Summer Growth: the New PWC Animals

         We are happy to say that our family here at PWC has expanded this summer with the addition of two Eastern Box Turtles, a Black Widow Spider and her youngsters, a Greenish Rat Snake, and a Bearded Dragon.

Box Turtles

Shelly (left, front) and Sheldon (right, back) sunning near the chicken coop.

         The two Eastern Box Turtles are named Shelly and Sheldon, and they are located inside the rebuilt chickenrun.  They came to us from Midgard Serpents Reptile Rescue and Sanctuary in June along with the Black Widow Spider, named Scarlet, and the Greenish Rat Snake, named Jade.  However, Jade is affectionately known as “Greenie” by the staff.  Shelly and Sheldon are a female and male pair who assist us at programs to educate both children and adults about our local wildlife and the Box Turtle Connection research project we are a part of.  You can read more about the Box Turtle Connection on our website, just look underneath the ‘Conservation’ tab to find the link.  Shelly and Sheldon were specifically picked to come educate with us because each one demonstrates all the characteristics of their gender.  Shelly has orange-brown eyes, plain colors, a flat plastron (the lower shell), and a tall, wide carapace (the upper shell).  Sheldon has brilliant crimson eyes, bright colors of yellows and blacks, a dip on the posterior part of the plastron, and a flatter carapace with a curled back edge known as a flange.

          Scarlet is only available for viewing at our cabin.  She resides next to Reina the Eastern Kingsnake in the main room and enjoys her tri-weekly mistings.  Scarlet was given up because she was producing too many egg sacs; in fact, she has already produced several for us!  In addition to receiving her, we were also donated her latest clutch of spiderlings; they resided in an empty soda bottle above Sara’s desk, but only one of the youngsters now remain.  In a closed environment, the hundreds of spiderlings will cannibalize each other until only one or two are left; in the wild, the youngsters would disperse to prevent overcrowding and cannibalization.  To accomplish this, the spiderlings release a strand of silk that is caught by the wind, carrying them some distance away from their natal site.  As a fun and useful fact, Black Widows are not venomous to humans at this age.

Green Rat Snake

Jade enjoying the sun in her outdoor enclosure.

          Jade the Greenish Rat Snake lives in the Grey Fox room of the cabin across from Miracle the Dove.  He is an intergrade of the Black Rat Snake we see in the mountain and piedmont areas of North Carolina and the Yellow Rat Snake we see on the coast.  Intergrades are different from hybrids because of the degree of relatedness between the animals.  Hybrids are formed when separate species mate and produce offspring, and the result is typically sterile.  However, intergrades are formed when various sub-species mate; because they are more related, the result is typically fertile and can breed with either parent’s subspecies or another intergrade to produce viable offspring.  Jade was bred in captivity, but the owner was no longer interested in keeping him, so he was rescued by Midgard and is very tame.  He has been a favorite at presentations, but he also caused us to reconsider how we travel with our snakes.  We attempted to transport him in our usual traveling boxes, yet to our chagrin, he managed to escape it en route to one of our programs in Raleigh.  As the passenger, I was able to crawl into the back to fetch him before he found somewhere else to explore – like under Gail’s seat.  Since then, each of our serpents has a cozy pillowcase they reside in while they are transported in their boxes.  The pillow case, which is tied at the top, simulates a burrow, and this causes them to feel safe and secure.

Bearded Dragon

Mr. Woozle exploring the wild grasses in front of the cabin near Miracle’s outdoor cage.

         Finally, our Bearded Dragon is named Mr. Woozle, and he was kindly donated to us by a woman in Raleigh who wanted to downsize her reptile collection.  Not a native species, Bearded Dragons are found in central Australian deserts, but you may see or hear about them in the US due to their popularity as pets.  However, despite his desert-dwelling ancestors, Mr. Woozle enjoys a dip in his pool and being spritzed on the hotter days we’ve had this summer.  He is extremely friendly and loves being fed fresh crickets or grasshoppers or hanging out during lunch breaks.  His lesson is to always do your research before investing time and money into an exotic animal; they have very different requirements than those of our usual cats and dogs, and most of their ailments are due to poor husbandry.  They will also not seek to please you as a dog might, and their activity level can be low, making them a “boring” pet for children who would like an animal they can interact more freely with.  However, they can make wonderful companions if you know what to expect!

Thank you for checking up on us, and our guys hope to see you at a program soon!

– Mary McConnell, 2012 summer intern