Prehistoric Pets at the Reptile Zoo–and some baby Darwins.

There was actually a point when I believed summer hadn’t been quite as full of adventure as I had originally intended. It’s true we didn’t actually leave town except for one week at the beach, but after a quick review of my photos it was clear to me we’d been very busy with many small adventures.

I simply moved from one spot to the next so quickly I hadn’t fully absorbed how many different day-long activities we’d enjoyed.

And many of our little field trips included adventurous companions.

I recently found a very challenging and thought-provoking quote attributed to Mark Twain.

“We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift, our personal association, which means so much to them, we give grudgingly.”

Well, I would be miserable if I thought this quote true of us–the very best outings include time with our two favorite little girls. And sometimes those adventure require a little extra energy!

Papa is a good sport. He really, really, really doesn’t like snakes. But he has granddaughters who do. So off we went to the Fountain Valley location of Prehistoric Pets, The Reptile Zoo, home to more than 100 exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids collected from around the world.

Albino Reticulated Python
Albino Reticulated Python

We met Twinkie, the World’s Largest Snake–according to the zoo literature. Twinkie weighs in at 350 pounds and is over 20 feet long. I don’t think Jay spent a lot of time admiring her beautiful markings.

Then there was Thelma and Louise.

Two-headed Texas ratt Snake
Two-headed Texas Rat Snake

Unfortunately for this photographer, Thelma, or maybe it was Louise, was camera shy. Two heads and two brains–one stomach. I did my best to wait for both heads to look at the camera…maybe next time!

Sophia and Karina don’t remember when Darwin was a little guy. They were really curious about the baby African Spurred Tortoises. Five years ago Darwin looked just like these little cuties.

Baby African Spurred Tortoises
Baby African Spurred Tortoises

This is a remarkable place for anyone who enjoys reptiles…or adults willing to conquer their personal phobias to share a special experience with their little ones.

The terrarium habitats are floor to ceiling, and there was one moment when even Sophia became a bit overwhelmed. I think claustrophobia set in…as well as her hyper-sensitive imagination.

After she reached out to stroke one of the snakes carted about the room by one of the young attendants, I noticed a change in Sophia’s demeanor. I asked her if she was doing alright.

“Nan. I think I felt that snake’s fangs touch the back of my head. Was it venomous?”

“No Sophia. All the venomous snakes are in their cages. They can’t take them out and let us touch them. And I was watching you the whole time. I know it didn’t touch you—you touched it.”

“Are you sure? Did you ever take your eyes off me?”

I finally reassured my imaginative granddaughter–the one who spends time watching documentaries on prehistoric animals and trying to understand what happened to animals during the Ice Age– that under our care we had not permitted her to suffer a venomous snake bite.

But there was a definite decline in her enjoyment. She and Papa retired to another part of the zoo to watch the giant two-hundred pound “Darwins” and waited for me to conclude my photo shoot. Karina kept me running company, making sure I noticed every detail on each and every snake, tortoise or alligator. She has an artist’s eye for detail and made sure I could compare and contrast coloring, spots and stripes on every caged creature.

It’s amazing what I learn from these two girls!

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So tell me…

How would you have fared? Do you like reptiles? How about hundreds of them in close quarters?

We’ll never have a snake in our home. Of course, Jay would be miserable. But in addition to his phobia, I can’t handle rodents! I have been known to be quite hysterical if a mouse is loose anywhere near me. And you know what snakes eat…EEEK!

But I loved these beautiful reptiles!

I’ll tell you what I don’t love, however! I drove home tonight in the dark…and it was all of 7:30. So I’m going to keep talking summer until I’m mentally prepared to make the fall transition.

So next stop on the summer retrospective? Hint: there’s music!

65 thoughts on “Prehistoric Pets at the Reptile Zoo–and some baby Darwins.

  1. I think we visited this one…isn’t the “zoo” in a strip mall? I agree, I love these places not so much for the critters but how intrigued the little ones are and how much we learn from them. May we have a lot more adventures like these to learn from!

    1. You’re right! The reptile zoo is in a strip mall in the heart of Fountain Valley. My daughter had heard of it and told me about it. She’s not crazy about snakes, so I volunteered! We have been on the go so much lately I’m actually thinking I may need to take a “pause” in the action this fall. My nest needs a little TLC, and we need to be home to take care of it! 🙂

  2. Im not a reptile fan but I think Im ok with them, except for the snakes, I dont like them much cause I get the feeling that theyre very aggressive. I dont think I would ever dare to touch them like that.
    I was curious about the two headed snake, so I looked for it, theres info at the zoo page (this is very you went, right?):
    At first I thought the other head was at its tail 😛
    It would be very thrilling to see one fighting for the food or each other. The page says that this one does not, I guess it got smart and figured out it goes to the same stomach.
    Great photos, that green snake looks very creepy.

    1. Yes, you found the right place! I know what you mean about the other head looking like its tail. I tried several photos and couldn’t seem to get it right! I thought this was a wonderful place and I hope to go again sometime. I really do enjoy reptiles, but they are a lot of work, with very specialized requirements for their care. I will just have to go and visit sometimes! 🙂

    1. Mark Twain was quite a wise man! I have great respect for women today who are willing to sacrifice more “things” and financial ease in order to be home full time. I’m probably very old fashioned that way, but I know firsthand you can’t get that time back! The way you share about your boys, I know you made the right decision for your family. You have such ease, comfort and friendship with each…no money can buy that! ox

  3. Same here, stay at home mum and having not much money. But then this was in the 1960s. I loved the baby tortoises! 🙂 And the snakes have such interesting patterns. Very beautiful. Thanks for sharing your pictures. It’s great that you enjoy so much the company of your two little granddaughters. They probably see their outings with their grandparents as something extra special and are always going to remember these.

    1. I was fortunate to be home with my children, too, and didn’t work full-time until they were in high school. I think times have changed a great deal since then, and it seems to take two incomes just to stay afloat! I do enjoy time with Sophia and Karina. They make me laugh a great deal…that’s keeping me young. (That’s what I tell myself). 🙂

  4. Love the way you spend time with the girls with tings that are educational. Meanwhile, although reptiles aren’t my favorite, they (like the rest of the biological world) have interesting details. Great photos!

    1. I try to respond to the girls’ interests, and fortunately they are curious little creatures themselves! I also love that they also know more than I do when we go on some of these educational adventures. 🙂 I loved the colors and patterns on these reptiles. I think I’d actually love to have a gila monster–I love their appearance. But I have enough common sense to quash that possibility! 🙂

  5. Great reflections – something we should keep in mind. I listen to a broad range of music and one of my choices on the plane today was, “Sunrise, Sunset” by Perry Como! The perfect song to have playing in my head while reading your post. Our nest just became empty a week ago! Feels very empty!

    1. I love “Sunrise, Sunset” and I have great regard for Perry Como, but I don’t recall his version of the song! I’d like to hear that, actually. I really understand that feeling when the empty nest is a new experience. I feel for you–and I can “hear” that silence! I am keenly aware of how quickly time is flying, and I know I will blink and the girls will be in their teens and probably not have a lot of time to roam around museums with their “old” grandparents. I’m front-loading all the fun we can fit in! 🙂

  6. I can’t believe that albino snake. It’s so unusual and you do wonder how these snakes are able to camouflage in the wild. The markings are very pretty but I’m certainly not a fan of snakes xx

    1. The snakes weren’t too active in their terrariums, mostly staying warm under the heat lamps and then appearing to rest. I think it made it possible for me to closely examine their beautiful markings and almost forget they were snakes. Sounds funny, but I didn’t concentrate on their habits as much as coloring and markings. I’m not fearful of them, which made it a more comfortable experience, but I think if they’d all been active I might have found it an overwhelming experience, Charlie! ox

  7. Snakes don’t bother me; in fact I find their patterns and positions fascinating. How they wind themselves up and fold themselves over is just amazing. One of those close-up photos you took of a snake showed the pattern very clearly and it looked like beadwork! I LOVED the photos of the baby Darwins! I do thank you for not posting photos of any arachnids, though – I cannot STAND spiders of any kind. Turns my stomach just thinking about them. Yuck.

    1. I also love the patterns on the snakes, and think they’re so colorful. They do look like art! I don’t mind spiders either, but I realized later I hadn’t even taken any photos of them. They weren’t quite as interesting. And Karina is really afraid of spiders, so I think we walked right by them and I didn’t call attention! Sounds like I made a good call! Isn’t it interesting how we all have our phobias! 🙂

  8. Give me a minute. I have to pick myself off of the floor. Darwin’s I can handle – no problems. Slithery unsnuggable thingies with no legs – not so much. Shivers to mergatroid. I would not have made it there. They would have been looking at me like I was lunch – snorts. Daddy maybe. Mommy – she’s worse than me. She would have passed out at the door. XOXO – Bacon

    1. I’m so sorry I didn’t properly warn you, Bacon. I hope you didn’t share the information–certainly NOT the pictures–with mommy. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt trying to escape those “slithery unsnuggable things with no legs.” You’d better stay away from this place. It could be dangerous for you, I agree! ox

      1. Snorts. *I* didn’t show the post to mommy. *I* knew better. Daddy on the other hand is not so smart. HE showed it to mommy. Will he ever learn? At first she was like, “Oh no!” Then she was like looking with one eye opened and one eye closed. Then she was like, “That’s kind of cool… from a distance.” Mommy – I’ll never understand her, you know. She said that she might – and that’s a STRONG might – be able to go to this place because it was ‘intriguing’ and the animals were ‘beautiful’ in their own way. Would she touch one – I can’t repeat what she said on that one but no – snorts. XOXO – Bacon

    1. I don’t know much about snakes in the wild, Rob. I think I prefer them behind the glass, but if I were with an experienced person capable of distinguishing venomous from harmless, I’d probably really enjoy the snake handling! 🙂

  9. I might have done okay at the Reptile Zoo, but I can’t be a reptile mom. My daughter begged me for years to let her have a snake. No no no no! Blecch. I finally let her have a frog, but only because someone at work needed to give one away. I wouldn’t touch it. I got used to buying live crickets but that was the extent of my interaction.

    1. The good thing with your story is that you tried, Janine! I always wonder what it is that gives us our phobias. When we can’t be near a creature or really even stand to think about it, it’s a form of a phobia, I presume. And then we have kids with different phobias, and we all have to blend our fears and enjoyments. It’s a wonder, isn’t it? A snake isn’t a pet for most people, I’m sure. I love them from a distance, and marvel at their beauty. I don’t want one in my home! 🙂

  10. I’m not a big fan of snakes (and being a vegetarian I could NEVER feed one), but they don’t terrify me. Well, a 20-footer might terrify me. However, I think tortoises are wonderful. I’m always impressed by the relationships that tortoises and their owners have with one another.

    1. I hadn’t even considered the “vegetarian” aspect of feeding a snake, Lori! You’re right. I worked with a woman who had a large snake, and she would sometimes bring him to work (a school) to share with the children. I don’t think she ever fed it in front of them, but I do remember her telling the other teachers all about it and I couldn’t even stand to hear the stories! I did fall in love with a couple of the other tortoises at this establishment, in particular those that stay small, and I could easily be tempted to add one more to our household. I’m using some excellent self-control! 🙂

  11. What a blessed day with the grandchildren and for the grandchildren, who must learn and grow so much thanks to you guys. And I’m sure you are learning a lot too from hanging out with them. My friend Rachael rescued all the reptiles and some other critters from a rescue that was not for them. She now has five snakes, including a 14 foot Albino Burmese Python, like the one you showed above. She also has about five or six lizards and a California Desert Tortoise who is around 78 years old. I learned so much from her and I have become very fond of snakes and lizards. I didn’t know about this museum, it sounds like a place I would love to visit.

    1. Your friend Rachael sounds like a fascinating woman! The reptiles you listed all require some level of specialized care, so they’re not for every enthusiast! She must be quite dedicated to caring for them. I would love to see her Desert Tortoise! As you know, I’m really partial to tortoises! 78 years old is just wonderful! I put a live link to the reptile zoo in the post, or you can just google “reptile zoo fountain valley” and all the information and directions might just woo you to try a visit some time, Inger! 🙂

  12. You’ve got some great pictures there! Personally I would probably react like little Sophia… a little nervous and definitely claustrophobic! I don’t mind seeing the odd (harmless) snake in my garden though.

    1. And here we have to go somewhere else to see a snake, Cathy! Some of my friends who live in the hills report “snake sightings,” but I’ve never seen one in the garden. I wonder how I would react to one that isn’t behind glass? 🙂

  13. I would love and enjoy any trip to a reptile house, Debra, and you can toss in the amphibians, too. I draw the line, however, when the number of legs per creatue equals 8. There is just no way anyone is going to get me to walk through an arachnid exhibit. It just ain’t gonna happen! Nor would I ever go to such a place with children, fearing that my phobia might “rub off.” And I couldn’t suffer secretly or even quietly, as your Jay was apparently able to do. No, it’s best for everyone involved, even the 8-legged variety, if I stick with the reptiles. Besides, arachnids don’t like crowds, so, the fewer in their exhibit the better. 😉

    1. I really do understand about your arachnophobia, John. I just go back to my near-hysteria with rodents. I have no reaction to spiders of any kind, but a hamster can send me over the edge. So I don’t throw stones. Sophia loves insects and has also never reacted much, if at all, to spiders. Karina, on the other hand, shrieks and I’ve seen her literally shudder in near terror at the smallest garden spider. Both girls have been raised without anyone showing any sign of fear…so where do these phobias and fears come from? We all have them. I don’t actually remember more than one or two terrariums with those 8-legged creatures, but when you come to the La Brea Tar Pits, you aren’t even close to Fountain Valley. You can skip a visit to the Reptile Zoo! 🙂

  14. We have a reptilliary in the New Forest, Debra, and I keep meaning to visit. We are all different; some of my friends hate geese, or spiders; some, snakes. I love the way that you respected your grand daughter’s wishes, and didn’t make her stay when she felt uneasy. I was once told by a psychologist, when dealing with my children’s fears, that I should ‘respect the struggle’. If a child has a fear it is easy not to empathise, but to urge the child to face the fear. But that’s their choice in a case like this, I think.

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  16. Debra, your photos are fabulous; National Geographic worthy. The angles, the coloring, the mood you created here with them. What a snake charmer you are, my friend.

    I’m not sure I would want to visit this reptile zoo, but, I know that if one of my grandkids wanted to go, I would. In a heartbeat.
    Sophia and Karina remind me of our own daughters, who would have responded similarly, especially our Jennifer and Sophia and their imaginations getting the better of them.

    As to rodents . . . I’m the cartoon character standing on a chair shrieking “eek” if a mouse should get into the house. Since we live in a rather country setting, this has happened.

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely comment on my reptile photographs, Penny. I think the beautiful subjects helped the photography. 🙂 I was really proud of Jay for making so light of the visit to the reptile zoo when I know how much he really doesn’t care for them–in particular the snakes. And like I said, I’m great with reptiles, but I think I’d just about die if a mouse came into our house. There isn’t too much chance, although I know we have them outdoors, so it’s not impossible. We found one in our trailer once–that can happen frequently up in the mountains–and I was almost ready to come home. I never did quite relax! I can picture you up on that chair! How is it such a little creature can reduce us to cartoon characters. LOL!

  17. I’ve never actually met a snake without glass between us, but at that distance I find them fascinating, Debra. The grandsons and I always enjoy the reptile house at any zoo we visit. Your slideshow is super!

    1. I talk a big talk about my love of reptiles and how much I appreciate the variety of colors and patterns in snakes…but if I were to encounter one in ordinary daily life I’m quite sure I’d go running in the opposite direction! Behind glass is a good idea. 🙂

    1. So I’ve found another snake lover, CCU! I’m glad to hear that! They are fascinating…I probably will stick with enjoying them from behind glass, however. I think they may require more care than I’m ready to deliver. 🙂

  18. I am so with you on this! Why does that word Autumn keep creeping into conversation? I know it’s beautiful but I can never bear to let Summer go.
    The little tortoises are great. I was always fascinated by them when I was small. (and still think they’re cool now 🙂 )

    1. Johanna, I am glad to hear that you, too, understand my reluctance to “welcome” Autumn! Our end-of-August temperatures have been sweltering, and I’m still sticking to my belief that summertime is to be savored and enjoyed…to the last drop! 🙂 Our Darwin disappeared for a full day and I was really sick thinking we’d lost him, but we found him today. I would really enjoy adding another tortoise to our menagerie, but that’s probably not a good idea. We have our hands full!

  19. I’m catching up on my reading today, and this post appealed to me! I’d love to visit this place- we have five snakes at home. They don’t roam around free (except the time they escaped, but you’ve probably read that post already). Visitors generally want to touch them and end up with one dangling around their necks within a short time of arriving…. Having said that, ours are small and inoffensive.

    1. Five snakes is a lot to have in one home, but fascinating to me! I would be fine with at least one, but my husband has a real phobia. Poor guy! I drag him to these places and then he has to put the “brave” face on in front of the granddaughters. 🙂 They are really fascinating creatures.

      Thanks for asking about my bruising. I’m getting along really well now. I still have some evidence that reminds me to slow down and take care of myself. I must really need the lesson. 🙂 But I’ll be fine. Thank you!

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