See different species at this museum devoted to snakes.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Albuquerque's Historic Old Town is arguably the world's safest den for rattlesnakes and their fans. The American International Rattlesnake Museum, owned and operated by Bob Myers, boasts the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world, yet many herpers do not know about it.
Growing up in both New Mexico and New Jersey, Bob Myers could not satisfy his thirst for reptiles. As many of us did, he searched under rocks for salamanders, tried to catch pond turtles and chased racers around the fields until nightfall! But it was not until he went to college that Bob got serious about keeping and studying reptiles. His friend was conducting some research on native species of rattlesnakes for a school project, and Bob jumped at the chance to help. So began a lifelong love and appreciation for reptiles in general, and rattlesnakes specifically.
When he graduated with a degree in biology and began teaching high school, Bob had already amassed quite a collection of rattlers. Realizing his passion was to open a museum of live reptiles, Bob decided rattlesnakes were the natural choice. After all, no other reptile is as widely known and feared as the rattlesnake.
May 1990 brought Myers' dream into reality when he opened the American International Rattlesnake Museum. With more than 30 different species on display, it is truly an impressive collection. Not only are there a lot of snakes, but the quality of the collection is outstanding!
You can see everything from a huge eastern diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus) to the rare Salvin's rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus salvini). The museum has a rattler for everyone. In my opinion, Bob's southwestern speckled rattler (Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus) is the pearl of his collection–definitely the most stunning specimen I have ever seen! Kept in enclosures resembling the snakes' natural habitat, each species has its own information card filled with locations, natural history notes and breeding information. Note cards for children are placed lower on the enclosures with easy-to-read comments and fun facts.
With education as the ultimate goal of the museum, Bob has included some mutations to illustrate the role genetics plays in nature. A rare piebald form of the prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis viridis), along with some gorgeous melanistic massasaugas (Sistrurus catenatus), and some patternless and striped examples of western diamondbacks (Crotalus atrox) are truly spectacular.
The majority of the animals have come from zoos across the United States, but Bob exhibits species from all the Americas. "People are always surprised to discover they actually have a rattlesnake living in their backyard," Bob explained. "They are not exclusive to the South and Southwest, like many believe."
Snake phobias are met head-on at the museum, where knowledge helps overcome fears. Some people will actually walk to the other side of the street to avoid the building itself! But, if the visitor bravely enters the museum and comes away from the exhibit with a better understanding of the vital role rattlesnakes play in nature, then Bob and his wonderful staff have accomplished their goal.
Not only does the museum harbor exotic live animals, it also houses an impressive collection of artifacts with a snake theme: jewelry, paintings, flags and coins. "I try to relate the snake theme to everybody through their own interests," Bob said. This is evident with such rarities as antique snake toys, an interesting collection of license plates with different snake sayings, and a scattering of unique herp-related bottles all around the museum. Incorporated in the collection are paintings and sculptures by such artists as Audubon, Rousseau and Remington, along with Native American pottery, kachinas and sand paintings. Medical, religious and historical snake items round out the exhibit. Surprisingly, Bob says that the public sees only about one percent of his artifact collection at any given time because of limited space.
The museum teaches students and adults alike, but Bob's work is far from over. School groups, Boy Scout troops and church organizations constantly make field trips to the American International Rattlesnake Museum. The museum has also been featured on the Discovery Channel and Jeff Corwin's show, "Going Wild," on the Disney Channel. Myers jumps at almost every chance to prove that watching and enjoying snakes is a lot better than hating and killing them.
If you visit this museum, be sure to browse the gift shop before you leave; it has something for everyone. You can pick up anything from shed fangs to walking sticks, from herpetological books to skull replicas of different reptiles. Among the shop's best sellers are the T-shirts and sweatshirts that sport the museum's own rattler logo. Many hard-to-find herp-related items can be found just before you enter the animal exhibit.
So what does the horizon hold for the American International Rattlesnake Museum? Plans to move into a bigger building are already underway, which will give Bob more room to show artifacts and knickknacks. The expansion of the animal collection to include other venomous animals, such as elapids, Old World vipers–even arachnids–is already in progress. Conservation is important for all reptiles, not just rattlesnakes, and education is the key.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the museum is that, no matter how many school groups are coming in a day and no matter how many animals need to be fed, Bob and his staff are always eager to "talk snakes" and will give you their undivided attention.
You owe it to yourself to visit the American International Rattlesnake Museum–truly a treat for the whole family (check out the museum's Web site at: www.rattlesnakes.com). For more information, write to American International Rattlesnake Museum, 202 San Felipe NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104; or call (505) 242-6569.
I would like to thank Bob and Carol Myers; without them this article would not be possible. I also am indebted to Rachel Decker, who is always giving support whether or not she knows it. Thank you!