Aquarium hopes snakes charm visitors in March Exhibit to feature pair of vipers

February 18, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

The National Aquarium in Baltimore will feature a new exhibit next month -- poisonous snakes from the rain forests of Costa Rica.

"We think that it's important we show people that venomous snakes can be beautiful," Jack Cover, the aquarium's curator for rain forest exhibits, said yesterday. "They deserve respect. They're part of the ecosystem and they have their place in it."

Mr. Cover said the vipers will be the first in the aquarium's animal collection.

The snakes -- an eyelash viper and a hognose viper -- will be on display in glass cases in the aquarium's Hidden Life exhibit.

They are about as venomous as a Maryland-variety copperhead, which means a bite would probably not be lethal to a human, although there have been some fatal bites reported in Costa Rica, Mr. Cover said.

The eyelash viper, a bright yellow variety so-named because of a scaly protrusions over its eyes that resemble eyelashes, is expected to be a big draw.

"They're really exquisite as far as coloration. A yellow specimen is particularly striking, no pun intended," Mr. Cover said. "A snake like this doesn't have to be feared; it's aesthetically appealing."

The hognose viper is a brownish ground snake, unlike the tree-dwelling eyelash viper. Both snakes are between 1 and 2 feet long, and reach a maximum length of about 3 feet when mature.

Aquarium workers have gotten a crash course in snakebite treatment. And there is now a large red "panic" button on the wall of a stockroom, in case an employee is bitten during a feeding or while moving the snakes.

Vicki Aversa, an aquarium spokeswoman, said venomous snakes are part of an ongoing "diversification" of the aquarium's animal exhibits.

"We're branching out and expanding the range of animals in our collection so the public can experience all the diversity that's in a habitat like a rain forest," Ms. Aversa said. "Part of our role is to discover new ways that we can educate the public about animals."

Along with the snakes, two golden lion tamarins -- small Brazilian monkeys with gold manes -- also will become an aquarium first next month when they are let loose in the aquarium's tropical rain forest, officials said.

They are the first members of endangered species to be brought the aquarium, officials said.

The tamarins, facing extinction from the devastation of rain forests, are lent to zoos and aquariums in the United States by the Brazilian government as part of a species survival program.

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