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Keeper Stories – Thursday, March 23

Snakes! When I bring a snake out during an animal presentation, I usually encounter at least one person who’s a little less than enthusiastic. If you are afraid of snakes, let me start by saying it’s okay; in fact, many other animals have a natural fear of snakes (aside from species like the mongoose, whose diet includes snakes). I hope to shed some better light on snakes so that, if you are one of those who comes to a zoo and hesitates about one of our snakes, you might stay and learn a bit more (or at least not run away as fast).

Our goal at Zoo Atlanta is to give you a better understanding as to why we should respect snakes, and maybe even to help end your fear of snakes. Why should we respect snakes? Let’s start with what most snakes eat: rodents. If there was a field with no predators and only one male and one female mouse, within one year those two mice would turn into one million mice! So we should be thanking snakes for keeping down rodent populations.

If that doesn’t convince you, then let’s focus on some of snakes’ awesome adaptations. First: they smell with their tongues! The fork on their tongue collects odors and can tell what direction those odors are coming from so that they can track down that mouse and swallow it whole. Some snakes, such as vipers, pythons and boas, have what are called pit organs. Have you ever seen an infrared camera? That’s what these pit organs do. Because rodents are warm-blooded, their bodies produce heat. The pit organs in these snakes can “see” the heat of that rodent. Combine that superpower with their amazing sense of smell, and you can see why snakes are some of the most awesome and unique predators out there. So next time you’re at one of Zoo Atlanta’s wildlife presentations or go into Scaly Slimy Spectacular and see a snake, you don’t have to run. Instead, remember why snakes are superheroes.
Deidre Ousterhout
Keeper II, Program Animals

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