“Reptile World” Comes to Campus

Kelly Catano

On Wednesday, October 28, the African, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) cultural center sponsored reptile life educator, Michael Shwedick, to introduce the fascinating world of reptiles to Love Auditorium in a program titled “Reptile World.” Young families, students and professors were enthused by Shwedick’s array of reptiles that represented various regions of the world.

Although Shwedick believes that reptiles belong in their natural habitat, he also values the importance of education. He and his reptiles entertain more than 100,000 people a year.

“David and I have both been here since 4 p.m. this afternoon.  We started our day at 4 p.m. this morning near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, getting the reptiles ready for a day in Upstate New York,” Shwedick said.

Shwedick commenced the lecture with captivating stories of dangerous encounters with exotic snakes. Even after “careless mistakes” with a pitviper, an Egyptian cobra, a large Siamese cobra and a giant anaconda, Shwedick is relentless with his efforts of supporting the cold-blooded vertebrates.  He even maintained motivation after Johns Hopkins Hospital had mistaken him for a mental case when he claimed that a giant anaconda in Baltimore bit him.

If Shwedick’s quirky anecdotes were not enthralling enough, any unmoved audience members nearly fell off the edge of their seats at the sight of the first featured reptile. The 100-year-old alligator snapping turtle made jaws drop and young children run down the aisles to get closer looks.

As the audience was in high spirits and expressing strong interest, Shwedick used this time to describe the harsh environments that the species inhabit and how they protect themselves in these environments. He spread awareness of the frequent Pacific drainages and deciduous forests that are home to the Mexican beaded lizard. Audience members were privileged enough to witness the beaded lizard shed its skin, the body part that protects them most. This is an occurrence that only happens three to four times a year.

After meeting the snapping turtle and Mexican beaded lizard, audience members were almost desensitized to the greatness of these creatures. Hence, they were prepared for the reptile most likely to eat small children, the alligator. Shwedick informed the audience about the dangers the Chinese alligator brings to its environment.

“Full grown Chinese alligators are big trouble,” Shwedick said. “The area of China where they live is a rich agriculture area, and China is doing the best they can do to produce enough food. Chinese alligators are producing tunnels that cause the farmland to collapse.”

The African Nile crocodile and a stunning series of snakes followed the Chinese alligator. The snakes’ sizes enlarged as the presentation progressed. Shwedick started with the young anaconda and moved to the copperhead, rattlesnake, African Gaboon viper (whose venom destroys red blood cells and tissue), the cobra and finally the albino Jungle Python.

Audience members were invited to touch the linoleum floor-like texture of the jungle python before exiting. The presentation allowed the community of Hamilton to momentarily escape from the everyday routine and immerse themselves in foreign environments.