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Reptile Day draws a crowd
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Kiara France holds her nephew, K.J. France, 3, as he gets a close-up view of a boa constrictor held by Carolyn Seay of the Virginia Museum of Natural History during Saturday’s Reptile Day at the museum. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Nine-year-old Paxton Hale wants a pet snake, but first he must convince his mom to let him have one.

“I’m not crazy about them,” Eden Hale of Martinsville said while they looked at a variety of snakes on display at the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s annual Reptile Day on Saturday.

But in case she lets him have one, she asked Keith Farmer of the N.C. Herpetological Society — herpetology being the study of reptiles and amphibians — what kind of snake he would recommend for a pet.

With a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck and a smaller ball python wrapped around his arm, Farmer recommended a docile corn snake.

“I want one now, please, please,” Paxton Hale pleaded, tugging his mom’s arm.

After talking to Farmer, “I’ll definitely put more thought into it,” she said.

No commitment, though.

More than 200 live reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, lizards and turtles, were on display at the festival, which attracted “well over 1,000” people, said museum Marketing and Public Affairs Manager Zach Ryder.

Professional handlers such as Farmer educated visitors about the creatures and discussed why snakes should be tolerated, if not liked.

There are many more species of nonpoisonous snakes than poisonous ones. Some nonpoisonous snakes kill the poisonous ones and other creatures more dangerous than they are, according to scientists.

“If they would hurt me, I wouldn’t be wearing them,” Farmer said about the boa and the python, speaking to kids and parents who asked about them.

Usually, he said, “if you don’t go out of your way to hurt them, they won’t go out of their way to hurt you.”

Most of the snakes on display were nonpoisonous, but a few poisonous ones common to Virginia, including a copperhead and rattlesnake, were there — in enclosures, of course.

Ryder said to his understanding no snake has ever gotten loose, or out of its owner’s control, and posed a danger to anyone at the annual festival.

But one almost got loose on Saturday.

A woman approached an aquarium with a nonpoisonous black pine snake inside. The snake suddenly raised up and began pushing the lid off of the aquarium. Startled, the woman placed her pocketbook on the lid to keep it from coming off. The snake’s owner then came over and placed a plastic container with another snake inside on top of the aquarium lid.

The pine snake had been moving around in its enclosure and continued to do so. However, most of the snakes in enclosures moved around little, if at all.

The other creatures had their share of visitors, who were able to touch some, such as the turtles. But the snakes got the most attention.

“Everyone either loves or hates snakes,” Ryder said. “One way or another, they strike a chord with people,” and that prompts visitors to come to the festival to learn about them.

“I love snakes,” said Seana Flippen of Martinsville, who brought her two children and her mother to the festival. “I’d never have one (as a pet), but they’re fun to look at.”

Most of the kids at Reptile Day were captivated by the snakes. Under the supervision of their parents and handlers, many held nonpoisonous ones or wrapped snakes around their bodies. Some snakes were too big to hold.

Madeline Reynolds, 9, of Collinsville, was handling a small western hognose snake while she had a stuffed snake toy wrapped around her.

Her mother, Melody Reynolds, has told her that she could have a pet snake after she turns 10.

“She wants one pretty bad,” her mother said.

Madeline said she likes snakes because “I like the way they move” when they slither around.

Asked what she would tell people who are afraid of snakes to reduce their fear, she simply said “most snakes are not venomous.”

She might have a hard time convincing Amanda Witt not to be scared.

Witt, the president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, brought her 3-year-old son, Ronnie, to the festival. She said that while they were looking at the snakes, he grabbed at one but she pushed it away.

“He loves them, but I’m a bit cautious” about snakes, Witt said, admitting that she has a phobia about them.

By coming to Reptile Day, “I learned a lot more than I thought I ever would about snakes,” she said.

But would she ever consider having one as a pet?

“No, not at all!” Witt declared.


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