Don't forget the Reptile House

March 12, 1998|By Teara D. Quamina | Teara D. Quamina,Contributing Writer

As visitors enter through the huge double doors, they are greeted by a doorman who directs them into the intimate showroom. Twenty-four exhibits are encased in marble that extends from the floor to the high, arched ceilings and are protected by polished brass railings.

Does this sound like a museum?

Well, it is a living museum at the Reptile House in Druid Hill Park.

It houses more than 500 amphibians and reptiles, including venomous snakes and poisonous frogs.

For those preferring to wait out the initial excitement at the opening of the National Aquarium in Baltimore's "Venom: Striking Beauties" exhibit, the Reptile House offers an introduction to venomous reptiles. Unlike the aquarium's new show, there aren't any laser light effects or earth-beat fusion soundtracks, just the natural beauty of these creatures.

The teal and black poison dart frog can be seen jumping among trees and rocks. The banded Gila monster and red pigmy rattlesnake, both venomous, also currently are on exhibit.

Headed by curator Anthony Wisnieski and assistant curator Vicky Poole, the Reptile House re-creates each animal's habitat as closely as possible by implementing multi-species exhibits, including live plants and greenery, and controlling water temperature and climates electronically for each exhibit.

Each keeper has a specialty that enhances the exhibits: Tim Andrews, crocodiles and snakes; Eric Anderson, amphibians; Jim Glacobbe, amphibians and lizards; and Mark Wanner, snakes.

The Reptile House was recognized as Baltimore's first aquarium in 1938, but now it is better known for its work with breeding reptiles. It doesn't just display the reptiles, its workers help to repopulate species that are in danger of extinction.

The Reptile House has been successful in researching and reproducing the conditions necessary for breeding. Poole, who has worked at the Reptile House since 1993, says that sometimes it takes years of planning because the animals must be completely comfortable and able to engage in rituals just as they would in their natural habitats.

She says it is worth the effort when the eggs are hatched or the babies are born. The keepers name the animals as they learn their personalities and become friends with their subjects. Butch, an 11-year-old Tokay Gecko, has been a resident of the Reptile House for seven years. He often can be seen stretched over a log in a glass case as soon as visitors enter the room. His size is intimidating but, according to keepers, he is gentle and sweet. Old Girl, a 70-year-old African mud turtle, is also a member of the family. She is the oldest turtle in the Baltimore Zoo and is still breeding.

The Reptile House, which is part of the Baltimore Zoo but located outside the main grounds, is open Wednesday-Monday, including holidays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $1 for nonmembers. Members, children under 2 years old and school groups are free. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Free parking is available along Druid Park Drive. For more information, call 410-396-7102.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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