SNAKES & LIZARDS: THE SUMMER OF SLITHER

California Academy of Sciences welcomes more than 60 new
legged and legless lizards

NorthBayFeb11-1.jpgSAN FRANCISCO — Home to more than 38,000 live animals from around the world, San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences is already hopping, crawling, climbing and slithering with dozens of lizards and snakes from around the world. But beginning May 7, 2011, squamates (the group that includes both legged and legless lizards, including snakes) will enjoy an even larger share of the spotlight at the museum.

Over 60 new scaled reptiles will take up residence at the Academy this summer as part of the museum’s newest exhibit, Snakes & Lizards: The Summer of Slither. Showcasing a variety of amazing squamate adaptations, including projectile tongues, deadly venom, remarkable camouflage, and sometimes surprising modes of locomotion, the exhibit will run through September 5.

"Snakes and lizards are some of the most successful vertebrates on Earth," says Dr. Chris Andrews, Chief of Public Engagement at the California Academy of Sciences and lifelong snake aficionado. "They have survived for over 200 million years, diversifying to occupy important biological niches on every continent except Antarctica—they can even be found inside the Arctic Circle. Along the way, they have evolved a number of remarkable survival strategies and have become crucial cogs in the wheels of their ecosystems. These animals have a tremendous amount to teach us about the evolutionary history and sustainability of life on Earth."

Over 300 Feet of Snake…

During the Snakes & Lizards exhibit, the California Academy of Sciences will be filled with exotic snakes from around the world that boast a cumulative length of over 300 feet. That’s enough footage to stretch the entire length of a football field. The two largest snakes in the building, Burmese pythons that measure 15 feet and 20 feet long, will be stationed at the ground-floor entrance to the exhibit, welcoming visitors into the remarkable world of scaled reptiles.

One of these pythons, a bright yellow beauty named Lemondrop, is an albino—he lacks the dark pigments that normally help pythons blend into the background while draped across tree branches. Lemondrop would have a hard time sneaking up on prey in the wild, but he stays well fed with the help of Academy biologists.

Sight Hounds vs. Nose Hounds

Throughout the exhibit, visitors will learn about the diverse array of adaptations that have made squamates such a successful group, meeting live animals along the way that exemplify these traits. In order to communicate, hunt, and find a mate, some squamates rely primarily on their vision, while others turn to their sense of smell. Sight is supreme for the iguanas and their relatives, a group of about 1,400 species that some experts call the "sight hounds" of the squamate world. Like humans, these animals rely mostly on vision, not smell, to find their dinners and their mates—and to figure out what other members of their species are telling them.

Other than the occasional hiss, squamates tend to be silent, but the sight hounds can definitely communicate. For these animals, movement and color change are a kind of language. Lashing tails or hisses can mean "Back off!" as can head bobs and push-ups. A change in skin color may mean "I'm asleep" or "I'm looking for a mate." Chameleons—which contrary to popular belief do not change color as a camouflage tactic, but rather to send messages to one another—are among the most talented color communicators. For other squamates, including monitors, skinks and snakes, the world is alive with chemical cues. These "nose hounds" use their long, forked tongues as part of an amazing chemoreceptive system, collecting odor molecules and delivering them to special sense organs in the roof of the mouth. They use their tongues for everything from detecting the location of their prey to finding mates.

Touching Moments

Snakes & Lizards also offers numerous interactive stations, inviting museum-goers to listen to recorded squamate sounds, test their knowledge about these scaled reptiles, explore the inner workings of a rattlesnake on the hunt, and view videos of amazing squamate adaptations. An activity center for children encourages youngsters to engage in a variety of hands-on activities, including matching lizards to their habitats, assembling squamate skeletons, touching skin casts, piecing together puzzles, and playing science-related games. Additionally, special programs throughout the day will offer visitors the chance to touch live snakes and lizards and talk to Academy biologists about what it takes to care for these creatures.

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DETAILS:

Location- The California Academy of Sciences,  inside Golden Gate Park off Lincoln Ave. and 19th.

Admission- $29.95 adults; $24.95 youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors 65+ and students with valid ID; $19.95

Hours- 9:30 to 5, Monday - Saturday, and 11 to 5 Sunday.

Visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.


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