More than meets the eye
By JESSICA WELSHANS
LLENWOOD – More than cold-blooded creatures can be found in dark-room exhibits at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland on Route 15. Upstairs, thousands of specimens are housed in amphibian and reptile rooms.
“This is where most of our animals are,” said Jeff Cook, zoological manager.
As part of a behind-the-scenes tour, visitors can schedule a date and time to see the other side of what happens at the zoo.
The tours are led by an zoo expert and last around 30 minutes.
The amphibian room is kept warm for its creatures, which serve various purposes. Reptiland provides many other zoos, aquariums and museums with traveling exhibits.
For instance, some of the zoo’s frogs now are at the Georgia Aquarium and others will be sent to New York City’s Museum of Natural History.
“Each of the exhibits typically houses 90 frogs,” Cook said.
Soon, he said, some of the geckos will go to an exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
“That keeps us busy. That is why this room is as full as it is. It is mostly frogs, and we have a lot of frogs that go out and we have backups,” Cook said. “The amphibian room is kept a notch cooler than the reptile room because the frogs live in cooler environments.”
That is why the rhino rat snake, a beautiful, vividly green snake is there. Visitors can see it as it crawls along the glass of the cage.
“They don’t have an exhibit yet. They will likely at some point because they are so unique,” Cook said.
“Some of the other reptiles that like a cooler environment live in here – like chameleons – but it’s mostly frogs,” he said.
Sometimes, depending on what is living at the zoo at any given time, visitors might catch a glimpse of an endangered species.
“People can see adult frogs, and we do have some involvement in a program with a highly endangered frog – a Panamanian golden frog,” Cook said, pointing to it in a case on a back shelf.
“They are likely extinct in the wild. The only viable populations are in captivity. We try to entice them to breed,” Cook said.
Nearby, tadpoles from poison dart frogs swim about in a container.
He pointed out another container filled with what seemed to be hundreds of tadpoles.
“That is one hatch from a smooth side toad. They lay and build a foam nest. It looks like meringue on top of a pie. They suspend the eggs and, when they emerge, they drop into the water below,” Cook said.
Those tadpoles are going to another institute that is interested in raising the toad.
Charts on the sides of the containers provide feeding information. The zoo has an interesting formula pertaining to feeding, and staffers document it on the cards.
A learning experience
Visitors are encouraged to question the staff on anything they wish.
“They can ask questions and look at anything,” Cook said.
Most people want to know what is fed to the animals and have questions about the lighting.
The tour moves into the reptile room, which contains reptiles and some amphibians and also is where the food is prepped for when it’s feeding time.
“A lot the food prep is right over here. There is a refrigerator with items in there like produce as well as things like meal worms,” Cook said.
He pointed at diet sheets made up for every animal and said visitors can ask about those and the notes kept on them.
Some highlights of the room are the venomous snakes. A variety of species, from hooded cobras to a eastern diamondback named “Happy,” make it their home.
Tour takers also can see a variety of creatures – dwarf crocodiles, juvenile green mamba snake, frilled lizards, chameleons, tarantulas and scorpions. There’s even the newest resident to the zoo – the Komodo dragons.
Other creatures of the warm-blooded type, such as Batman and Rodney, hang out alongside the reptiles.
“Over here we have our giant fruit bat, Batman, and Rodney, the kinkajou. Those two are used in the rain forest program or bio-diversity shows,” Cook said.
Cook said the tours started because there was a demand for them.
“We had people asking about them enough we though we would make it a feature,” he said.
So far, they have been very popular.
“It is something when people do it, they are excited about it,” he said.
He mentioned it’s a good way to be a little more up close to the animals at the zoo, too.
“What is not seen is the attraction. I would say people who take the behind-the-scenes tour are the people that are very curious of what goes on,” Cook said. “A lot of times, a son or daughter or someone in the family has a particular interest in reptiles, or they have a few snakes at home.”
Groups can make an appointment for the tours.
Prices vary per group size and age limits may exist. Audio and video recording of any kind is not permitted.
Behind-the-scenes tours do not include general admission.