Nebraska Reptile Awareness Month • Nebraskaland Magazine
By Monica Macoubrie, wildlife education specialist
October is a fascinating month for many. The leaves are starting to show their fall hues, the crisp fall air finally allows us to wear sweaters, and the spooky holiday season has us celebrating all month long. Now there’s one more reason to celebrate one of the best months of the year: Although National Reptile Awareness Day is October 21, per a proclamation from Governor Pete Ricketts, the entire month was dedicated to reptiles.
Reptiles are a special group of animals that breathe air, have a spine, and are covered in scales or bony plates. In Nebraska, this includes all of our snakes, lizards and turtles – 48 species in total. Reptiles regularly shed the outer layer of their skin or carapace, and because they are cold blooded, they cannot maintain a constant internal body temperature like birds or mammals can; you’ll often see reptiles basking in the sun for warmth or gliding through the water to cool off on a hot summer day. Most of these animals also lay eggs. Reptile eggshells are normally soft, almost leathery. There are exceptions, however, as not all reptiles lay eggs: gartersnakes actually give birth alive.
These often feared and misunderstood animals play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Comprised of both predator and prey species, Nebraska’s lizards, snakes, and turtles help regulate healthy animal populations, helping to balance diverse ecosystems. And less obviously, reptiles provide many economic benefits, such as rodent and insect control, which help farmers, ranchers and owners. They also serve as biological indicators of ecosystem health: their response to pollution, habitat destruction, and wildlife disease can provide an early indication of change.
Reptile Awareness Day helps us honor these fantastic animals. This is also an opportunity to educate others who may not understand the importance of reptiles in Nebraska’s ecosystems, as well as bring attention to threatened and endangered species in due to the effects of habitat loss, pollution, climate change and even poaching. In Nebraska, the two endangered reptile species are the massasauga and the timber rattlesnake. Through education and promotions like Reptile Month, Nebraskanians can become more aware of these amazing animals.
Each year, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission holds a K-12 Reptile Art Contest. This year, from September 6 through October 17, any K-12 student can submit an original piece of art depicting a native Nebraska reptile. This artwork can be in any form such as a drawing, painting, sketch or even clay pottery of a native reptile. To enter, upload a scan or photo of the artwork to http://outdoornebraska.gov/reptileart. Each student who submits their art through the submission form will receive a reptile swag in the mail. Winners from each grade level will be selected by Game and Parks staff and announced on National Reptile Awareness Day. For more information on our native reptiles, or for artistic inspiration, visit http://outdoornebraska.gov/reptiles/.