The reptile bug bit Jeff Corwin – kind of literally – when he was 6 years old when he dug through a woodpile on his grandparents’ property and a garter snake latched onto his arm.
Recalling the incident to an adoring audience in The Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX theater yesterday, Corwin said he ran into the house, where his grandmother told him to get rid of the snake.
“ ‘No! I love it! Now get it off my arm!’ ” Corwin remembered saying.
“The day I found that snake was the day I became a naturalist,” he added.
And what a naturalist he has become. Forty years later, Corwin is now an Emmy-winning globetrotting biologist/adventurer/conservationist who has produced and hosted a variety of popular television series on the Disney Channel, Discovery Channel, NBC, Animal Planet, The Travel Channel and even the Food Network.
In his current show, “Ocean Mysteries,” he teams with experts at the Georgia Aquarium to share extraordinary stories that lie beneath the waves while enhancing our understanding about the oceans’ life-sustaining value to the planet. (It airs on Saturday mornings on ABC.)
Corwin spoke to two audiences at The Maritime Aquarium yesterday – in shows at 4 & 7:30 p.m. He displayed his usual wit and easy-going enthusiastic manner, and also pulled kids from the audiences to help display and examine five guest animals:
– a bufo marine toad, a footlong creature that is the largest species of toad.
– an alligator snapping turtle that – at 110 pounds – may still double or triple in size.
– a black-throated monitor lizard.
– a 6-foot American alligator (named Fred).
– and a 15-foot Burmese python. (“In my heart of hearts, I’m still a kid who loves snakes,” he said.)
Corwin pointed out each species’ special adaptations for survival, and also explained their conservation issues. For instance, he said, toad populations – like most amphibian populations around the world – are dropping from habitat destruction and a disease called chytrid fungus.
“Amphibians are a keystone species,” he said. “They are integral to the survival of many habitats.”
Reptiles, like the monitor lizard and the python, often are raised as pets but then some owners release them into the wild when they get too large, Corwin said. The monitor lizard he displayed at the Aquarium was “rescued,” after being “found walking the streets of New Jersey.” And the Florida Everglades are now overrun by pythons, after a few were turned loose there by pet owners, he said.
“It’s not the snakes’ fault,” he said. “It’s our fault.”
[See more photos from Corwin's shows on our Facebook page.]
The 2013-14 lecture series continues on Thurs., Feb. 6 when The Maritime Aquarium welcomes ocean explorer & filmmaker Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau. For ticket information, call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206, or go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.