This is the smallest of the four New World Crocodiles, usually reaching about ten feet. Described to science in 1850, it then “disappeared” until the 1920s, when it was determined to inhabit the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican Gulf Coast to the north of it. This is one of the first crocodilian species to be bred in US zoos, more than 40 years ago. Its very broad snout gives it an alligator-like appearance, but the tooth protruding from the shut lower jaw clearly identifies it as a crocodile.
There are a number of small Tropical American prehensile-tailed, tree-dwelling pit vipers, but many of them have small distributions and are very rare. This species is found all the way from southern Mexico well into South America and is one of the more likely tropical American vipers to be seen in captivity, where it breeds well. Its name comes from the pointy scales above its eyes. It is famous for its many color phases. Orange ones are especially popular in zoos.
One of the most infamous of the world’s venomous snakes, this species is the leading snakebite species in its habitat. It is found from southern Mexico down to Northern South America. Like rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads, it is a pit viper, equipped with heat sensing organs in a cavity between their eyes and nostrils. Females grow much larger than males, weighing more than ten pounds, and have bigger heads and longer fangs. The haemotoxic venom causes severe tissue damage, and many fatalities have been recorded.
There are more than ninety species in the genus Sceloporus, many of them familiar as “Blue-bellies”, “Swifts”, and “Fence Lizards”. In the same family as “Horned Toads”, they are found across through much of the US, Mexico, and Central America. This species is found throughout in the Chihuahuan Desert, on both sides of the border in Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua and Coahuila. Its name honors Joel Poinsett, amateur scientist and first US minister to Mexico (1825-1830) after whom the Poinsettia is also named.
While the familiar Green anole, often seen in local gardens, may be called the “American Chameleon”, it is actually related to iguanas and basilisks. True chameleons are an entirely Old World family. Of the 160 or so species, about half are native to Madagascar. While difficult to maintain, with proper care the Panther chameleon, from Madagascar’s tropical forests, does well in captivity. Its especially brilliant and variable colors make it popular with reptile breeders and zoos. Males can grow to 20 inches in length.
This beautiful snake is found in the rainforests across a large area of South America. Unlike its more famous relatives, the Boa constrictor and the Anaconda, it only reaches a length of about six feet. It has the longest fangs in proportion to its size of any living snake. Females give birth to as many as 20 young, which do not attain their bright green color until they are around nine months old. Until then, they are orange or dark red. In recent years it has been regularly bred in captivity.
Exceeding 20 feet in length and 300 pounds in weight, this famous South American snake is by far the largest of the boas, and is the heaviest of the world’s snakes (the Reticulated python from Asia may grow slightly longer). Anacondas give birth to live young, usually 20 to 40 at a time. With their eyes near the top and end of their heads, they are adapted to an aquatic environment, and most of their prey is taken in or near water. At the DWA, they are fed rats. The largest specimen here is 14 feet long.
This large species is similar to the American crocodile. The body is made up of scales (scutes) that vary in shape and strength. Orinoco crocodiles can be identified by the arrangement of dorsal (back) armor with six prominent scales on the back of the neck. Osteoderms (bony deposits within each scale) are rough in texture and are often different in color. Orinoco crocodiles have no osteoderms on their light colored belly, Another identifying feature of the Orinoco crocodile is the narrow snout which slopes upward near the tip. The nostrils are set at the end to allow breathing while mostly submerged. The tongue is wide and attached to the bottom of the mouth and does not aid in the capturing of prey. Their body color varies from gray-green, tan, to gray scattered with dark green. The legs are short and strong; the long tail is quite powerful.
A resemblance to a pile of rotting leaves serves this reptile well. When unaware small fishes swim too close, they disappear instantly — sucked in by a powerful vacuum created when it opens its jaws. Found in quiet water across a large area of tropical South America, it usually only comes onto land to lay its eggs. It rarely swims, preferring to walk underwater, taking air at the surface through the unique proboscis in front of its tiny eyes.
This South American turtle is famous for the mass gatherings of females that come ashore to lay their eggs, often a hundred at a time. Otherwise, these plant-eaters hardly ever leave the water. Females are much larger than males, reaching a shell length of three feet. Because their eggs and flesh have long been prized as food, they have been subject to overhunting, and are now classified as Conservation Dependent.