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Reptile fans slither in for museum event
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About 500 people attended Saturday’s Reptile Day festival at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville. Above, Johanna Farmer (right) keeps a Burmese Python on a table for children to pet. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Giant snakes impressed those who stopped by Reptile Day to get up close and personal with their scaly friends at the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Saturday.

More than 500 people got a chance to see and handle a variety of snakes during the day-long program.

Keith Farmer of the North Carolina Herpetological Society had snakes in cages and containers laid across several tables for children to observe, touch and ask questions about. Farmer said he hopes to help people become more comfortable around snakes because most are harmless.

A large boa constrictor was draped around his shoulders during the event. As he answered questions about snakes, the python slowly wrapped itself around Farmer. He said there was no danger since the python was much too small to be interested in him as a potential meal.

Most of the time snakes encountered in the wild are more afraid of people than the people are of them, Farmer said. He added that even with poisonous snakes, it is best to leave them alone because they have no reason to attack a person who is too big to eat.

"Snakes do a lot of good," said Farmer, adding that although snakes help keep mice and rat populations down, "a lot of people have an unnatural fear of snakes."

Nikki Blankenship, 11, of Collinsville, wasn't afraid of snakes. She was examining a large albino Burmese python while it wrapped itself around reptile enthusiast Brice Stevens.

"It feels weird," Nikki said after touching the python.

Stevens explained that the scales on the snake are made out of keratin, which is the same thing human fingernails are made of. Nikki said she likes snakes because many of them are colorful, and she hopes that when she gets older she can have a snake of her own.

Snakes weren't the only reptiles on display Saturday. A small fenced in area provided a temporary home for a large African Spurred Tortoise, which was about two feet around in circumference.

"I haven't seen a turtle that big ever," said Hayden Fulcher, 6, of Martinsville.

Hayden said he was excited to see all of the snakes at Reptile Day, but he also was interested in the shark teeth and dinosaur bones on display nearby. When asked whether he preferred snakes or dinosaurs, he thought about it and then declared that he liked both equally.

Also during Reptile Day, Mark Kilby of Luray Zoo gave live reptile demonstrations, and Bonnie Keller spoke about rescuing reptiles. There also were educational activities, including stories and games about reptiles.


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