Scales & Tales

I Just Found a Deadly Coral Snake…Well No, Not in South Dakota You Didn’t.


Pale Milksnake

One of the most common snakes in South Dakota, west of the Missouri River, is a little-seen snake called the Pale Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata). These snakes are surprisingly common around here but are very secretive and so, people are often not familiar with them.  They love the rains in the spring and fall, which increases the likelihood of encounters with humans.

We get many calls from concerned residents and visitors to the Black Hills about the “Coral snake” they just found in their yard or while hiking. Coral snakes are highly venomous species of snakes native to the southern part of the U.S. There are also a number of species in Central and South America. US Coral snake species do closely resemble some species of milksnakes, including the Pale milksnake. However, our wonderful Pale milksnakes are totally harmless. In the case of US coral snakes vs the Pale milksnake, the old saying: “Red to yellow, kill a fellow – Red to black venom lack” holds true. But, I must add, with both milksnakes and coral snakes, this is not a hard and fast rule.

This is what a southeastern US Coral Snake looks like.

This is what a southeastern US Coral Snake looks like.

They use their bright colors to intimidate would-be predators and make those predators (and us) think they are Coral snakes. Bright colors, when found in nature, often indicate the animal either tastes bad or is potentially dangerous.  The milksnake’s color mimicry of the Coral snake is very effective in keeping them safe, except when worried citizens kill them thinking they are killing a deadly Coral snake.

Pale Milksnake

Pale Milksnake

This is probably my favorite native snake species in South Dakota.  Keep an eye out for them on walking paths and roadways. They often hang out under rotting logs or lumber and in other places they can hide and find their favorite foods. When you see them, don’t harm them – enjoy these little rodent-eating machines!  But, it is not just rodents. These snakes also feed on bugs, lizards and other snakes as well, including juvenile and young Prairie Rattlesnakes!!  Small and wonderful, Pale Milks rarely get larger than 24 inches. Most of the ones brought in to us are about the size of a pencil.

Posted in Reptiles, Snakes

Tagged , , ,

Comments Off on I Just Found a Deadly Coral Snake…Well No, Not in South Dakota You Didn’t.

Hold My Beer and Watch This!

So, now that we know how to avoid rattlesnakes and what to do if we encounter one. What should we do if we don’t follow Terry’s advice and leave all snakes alone?  What if the odd encounter happens where we unknowingly step on or sit next to a rattlesnake and the unfortunate occurs?

A large Prairie RattlesnakeBites from Prairie Rattlesnakes are very rare in South Dakota, in a normal year hospitals see one to two dozen rattlesnake bites to humans. And like I said, the vast majority of these are people who try to catch, kill, or tease them. Statistically, being a male between 16-25 years of age with some level of alcohol in the system is the number one precursor to venomous snakebite.  I suggest that “Hold my beer and watch this” is not an appropriate behavior when encountering rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnake bites are a medical emergency and prompt proper antivenom therapy in a hospital is the only accepted treatment for snakebites. Do not follow the advice of others who suggest any of the following. I repeat DO NOT:

Cut and suck the fang marks.

Apply a tourniquet

Apply heat

Apply Ice

Apply tobacco

Hook yourself up to your car battery

Use a stun gun

Take any type of drug or alcohol

Or any of the other recommendations that just sounds odd



Remain calm, you have time and won’t drop dead in minutes

Call 911

Remove any and all jewelry from the extremity

Apply a splint to limit joint mobility if possible

Have someone transport you to the nearest medical facility


Fatalities are rare from rattlesnake bites in this country. There are 5-10,000 snakebites in the U.S every year with less than half a dozen fatalities annually.  In the State of South Dakota, to my knowledge there has not been a rattlesnake bite fatality in over 60 years. Quality rapid transport and prompt proper antivenom therapy in a hospital keeps fatalities to a minimum.

So, what should you do when you encounter that rattlesnake?  Immediately, stop, look around and try to find its location, move slowly away from it to a safe distance of several feet –several miles if you prefer. Please take my advice and leave them alone, there is no need to kill them in this situation and to put yourself in danger. Take a picture and enjoy the beauty of western South Dakota and its wonderful inhabitants! And finally, enjoy and tell that wonderful tale of your encounter with a rattlesnake to all of your friends and family on the patio under the amazing stars in the sky of this wonderful state!

Posted in Reptiles, Snakes

Tagged , , ,

Comments Off on Hold My Beer and Watch This!

Why in MY Yard?

Snakes are an integral part of our ecosystem and are, in fact, the number one predator of rodents and other little creatures we consider pests.  These pests can be carriers of even nastier pests and diseases.  So, in fact, we should be grateful for our legless neighbors.

All that said, what should be done when we find that a rattlesnake has disrupted the sanctity of our backyard where we want our children and pets to romp and play without a care in the world? Naturally, the best thing to do in the event of a rattlesnake encounter is simply to leave them alone. The number one reason people are bitten by venomous snakes throughout this country is because of the attempt to catch, kill, or tease them when we find them. But I have kids and I certainly understand people not wanting to have rattlesnakes in or around their homes. But, catching, killing, or messing with wildlife of any type, for any reason, is a basic recipe for a trip to the Emergency Room. And in the case of a rattlesnake envenomation, a very expensive trip to the E.R.

Simply left alone snakes will generally continue on with their nomadic summer lifestyles. The venom of the rattlesnake is designed to secure their food, which in this case is rodents of various types, as well as defending themselves from all manner of natural and unnatural predators. Coyotes, foxes, badgers, skunks, wild turkeys, and birds of prey are all natural predators of the Prairie Rattlesnake.  And now, the garden shovel, rake, hoe, car tire, boot, six-pack of beer and shotgun are all unnatural predators of the rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes do not actively seek out confrontations with any of their natural enemies, humans included. A rattlesnake will always attempt to find a place to retreat, or hide to avoid being detected. So, if that rattlesnake does end up in your yard or garden, my professional opinion is to just leave him alone. Let him move on since chances are he is just passing through. Honestly, this is the safest way to interact with a rattlesnake.

Young Prairie RattlesnakeBut hey! Why did he choose MY yard instead of the neighbors? Rattlesnakes are reasonably intelligent cold-blooded reptiles that require just a few things to be happy:  Food, water, shelter, and a mate.  Unfortunately, our homes’ manicured lawns and gardens provide a 5 star resort for our scaly friends. Rattlesnakes have been found in all parts of Rapid City, from the outskirts to downtown. No area is completely devoid of snake activity. The best way to avoid an encounter with a rattlesnake is to take a look at your property and see if you can determine what is so attractive about your yard versus the yard next door. I recommend keeping your grass cut short, shrubs trimmed up from the ground a foot or so. Remove any and all trash piles, rock piles, woodpiles and other sources of cover and try to eliminate their food source by removing any rodent populations. Get rid of those four things that snakes need and your likelihood of a slithery encounter will be reduced dramatically.

But I know many of you will not be willing to wait for your snake visitor to move on. If you feel you must kill it then do be careful. Even though stories of snakes continuing to live for hours or days after losing their heads is completely false, muscle twitches can cause a severed head to “bite” for a while afterwards. So, it is possible to get envenomated by a dead rattler. I know animal control is quite busy during the summer catching snakes in yards and bringing them to us so you might be able to get them to assist you. Although honestly the snake will likely have moved on before they even get to your house.

Many people think that snakes like it hot when in fact they prefer temperatures closer to the ones we enjoy. A temperature of about 80 degrees is perfect for all aspects of a rattlesnake’s life. We have an increase in calls here and rattlesnake encounters out there beginning in mid-May to early June because the snakes are active during the day, same as we are.  As summer rolls in and the temperatures get higher, rattlesnakes start becoming active in the early morning hours, evenings and overnight, again, much like our own outdoor activity periods. We start gardening in the morning, mowing in the evenings and relaxing on the patio at night to avoid the heat of the day. So we continue our encounters until the fall. Mid-October finds the rattlesnakes back at their den sites getting ready for a long winter nap underground.

In part 3 I will discuss snakebite – what to do and not to do.

Posted in Reptiles, Snakes

Tagged , , , ,

Comments Off on Why in MY Yard?

Springtime Means Warmth and Flowers and, Yes, Rattlesnakes

It’s that time of year again – Spring in Western South Dakota. Our spring brings rain (maybe), sunshine, green grass, the occasional snowstorm, tourists, and of course rattlesnakes.

Pretty soon we will start getting frantic phone calls from local folk with snakes in their yard and from animal control with rattlesnakes in buckets that they got from those same yards. We will hear from people asking how to avoid them when hiking, camping and fishing, from those who want to know how to keep rattlesnakes out of houses, garages and yards, and, of course, what to do if they encounter a snake.

Photographed in the Badlands by Earl Brockelsby.

Photographed in the Badlands by Earl Brockelsby.

In order to answer those questions we must first begin by explaining a little about the natural history of our slithery adversary. The only rattlesnakes found in western South Dakota are known as Prairie Rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis). These snakes communally overwinter (den) throughout the area, with some undisturbed den sites numbering in the hundreds of snakes. They must stay far enough underground to stay below the frost line, which is about 6 feet here. Rattlesnakes use the same den sites year after year, decade after decade, even century after century as long as it is undisturbed by humans and our construction machines of progress. I get calls every week from people who believe a snake den has spontaneously erupted under their house or in their back yard. Fortunately, this does not occur, as the snakes continue to use the same dens they have for years. As snakes begin to emerge for the year, usually in mid-April, they will stay close to the den for some time – several weeks in fact. They enjoy the day’s warm sunshine but stay close to their dens for protection from the overnight low temperatures and occasional snowstorm.

By early to mid-May, rattlesnakes begin moving farther and farther from their overwintering areas on the lookout for food, water, mates, and temporary shelter.  Female snakes usually stay relatively close to home for the summer months, normally within a mile or so of the den. However males can be found traveling five or more miles away from their dens over the course of the season.  They are fueled by Spring fever – promises of romance and fresh rodent populations to ravage.

This is when the calls start coming in. My answer to most of the questions is simply: We have chosen to live in western South Dakota in all its glory. Part of that glory is things like bees, box elder bugs, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.  We should count ourselves fortunate to not have the crime, traffic and smog of big cities! It is a simple fact of life that rattlesnakes inhabit all areas of Western South Dakota – the prairies, streams and lakeshores, the Badlands, to the top of Harney Peak, even our towns, cities and backyards.

One should always keep in mind the possibility of encountering our only dangerous species of snake – the Prairie Rattlesnake.  It is also important to remember: ALL the other types of snakes in this area are harmless to humans. There are no coral snakes, puff adders, or anything else dangerous.

The snakes were here first and so they were the original beings with unwelcome neighbors moving into their yards. That would be us, the humans, the stewards of our planet. So, how do we cohabitate? That’s what folks want to know, well, that and of course the best way to get rid of the snakes?

Stay tuned for part 2 – What to do to avoid rattlesnake encounters and what to do when you do meet one.

Posted in Reptiles, Snakes

Tagged , , , ,

Comments Off on Springtime Means Warmth and Flowers and, Yes, Rattlesnakes

Enjoy an Exotic Jungle Adventure on Mother’s Day at Reptile Gardens

Mother’s Day is nearly upon us once again, and many children and parents are considering what to do to honor this special lady in their lives. On May 12, Mother’s Day, we will be giving all moms free admission with the donation of two cans of food for the KOTA Care and Share Food Drive.

Be sure to see the snake show which includes some of the most venomous snakes in the world. Mom and family alike will be amazed and entertained by these creatures as our professional snake keepers discuss the interesting facts surrounding each species.

Mom will love a stroll through our Safari Room where we have tropical flowers in bloom from around the globe. These colors offer the perfect backdrop to take some snapshots of the family on your visit. The sights and smells of the beautiful orchids, caladiums, and cacti are pleasing and relaxing – and a few creatures in the mix that are sure to catch the curious eyes of children.

Make a stop by Methuselah’s Playground to let the kids climb on the life-like bronze of one of Reptile Gardens’ most beloved creatures, Methuselah, a giant Aldabra Tortoise.

As you get ready to depart from your Mom’s jungle adventure, feel free to browse our gift shop. We have a huge variety of items including clothing, jewelry, glassware, and plush animals. Pick up a gift for Mom and surprise her later with a photo from the day and the item she noticed in the gift shop but did not want to buy for herself!

Spend a fun day with the whole family and make Mom the center of attention at Reptile Gardens. Not only will everyone have a great Mother’s Day, but it will also benefit the KOTA Care and Share Food Drive, which helps to supply food to less fortunate families in the Black Hills area.

And don’t forget you will also receive your free season passes. Everyone is entitled to a season pass with their paid admission. And yes, Mom will get one too even though she was free so you can all come back the whole summer and visit us for free!

Posted in General

Comments Off on Enjoy an Exotic Jungle Adventure on Mother’s Day at Reptile Gardens

Family attractions in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The Black Hills is a mountain range located in the south-western portion of South Dakota. It is the home of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is the largest mountain carving in progress in the world. Visitors to the area will see the fossil beds at Badlands National Park or get a close look at a bald eagle at Reptile Gardens. Custer State Park offers a glimpse into how the pioneers saw the west. Rapid City offers a walking tour of presidents, a wide range of hotels and restaurants, and the largest indoor water park in South Dakota. There is even one of the most diverse reptile zoos in the country.

Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park is home to bighorn sheep, bison, black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs and more. There is an Oligocene epoch fossil bed that is 28 to 37 million-years-old and contains the fossils of horses and rhinoceroses. It is a 244,000-acre park with eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles. As of 2012, admission is $15 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle and $7 per individual that is hiking or biking through the park. Passes are valid for seven days after they are purchased. A one-year pass can be purchased for $30.

Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest mountain carving in progress in the world. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and Korczak Ziolkowski began sculpting the memorial in 1948 to commemorate the heritage of Native Americans. Crazy Horse was a legendary Lakota Chief and this memorial is intended to honor his spirit, encourage harmony amongst all people, serve as a repository for North American Indian artifacts, and establish an American Indian University and Medical Training Center. Descendants of Korczak Ziolkowski strive to continue his vision.

Reptile Gardens
Since 1937 one of mid-America’s great attractions is this unique reptile paradise. Stroll through the lush tropical jungle under the giant sky dome. Observe the beautifully diverse gardens which have over 40,000 flowers planted every summer in the lush 30 acre grounds. Take in a bird, snake and gator show. Meet prairie dogs, giant tortoises, a huge saltwater crocodile, and see some of the deadliest snakes in the world. Visit for show times and more information.

The Mammoth Site
Get a glimpse of these huge prehistoric creatures at the world’s largest mammoth research facility. Open year round, the Mammoth Site offers museum visitors a 30 minute guided tour plus a 10 minute video. Tour information features the Mammoth Site and Ice Age geology, paleontology, and paleoecology. Visitors to the museum may also observe first-hand a scientific excavation.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic memorials in the United States. The massive figures are carved into Black Hills granite and it took 14 years to complete. Over this time, about 400 people worked on the carving. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were all chosen for specific reasons. Washington was the first president of the United States and is considered the father of the country. This is why his figure is most prominent. Jefferson was the third president and is credited as being the author of the Declaration of Independence and purchasing land that is now all or part of 15 of the United States. Roosevelt served as the 26th president and is noted for his role in constructing the Panama Canal and breaking up corporate monopolies. Lincoln was the 16th president and is recognized for abolishing slavery and preserving the union during difficult times.

Custer State Park
Custer State Park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer is a wildlife reserve in the southern Black Hills that covers over 71,000 acres of rolling prairie and ponderosa forest. The park is home to a herd of 1500 free roaming bison. Also inhabiting the park are antelope, mule deer, big horn sheep, elk, mountain lions, mountain goats and a curious bunch of feral burros. The park offers several scenic drives and is easily accessible from any direction.

Watiki Water Park
Watiki Water Park offers over 30,000 square feet of indoor splash-tastic fun for every age! Even more fun can be had in the arcade overlooking the water park, offering over 40 games to win tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. Adjoined by two hotels, this water filled fun zone makes a great stop on your Black Hills Vacation.

There are many family attractions in the Black Hills, offering the opportunity to create a unique vacation experience. All members of the family are sure to take home memories that will last a lifetime.

Posted in General

Comments Off on Family attractions in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Start planning your Black Hills vacation

As the sunshine warms the ground, the days get longer, and the trees begin to bud, it is undeniable that summer is just around the corner. Many are inspired by the warm weather and begin planning ahead for their summer Black Hills vacation.

A time of relaxation and excitement, summer vacations are the one time of year when people of all ages are allowed to enjoy an endless array of activities and escape the worries that come with their everyday routine. With age out of the question, let Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, SD be one of your destinations for this summers Black Hills vacation.

A vacation should be about experiencing something new. It is a time to create memories that your kids will remember when they are parents. With that in mind, the staff at Reptile Gardens offers three pieces of advice for those who want to get the most out of their summer vacation destination.

Stay Stress Free – Work, school, activities, and all other daily responsibilities can leave a family tired and strained. Reptile Gardens offers visitors the escape that they need by having a variety of attractions that appeal to all ages. From gator shows to relaxing gardens, everyone will find enjoyment in this oasis just outside of Rapid City.

Families go to Reptile Gardens to spend quality time together. With so many different things to see and experience all ages enjoy watching their family member’s interactions and reactions to the many activities offered at Reptile Gardens.

Learn something new – A summer vacation does not have to involve the usual poolside lounging. Try planning something that will rejuvenate your mind in a new way. A visit to Reptile Gardens offers the opportunity to learn something new in the Black Hills. There are educational and fun shows with birds, snakes, alligators and crocodiles. The grounds are filled with reptiles and creatures from around the world, including deadly snakes, huge tortoises, exotic birds, and tropical foliage. This is one Black Hills attraction that you will definitely want your camera!

Venture out of your comfort zone – Although it is tempting to partake in the usual summer activities on your Black Hills vacation, try to stray away and find new places to have fun. At Reptile Gardens, you may get the opportunity to have an up close encounter with a giant albino python or baby alligator.

Plan your Black Hills vacation or stay-cation with these things in mind, and you are bound to make memories, share some laughs, and maybe even learn something along the way. For more information about Reptile Gardens, show times, hours and admission see

Posted in General

Comments Off on Start planning your Black Hills vacation

Reptile Gardens announces final week of the season specials

As the tourism season draws to a close in the Black Hills, Reptile Gardens has announced special admission the week of November 26 through December 2, 2012.

During this final week of operation for 2012, admission is free with two cans of food per person. The items will be donated to the KOTA Care and Share Food Drive, in an effort to end hunger in South Dakota.

We’ve had such good success with the KOTA Care and Share Food Drive in past years during Mother’s Day we decided to accept donations again during the holiday season. It provides a great opportunity to come visit our exhibits for the last time before the spring, while also donating to a great cause.

In addition to the special admission, all Gift Shop merchandise will be 20% off for those looking to do some holiday shopping. From jewelry to unique art and artifacts, the Gift Shop and the Jungle Outpost at Reptile Gardens have the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

“From stocking stuffer books and toys to Himalayan pink salt lamps, we’ve got it all” said John Brockelsby, Public Relations Director, “Stop by and take a look, you might be surprised what you find.”

The hours of operation are 9:00 am – 3:00 pm daily. Do not miss this final opportunity to see our wild and wonderful creatures! Reptile Gardens will re-open in 2013 on April 1 for the Spring season.

Posted in General

Comments Off on Reptile Gardens announces final week of the season specials

Reptile Gardens Awarded TripAdvisor’s Presigious Award

Reptile Gardens is honored to announce we have been awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site and provides trusted advice from travelers across the world. We are thrilled to have earned such a phenomenal award as only ten percent of accommodations listed on TripAdvisor will receive this award on a yearly basis. This tribute honors excellence in hospitality, and that’s exactly what we aim to do, by engaging visitors at Reptile Gardens and have them leaving with a memorable, enjoyable, and educational experience. Our passion for what we do is ignited within our visitors, enabling them leave with a better sense of what our world renowned team of specialists and conservationists set out to accomplish every day.

Our mission at Reptile Gardens is “to offer Guests an amazing experience while positively contributing to the future of our animal residents, as well as our community, by educating the public about important environmental issues and working closely with many major zoos worldwide to promote species survival”. We bring our mission to life every day so locals and tourists alike can experience and enjoy our goals toward education and conservation.

Qualifications for the Certificate of Excellence demand a consistent overall rating of four out of five stars. We shoot for the stars every day, from the moment our visitors step into the parking lot to an educational show with alligators and crocodiles. We strive to excel with our extraordinary hospitality service as well as keeping our clean, neat, well-kept grounds among are our top priorities. Reptile Gardens would like their guests to experience and enjoy a wonderful combination of conservation and fun, as well as a clean and organized facility fused with exceptional hospitality.

The Black Hills attract tourists from all over the world every year. With so many attractions to choose from, we understand there are numerous activities to do and things to see in the short time visitors are here. We are delighted to be a popular Black Hills family attraction along with providing memorable experiences that entice our guests to follow up with a review on TripAdvisor regarding their Reptile Gardens experience.

Reptile Gardens Awarded TripAdvisor’s Presigious Award

All of us at Reptile Gardens would like to extend our thanks to all of those who went out of their way and provided reviews on your experience with us. We are very appreciative of your visit and review. Thank you, from all of us at Reptile Gardens.

Posted in General

Comments Off on Reptile Gardens Awarded TripAdvisor’s Presigious Award

Unique Holiday Gifts Available at Reptile Gardens, Including Amethyst Geodes and Himalayan Salt Lamps

Christmas may be three months away, but Reptile Gardens is stocking up on gifts to get ready for the upcoming holiday season.

Skip past the traffic, high tempers, and prices of the holiday and visit the gift shop at Reptile Gardens to find a variety of items ranging from clothing to New Guinea artifacts. Find something for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list, or simply something creative to give your other animals, art and history lovers.

Stop into the gift shop and check out the newest additions, which include four tons (really!) of new rocks and minerals from Brazil.  There are stunning amethyst geodes — ranging from a foot tall to five-feet tall, as well as colorful agate slabs, quartz crystals and more.

In addition, visitors to the gift shop can also find the very popular salt lamps, made from chunks of Himalayan pink salt.  As the salt warms from the bulb, the lamp is said to emit negative ions that cleanse the air as well as give off a beautiful pink glow.

While you’re visiting, forget the typical stocking stuffers you were considering before and explore the many unique gifts that can be found at the Reptile Park gift shop.

“We have a bunch of cool little items that would make great stuffers,” said Joe Maierhauser, Reptile Garden’s CEO. “We bought out an entire warehouse of colorful and fun woodcarvings that normally sell for $10 to $90 but because of the great deal we got they are now available for $3 to $25, so now is the perfect time to stop in to shop.”

Pick from an array of gifts such as plush toys and educational books; delicate jewelry, an assortment of beads, and hand woven scarves; or even handpicked collector’s items such as New Guinea tribal masks or primitive weapons. With so much to choose from, Reptile Gardens has a gift to surprise and delight anyone.

To view the full inventory and find your unique holiday gifts, stop by Reptile Gardens – they are located just south of Rapid City on Hwy. 16.

The park is open for their fall season hours from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. until October 31. November hours are 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Posted in General, New Guinea Art and Artifacts

Tagged ,

Comments Off on Unique Holiday Gifts Available at Reptile Gardens, Including Amethyst Geodes and Himalayan Salt Lamps