Snake replicas will make WV parks’ wildlife displays safer, officials say | Outside Pursuits

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West Virginia has discovered a kinder, gentler way to show guests what venomous snakes appear like.

In the previous, some parks have kept reside snakes on show. Now, thanks to 1 of the park system’s naturalists, they’re displaying realistically painted models.

Nick Korolev, the naturalist at Lost River State Park in Hardy County, was the driving force behind what turned out to be a winter-extended project.

“Nick created a show for our nature center to show guests how properly snakes can blend into the atmosphere,” mentioned Mike Foster, the park’s superintendent. “He created a model of a rattlesnake, and place it in a glass cage filled with leaves and twigs. “I told Nick that because we had a rattlesnake, we necessary a copperhead to go along with it so we can show guests each of the venomous snake species we have right here in West Virginia.”

Foster sent photographs of the snakes to Sissie Summers, head of programming for the state park technique.

“Sissie recommended we have Nick paint snakes for many other nature centers,” Foster mentioned. “It took off and snowballed from there.”

Parks officials discovered a supplier, Morgan Reptile Replicas in Liberty, North Carolina, that tends to make castings straight from the bodies of dead animals. The enterprise supplies the castings painted or unpainted. Korolev, who has a fine arts degree, opted to paint his personal.

In November, he started operate on 32 snakes — 16 timber rattlers and 16 copperheads.

The project became rather time-consuming. Korolev estimates that every single casting took two to 3½ hours to finish.

“The rattlesnake models had been a tiny far more involved since they come with the tail detached,” he mentioned. “I had to bore a hole in the finish of the rattler’s physique and glue the tail on with epoxy. Then I had to paint a base coat, paint on the light markings, paint on the dark markings, and then paint all the tiny particulars. The final step was to use a dry-brush method to give the scales a 3-dimensional impact.”

The copperheads didn’t demand any drilling or gluing, but Korolev mentioned they had been far more hard to paint since of the species’ distinctive hourglass-shaped markings and subtle colour gradations.

“In addition to an undercoat and the dark markings, they necessary me to mix a lighter copper colour for spots that go inside the hourglass markings. The tops of the heads got a strong coppery colour, and I had to paint the stripes that go from behind the eyes to the corners of their jaws.”

Korolev had to shoehorn the project into what was currently a busy schedule.

“I’m a substitute teacher, and a complete-time artist and writer,” he mentioned. “I attempted to operate on the snakes just about every day, but it nonetheless took very a bit of time to do.”

He completed the operate in mid-February. Parks officials unveiled Korolev’s operate at a naturalists’ workshop in late May possibly.

Summers mentioned the purpose is to transition away from reside-snake displays, specially these that function venomous species.

“We want folks to be capable to see snakes up close, with no likelihood of a buyer or a naturalist becoming bitten,” she explained. “It’s an interpretive tool we’ve wanted for a extended time.”

Korolev mentioned it also will be a lot easier on reside snakes.

“Instead of becoming in a show, they’ll be exactly where they can do the most fantastic — out in the atmosphere, exactly where they can support manage rodents,” he explained.

The fake snakes will support folks find out to correctly determine snakes they may well encounter in the wild, and possibly maintain them from misidentifying lookalike species such as corn snakes, eastern hognose snakes and northern water snakes.

“Being capable to examine [the models] up close may well support folks not to be so fearful,” Korolev mentioned. “They’ll be capable to see the two species in three-D without the need of essentially possessing to deal with 1.”

Toward the finish of his replica-painting project, Korolev had all 32 of the models arranged on a table, drying.

“A pal took 1 appear at them and mentioned, ‘Now, this is just creepy,’” Korolev mentioned.

Korolev’s operate may well support folks find out to determine West Virginia’s venomous snakes, but it may well also produce an occasional case of the heebie-jeebies. He’s fine with that, as extended as the folks are protected and actual snakes are left to roam cost-free.

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