South Carolina's Edisto Island Serpentarium is hands on fun for people of all ages

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EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. – Ever wonder how the kingsnake got its name? Or how long it takes for a gator to grow to eight feet?

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Hungry alligators at the Edisto Island Serpentarium await scheduled feedings that involve programs to educate visitors.  ROB PAVEY/STAFF
ROB PAVEY/STAFF
Hungry alligators at the Edisto Island Serpentarium await scheduled feedings that involve programs to educate visitors.


Anne Clamp and her colleagues at the Edisto Island Serpentarium spend their summers helping kids learn new things about the outdoors – even after school is out.

Tucked beneath shady live oaks off S.C. Hwy. 174, the family-owned reptile center is packed with cool things like arrowheads, giant shark’s teeth, fossilized mastodon bones – and even an old moonshine still.

But its feature attraction is a vast smorgasbord of reptililan joy – diamondback and timber rattlers, cornsnakes, rat snakes and even some exotics, such as a nine-foot Burmese python. And you might also get to see how a 600-pound alligator behaves at lunchtime.

It also offers education and interpretation guaranteed to ease (or perhaps even cure) the most acute ophidiophobia. My wife, for example, who has lived her entire life without touching a snake, actually held a lovely and docile Sinaloan milk snake, native to Mexico. I think she even enjoyed it.

My favorite exhibit is a large, outdoor enclosure, walled for safety and surrounded by a moat of running water, where dozens of common, non-venomous snakes thrive among native trees and vegetation.

There are brown and red-bellied water snakes, black rat snakes, kingsnakes and coachwhips – all the species you might find photos of on Facebook after people unwittingly chop them to bits thinking they are dangerous.

Clamp, the center’s educational director, gives daily lectures in a small amphitheater where visitors can learn how to identify the few venomous snakes in our area, and can even handle or touch harmless species.

The eastern kingsnake, she says, is among the most remarkable of the 38 species found in South Carolina.

The powerful, handsome predator is known for killing other snakes, even deadly ones.

“They are also resistant to the venom of other snakes, which makes them the ‘kings of snakes’ that gave them their name,” she said.

In general, most snakes are named for simple reasons – what they look like, where they live and, quite often, what they eat.

Rat snakes, for example, are among the largest of local snakes and are effective at controlling destructive, disease-carrying rodents.

“A single adult rat snake can catch and kill 70 to 100 rats a year,” she told a crowd of visitors.

Factored into how much grain rats will consume or spoil with their droppings, a few big rat snakes can prevent the loss of several tons of feed per year on a large farm.

The serpentarium also houses large outdoor exhibits that include
alligator snapping turtles, endangered gopher tortoises and other land and water turtles.

One of the most popular features, however, are the alligators.

If you’re there at the right time, which comes along every few hours, you can enjoy a 30-minute lecture on the life cycle, breeding activity and dining habits of North America’s biggest reptile.

Then you get to watch them choke down raw chicken quarters like popcorn, which is a surefire crowd pleaser for kids.

The serpentarium, which opened in 1999, is open to the public from early April to late October, but days and hours change seasonally, so check ahead before your visit. Find details at http://www.edistoserpentarium.com.

PADDLE THE CANAL: A “Historic Augusta Paddle” organized by the Georgia Conservancy and other groups will be held June 14 along the Augusta Canal, which is suited for both beginner and experienced paddlers.

The canal, a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1845 and is the South’s only intact industrial canal that is still in continuous use. Event-goers will paddle seven miles through the locks, past Lake Olmstead, and finish at Meadow Garden, which is only a short walk from the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center at the Enterprise Mill. The event begins at 1 p.m. For details and registration, visit http://www.georgiaconservancy.org/augusta-paddle.

MORE EAGLES: Georgia’s annual stateside bald eagle census continues to yield positive news, with observers documenting 188 occupied nesting territories, 148 successful nests and 235 young fledged – the best totals in decades.

The 2014 totals easily passed last year’s 171 nesting territories, 130 successful nests and 195 eaglets fledged, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Eagle nests were found in several new areas this year, including Sweetwater Creek State Park in
Lithia Springs, McIntosh Reserve in Carroll County and Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area near Berry College.

Counties with the most nests were Chatham, with 26; Decatur, with 14; McIntosh, with 12; and Camden,
Glynn and Liberty, with 10 apiece.

STRIPER STOCKINGS: South Carolina officials stocked about 168,000 striped bass fingerlings on Friday at Lake Hartwell.

The fish released at Twin Lakes Recreation Area were produced at the state’s Dennis Wildlife Center Fish Hatchery in Bonneau, S.C., and were part of annual stockings shared by both South Carolina and their counterparts in Georgia.

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