Going Out

Feared and misunderstood: Reptiles. Interactive exhibit on now at Canadian Museum of Nature

Get your close-up with a chameleon and gaboon viper at the Canadian Museum of NatureReptiles is an interactive exhibit that is part zoo, and part natural history presentation. It includes live animals such as colourful lizards, exotic turtles and deadly snakes. They’ll be slithering and scaling their way through the museum until April 8, 2017.

To peel back the layers on Reptiles, we spoke to Chad Peeling, operations manager for Reptiland in Pennsylvania, which tours the show that has invaded Ottawa:

Red Spitting Cobra - photo Joe McDonald_Ottawa_Magazine
This Red Spitting Cobra is part of Reptiles at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Q: What will surprise visitors?

A: People are often surprised at how truly beautiful reptiles are. They have suffered a stigma for so long that I think the intricate shapes, textures, colours, and adaptations of these animals are often overlooked.

Q: Why is this exhibit important?

A: Reptiles, particularly snakes, are among the most feared and misunderstood creatures — but they are important members of the living communities on which we depend. In a human-dominated world, I think it’s important for us to stay connected with nature. This exhibition offers an up-close look at this important group of animals.

This snake-necked turtle is part of Reptiles at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Q: What are your favourite aspects of  the exhibition, and what are your favourite reptiles?

A: I love the interactivity of this exhibit. It really offers the best of zoo and natural history museum presentations. It’s tough for me to pick one favourite animal, but I am in awe of the gaboon viper — it’s truly beautiful and deadly.

Q: The chameleon will be fascinating for many visitors. What’s one thing about chameleons that will surprise people?

A: Chameleons are specialist predators and their projectile tongue is one of the most bizarre adaptations for catching insects at a distance. It’s remarkable that these otherwise slow-moving lizards can nab a moth or katydid (AKA cricket). The turret-like eyes allow chameleons to look in two completely different directions at once, but when focused on the same prey they provide exceptional depth perception.

A chameleon shows his colours at Reptiles at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Q: What would happen to a chameleon if he was dropped off in a fall forest amidst the foliage of reds, oranges and yellows?

A: Although chameleons are able to change colour, most do so as an expression of mood rather than an attempt to blend in. If a panther chameleon was dropped off at the peak of fall foliage colours it might well turn red with stress, but it would also die quickly in the cool temperatures.