Exotic snakes coming to Academy of Sciences


A reluctant star is "lemondrop," a 15-foot long headliner at the Academy of Sciences new show.

"It's actually an albino reticulated python, so quite rare," says Chris Andrews.

The cameras were flashing when lemondrop arrived there last month, just in from a breeder in Los Angeles. Then he had to sacrifice his dignity for a few minutes to get a check-up. Lemondrop is missing the dark pigment that normally helps pythons hide, so he'd have a hard time in the wild. But he'll be safe, well-fed and living in a custom home at the academy.

"It's sort of a recreation of a Malaysian rain forest," says Ben Aller, exhibit maker and owner at Zoological Fabrication.

Lemondrop's home was made at a workshop outside Sacramento.

"What we are really trying to do here is create a connection between people who view the exhibits and the animals and their wild spaces," says Aller.

The exhibit has a steel and wood frame covered with foam and fiberglass.

"Something that the animals can crawl on and feel comfortable and has no sharp edges," says Aller.

By the time Lemondrop finally checked out his accommodations there were imbedded heat mats to keep him cozy, and a luxurious hot tub.

Now the race is on to get the rest of the exhibit ready for 60 other snakes and lizards coming from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It's a show with a purpose.

"We want to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about snakes and lizards because people have a lot of weird ideas," says Chris Andrews of the California Academy of Sciences.

Myth number one is that they are slimy. Not true.

"They are quite smooth and feel like warm leather if they come from a warm place," says Andrews.

Snakes and lizards take their body temperature from their surroundings.

"It really is great being a lizard because you spend a lot of time laying on a rock sunbathing," says Andrews.

Myth number two is that they're all venomous.

"There are 2,700 species of snakes in the world. Only about one in five are venomous and most of those don't really pose a threat to humans," according to Andrews.

A gaboon viper is venomous. Its big pink glands hold the venom, but it's still not likely to attack unless provoked.

Myth number three is that snakes and lizards bite. They actually do bite, but Andrews thinks they get a bad rap.

"They can bite, but so do hamsters, dogs and small children."

The exhibit contains so many exotic creatures that if they were laid end to end they would stretch across an entire football field. The big ones include a Burmese python, a much smaller blue-tongued skink and a frilled lizard. Despite their diversity, all these animals share a key feature.

"They are just wonderfully adapted to the world in which they live in," says Andrews.

Each one is a vital part of an eco-system.

"And like so much of wildlife, if we just leave them alone, let them do their thing, not only do they not do us any harm, they are actually beneficial," says Andrews.

The exhibit will also include a giant robotic snake that was used in the movie "Anaconda." It opens to the public Monday, May 9, 2011 and runs all summer.

>> Get details about the exhibit on the California Academy of Sciences website.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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