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Reptile show enthralls crowd

December 11, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

The cold, long and scaly slithered Saturday among the "Warm, Soft & Fuzzy" bird paintings on display at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

Michael Shwedick's reptile show kicked off the museum's annual children's holiday reception.

About 150 kids and their families crowded a museum room to see and learn about Schwedick's snakes, alligator, crocodile, lizard and turtle.

"I love reptiles," said Tara Blacklin, 10.

Rachel Loudin, 8, anticipated holding a snake.

But probably not Jade, the massive 7-foot, 4-inch baby anaconda that Shwedick toted to Hagerstown from his Reptile World Center in Bowie, Md.

Shwedick said he and his brother raise and care for 200 "absolutely beautiful" reptiles from all over the world.

"They might not be cute. They may never be cuddly. But they share our land, our water and the air we breath," Shwedick told his enrapt audience.

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He has raised Alexander, the alligator snapping turtle, for 26 years, and cared for "terribly handsome" Mr. Spike, the green iguana, since he hatched nine years ago, but neither Alexander nor Spike nor any of his scaly friends will ever miss Shwedick like he misses them when he's away, he said.

"They don't feel happiness or sadness. They feel hunger, thirst, heat, cold and fear," the reptile man said.

Mr. Spike watched from his "branch away from his branch" as Shwedick cradled 6-year-old Okeechobee the American alligator, a breed which "almost never eats people," he said.

Cookie the African Nile crocodile (who doesn't have a brother named Lyle) whined as Shwedick removed her from her box, and twisted and rolled as he held her in his arms.

Shwedick saved the snakes for last.

The touch of a snake's tongue feels like a feather, he said.

The skin of Lipstick, the Mexican milk snake, shimmered as Shwedick held her up to the light, but the reptile is not slimy as is commonly thought, he said.

"She has the wet look but she's dry," he said. "Snakes feel like a no-wax floor."

A gift request session and photo opportunity with local "Santa" Bud Kline followed Schwedick's show.

Reptile lover Tara Blacklin said she might ask Santa for a new snake for Christmas.

"But my cat would probably eat it," she said.

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