The Aquarium Reptile Complex at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden opened 20 years ago and immediately became a favorite stop for zoo patrons.
It's no coincidence that the zoo's attendance nearly doubled to top 1 million the first full year the ARC, as it's called, was open.
Riverbanks will celebrate the ARC's 20th anniversary with several special presentations Saturday, including a focus on the dozens of animals who have been hanging around since the beginning. Herpetology curator Scott Pfaff, one of those original animals, answered a few questions about the ARC creatures.
The original animals still in the ARC include a timber rattlesnake and an eastern diamondback. How long do snakes live in the wild?
We don't know how long they live in the wild. We're finding out more about their life expectancy by keeping them in captivity. We have a scarlet king snake that's lived in captivity 26 years, and I caught it in the wild in Francis Marion National Forest as an adult.
With something like turtles or tortoises, you know they live a long time. But we've had a dwarf siren salamander for 17 years. People had no idea they lived that long."
Being around a certain snake or snakes for 20 years, do you get attached to them?
It's difficult to get inside the mind of a snake. Crocodiles, monitors, tortoises - you can form more connections with them. But a snake's lifestyle is diametrically opposed to ours. A snake can curl up for 30 days next to a log and not move.
Now the giant tortoises or the radiated tortoises, they like people. They'll come over and lay down beside you like a dog. They like you to pet them.
If a snake can stay nearly motionless for weeks, how can you tell they're not dead?
People ask us all the time if our alligator snapping turtle is dead or if our crocodile is dead or the snakes. But we feed them and clean their enclosures all the time. We can tell. It's just that a lot of reptiles have immobile lifestyles.
Does that make snakes easier to take care of than most zoo animals?
Well, you don't have to feed them all the time, and you don't have to clean up after them as much.