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Edisto Island Serpentarium, South Carolina

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Just after I'd gotten back from St. Augustine, Florida, I repacked my suitcase and headed to Edisto Island, South Carolina, for a week with my husband and his side of the family. It's a tradition to spend a week at the beach there, relaxing and catching up with everyone. While Edisto has a fairly quiet beach and beautiful sunsets, there are some hidden surprises tucked amongst the huge live oak trees--one of which is the Edisto Serpentarium.

Unlike other beach locales (I'm looking at you, Myrtle Beach), Edisto Island is completely devoid of Ripley's Believe or Not museums, Medieval Times restaurants, and neon lights. The fact that there's a reptile exhibit at all on this out-of-the-way stretch of Carolina coast is surprising on its own. But what's even more unexpected is how well done the Serpentarium is.


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I imagine that it might be easy to cobble together a few glass aquariums, stock them with snakes you bought online, and charge admission. This is not the approach that the Edisto Serpentarium took, and thank goodness for that.

While admission is higher than you'd expect ($14.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors, $10.95 for kids 4-12, and free under 3), this mini-zoo is well worth a few hours of your vacation time. As someone who suffers severely from ophidiophobia--the fear of snakes--my recommendation to visit this place does not come lightly.

In fact, the first time that I visited was back when I was still teaching at a homeschool program; the other teacher and I brought our four students to the Serpentarium as a part of their back-to-school fun day. I thought I was going to die when the kids told me where I wanted to go, but I decided to just deal with it for their sakes. They were so excited to go, and I wasn't going to stand in their way! On that trip, more than four years ago, I was blown away at the large collection of snakes, the obvious respect that the owners have for their animals, and the ease of learning about each reptile resident.

Because of that trip, I knew that I wanted to bring my daughter back once she was old enough to interact with the experience. This year, at a lively and inquisitive two years of age, Britton was ready, so the three of us headed out one morning.

As soon as we stepped into the indoor exhibit, Britton (and my husband, who'd also never been) was transfixed. We talk to her a lot about snakes and safety since we live in a part of South Carolina where cottonmouths (water moccasins), timber rattlers (canebrake rattlesnakes), and copperheads are common--so we thought that this would be another way for her to learn more about these creatures while seeing them in a safe environment.

The indoor area has glass exhibits ringing the wall, and you can see and learn about everything from an albino alligator to a python to a pygmy rattlesnake. Each reptile is placed in an exhibit that showcases where you might find the animal in nature, and you can tell that plenty of research has gone into the details.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com


Then, in the middle of the indoor space is a sunken garden, where you can see dozens of constrictors as they swim, crawl up trees, and hide in stumps. Landon and I were amazed at how well they could camouflage themselves: the longer we looked in the garden, the more snakes we saw!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

We headed outdoors into the swampy South Carolina June morning (we had to visit during a record-setting heat wave) to explore the large exhibits out there. We started with the non-venomous snake area, where the residents were quite active. We spotted several black racers in there, which we've also seen on our property back home.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

It was almost time for the noon alligator talk, so we found a shady spot where we could safely watch the alligators from a distance. They look large in the water, but they look positively gigantic when they're moving around on the ground!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

After the alligator talk, we took Britton to the venomous snake exhibit. While these snakes were plentiful in their sunken arena, they were far more languid than their non-venomous counterparts. Since they were just kind of hanging out, we looked at them, got the heebie-jeebies, and headed over to see the turtles. There are some huge alligator turtles near the new king cobra exhibit, and you can buy some turtle feed if you're interested in helping them grow even more.

On the other side of the outdoor area, there are even more turtles, where you can see two examples of the world's largest land turtles: the African Spur-Thigh Tortoises. Right next to them is a whole collection of your favorite hard-shelled reptiles: box turtles, snapping turtles, and terrapins are among the offerings.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

We completed our visit with the live snake handling demonstration at 1:00 p.m. (there are usually several throughout the day). Here, a herpetologist teaches the audience about six different kinds of snakes while carefully handling each. From the docile and non-venomous rat snake to the terrifying timber rattler, the snakes shown are mostly found around South Carolina, and there is an emphasis on respect and safety throughout.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The herpetologist who ran our program was approachable, conversational, and calm, and did a great job at talking to both the parents and the kids in the audience. There was even a photo opp at the end with a ball python!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The Serpentarium was opened in 1999 by two local brothers who had a lifelong interest in herpetology. As we walked through the exhibits, I could see that passion in the attention to detail. The next time you're in the area, make sure to block off time to visit: the beach can wait a few hours! It's also a convenient drive from downtown Charleston (about 40 minutes) and would make a great day trip from the city.

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Would you be interested in visiting a reptile-focused exhibit like this one? Have you visited Edisto Island?
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