An albino python named Lemondrop is the poster boy for an engaging new show, “Snakes & Lizards: The Summer of Slither,” in San Francisco.
The 15-foot, cream-and-yellow reticulated python, whose parents both carried the recessive gene that causes his lack of pigmentation, has lived in captivity for his entire life. (He probably wouldn’t last long in the jungle of his native Southeast Asia, standing out against the foliage he ought to hide in.)
If Lemondrop is the most exotic-looking snake on view at the California Academy of Sciences, one of his relatives is the scariest. The Burmese python, with a brown-and-tan camouflage pattern to its scales, is huge -- as thick as a grown man’s thigh.
After it squeezes you to death, the snake will try to eat you head-first (though it might not make it past your shoulders, Academy biologists say).
The prize for prettiest snake in the show goes to the smallish (roughly 2-foot) Campbell’s Milk Snake from Mexico, which sports alternating inch-wide bands of cream, black and burnt-orange from head to tail. Though it’s harmless, it looks like the venomous coral snake, which gives it some protection from predators.
A close runner-up in the beauty contest would be the skinny, iridescent (and highly venomous) Eastern Green Mamba from southern Africa.
While the snakes are beautiful, they don’t offer much in the way of action. Most of the time they just lie there in one place -- in the leaves or sand on the floor of their glass cages, or wrapped around an artificial tree limb.
By comparison, some of the lizards can be almost frisky.
The lizards range from the 3-foot-long, brownish-green Rhinoceros Iguana, which looks like a wrinkled, miniature dinosaur, to the elegant Giant Day Gecko, bright green with snazzy red spots on its back. (It’s hardly a giant, though, at less than a foot long.) The iguana hails from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, while the gecko is found in Madagascar.
Some of the most remarkable lizards on display are almost impossible to see. The Leaf-Tail Gecko’s brown scales match the bark of the tree it clings to so perfectly that it practically disappears. The first challenge in viewing some of these animals is discovering where they are in their cages, despite their disguises.
The reptiles are displayed in sophisticated, climate- controlled spaces, some of which are like small dioramas, tricked out with rocks and vegetation in the foreground and a painted landscape of the reptile’s habitat in the background. With the explanatory labels and maps and diagrams, there’s plenty to help you imagine what these creatures would be like in the wild.
“Snakes & Lizards: The Summer of Slither” runs through Sept. 5 at the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Information: +1- 415-379-8000 or http://www.calacademy.org.
(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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