The entrance to the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center is stunningly grand. The red bricked building has two turtles standing guard with large pillars rising up towards an exquisite mosaic of a stegosaurus. Within its walls are roughly 70 species exhibited with even more at their Virginia site. Two massive green anacondas, the world’s largest snake, were lounging in a mangrove swamp set up with one casually on land and the other submerged in their pool. At one end of the building are a few enclosures devoted crocodilians. Each enclosure had a large pond surrounded with foliage and ground cover. One housed the endangered Cuban crocodile while in another you can find the gharial. The gharial, though still endangered, has made a remarkable comeback. In the 1970s there were fewer than 100 gharials left in the wild but now there are roughly 1000. The opposite side of the Reptile Discovery Center is devoted to turtles and tortoises. There was a large pond with complete underwater viewing where you could watch comical looking snake-necked turtles. As well as swimming turtles there was a large enclosure with various tortoises; aldabra, radiated, red-footed and leopard that all seem to be either at complete rest or loafing around.
Outside the Center you can encounter the American alligator and the Komodo dragon. In 1992 the Smithsonian National Zoo was the first place to hatch Komodo dragons outside of Indonesia, their native habitat. Many more zoos have followed suit in successful hatchlings of Komodo dragons, the largest lizard species and much more is now known about these impressive reptiles. Following the trail you enter the Invertebrate House where you’ll find insects, live coral, giant clams and other sea creatures. Invertebrates are creatures without backbones such as the zoos giant Pacific octopus that you can catch being fed twice daily. The giant Pacific octopus is the world’s largest octopus species with a males arm span reaching up to 25 feet and weighing more than 100 pounds.
An interesting fact to note before you breeze through this exhibit – 99% of all known living species are invertebrates! Imagine the possibilities!