A&E » Visual Arts

Lizards & Snakes: Creeping the Fernbank

Monitors, geckos and pythons – oh, my!



Who doesn't like reptiles? Snakes can swallow prey larger than their own heads. There is a lizard from South America called the green basilisk that can run on water like Jesus in a hurry.

If you want facts on reptiles, all you need to do is ask any boy between the ages of 5 and 15. Profoundly aware of the inherent awesomeness of reptiles, they are obsessed, knowledgeable and will tell you anything you need to know.

But if you crave the nose-pressed-to-glass intimate company of the scaled and web-toed, only Fernbank Museum of Natural History's Lizards & Snakes: Alive! will satisfy. A blockbuster museum show for kids not quite ready for Egon Schiele, Lizards & Snakes originated at New York's American Museum of Natural History. And like a movie aimed at grown-ups called Sex & Violence, Lizards & Snakes offers no ambiguity about the kinds of thrills it is offering.

Along with specimens from the reptile family far and wide -- the yellow spotted monitor and the red spitting cobra, emerald tree boas and Burmese pythons -- there are the kind of interactive features that contemporary museum audiences seem to require. You can press a button and hear the distinctive cry of the crested gecko. In a frank acknowledgment that technology is always the better voyeuristic tool than actual proximity, there are cameras placed in a glass case filled with exotic geckos -- including the leaf-tail gecko, whose leechy, flattened body makes it look like something you'd peel off the bottom of your shoe. Visitors can zoom the camera in on the lizards inside that appear deeply unaware they are under constant surveillance.

But the coolest game was so awesome that kids were willingly abandoning their glass-fogging positions at the display cases to interact virtually. The video game allows them to assume the snake's point of view as they slither through a desert landscape looking for tasty vermin. "Goal: Eat a Rat" makes the mission crystal clear. If they hit the pounce button at the right time, the snake devours a croissant-sized rat. Grown-ups can have their reality TV -- it doesn't get any realer than this.

Lizards & Snakes: Alive! Through Aug. 12. $11-$13 general admission, free for members. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road. 404-929-6300. www.fernbankmuseum.org.

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