers of warm sunny afternoons ahead.  In addition, they are fascinating creatures, real holdovers from Earth’s bygone days.  All they want is a slow-paced lifestyle with plenty of sunbathing.  What’s not to love?

Close-up view of a geometric tortoise's shell, in the western Cape, South Africa.

Close-up view of a geometric tortoise’s shell, in the western Cape, South Africa.

 

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Might not want to leave your room just yet:  a large komodo dragon prowls the grounds of my guest house on Rinca Island, Indonesia.

Might not want to leave your room just yet: a large komodo dragon prowls the grounds of my guest house on Rinca Island, Indonesia.

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4 responses to “Learning to Love Reptiles

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  1. I guess the one holding the camera was not too close to these ugly creatures…

  2. Thanks you two. I’m secretly much happier when folks like my stories than my pictures (though that’s nice too).

  3. That was a delightful story! 😀 I am always amazed not just by the photography but the places you have travelled to take them. I haven’t taken any reptile photos in my short career with the camera – I wonder why? 😀 With much respect, Sharon

  4. Yikes – you have far more experience with all those nasty creatures than I ever want to. Still I can enjoy the great photos and stories.

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