Dragons, skinks and pythons, on my! Big reptiles ‘invade’ Chatham

Andrew with Quai, the albino Burmese python, at Giant Reptiles Live at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, June 15, 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
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By Jeff Sovelove

Dragons, skinks, and pythons, oh my!

An attentive crowd at Chatham’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center got a hands-on introduction to Giant Reptiles Live over the weekend.

Andrew from the Snakes-N-Scales reptile rescue organization showed off some very special guests: Crocodilians, tuataras (from New Zealand), lizards/snakes, and turtles/tortoises.

Albert, the alligator snapping turtle, at Giant Reptiles Live at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, June 15, 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Sometimes they’ve wandered onto the New York Thruway. Others have been surrendered by owners who can’t care for them properly. State law requires sending crocodilians to Florida immediately. Other reptiles are kept at a rescue center in Wanaque.

First up Saturday was Kaleesi, a bearded dragon from Australia. She’s named for a Game of Thrones character, the Queen of Dragons.

The beard refers to the underside of the throat which can turn black if the animal is stressed or sees a potential rival. Bearded dragons are good climbers, spending significant time on branches and in bushes near human habitation.

They can be kept as pets and have been bred in many different colors and patterns. Young ones mostly eat insects, but they become vegetarians as they mature.

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove. Click / hover over images for captions:

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Next came Wilson, a ball python. Like all snakes, ball pythons use their tongues to sample the air and then use something called a Jacobson’s organ to process those tastes/smells.

They have heat sensing organs called pits in their heads, and their normal vision looks very much like an infrared camera so that they can sense prey. Snakes are deaf, but very sensitive to vibrations. They also have no eyelids since a modified clear scale covers the eye.

Andrew then brought out Rosie, a red-footed tortoise. Unlike turtles, which can tuck their legs inside their shell if threatened, tortoises only can tuck in their heads. Native to Central and South America, they are a favorite food of jaguars, which can bite right through their shells.

Rosie was fed the wrong diet in captivity, which led to her being taken from her owners and ending up at the rescue center. It also resulted in the large lumps on her shell, which should be smooth.

Andrew also pointed out that you must be very careful if you select one of these as a pet, because they can live 150 years.

Blue, the blue tongued skink, at Giant Reptiles Live at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, June 15, 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Next up was Blue, a blue-tongued skink from Australia. Skinks can leave their tails behind if a predator threatens them, but blue-tongued skinks can pop off theirs anytime.

They can do this as often as they need to. But they’re vulnerable without a tail, and their spines can become deformed if they regrow a tail too many times.

Albert the alligator snapping turtle also made an appearance. He was found on the New York State Thruway.

Alligator snappers feed on fish, burying their bodies on the bottom and leaving their mouths open, exposing a natural fishing lure. When a fish gets close enough, the powerful jaws snap shut.

Last up was Quai, an albino Burmese python. These snakes, the third largest in the world, typically measure 15 – 23 feet when fully grown.

Quai was turned in by baffled owners who thought they had purchased a smaller species; Quai outgrew his tank and kept growing.

Albinos don’t survive in the wild due to their lack of natural camouflage. Burmese pythons are docile but most owners can’t keep them once they get too large. Quai is nine feet long and weighs about 23 pounds.

When the presentation concluded, Andrew invited the audience to come up one by one and stroke Quai’s smooth skin. The program was a big hit with young and old alike.

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