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Learning to love snakes Clarksville family opens den to reptiles


Joan Bosmans has to be one of the few mothers in America who doesn't mind a pair of dragon-like lizards slinking around her living room.

And what amounts to a den of snakes in the basement doesn't give her a shiver at bedtime either.

"The things you can learn about these creatures is amazing," she says. "Every day is an experience, what with all the strange reptiles and other animals we have around here."

Of course, despite her chipper attitude, Mrs. Bosmans didn't choose to play innkeeper for the reptilian invasion in her home. Her sons, Brenden, 12, and Bryan, 7, are the ones taken with the cold-blooded invertebrates.

They'll be sharing their enthusiasm and encyclopedia-like knowledge about snakes, turtles, frogs and other reptiles and amphibians at what will be certainly one of the more unique displays at the County Fair. Their numerous exhibits will be part of what's called the Small Pet and Wildlife Show, on display tomorrow from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Vegetable Pavilion.

The youths' interest in such creatures started soon after they joined a county 4-H club a few years ago and took up raising a horse. Things went downhill on the chain of life quickly from there, recalls Brendan.

"I'd wanted a snake since I was born, practically," recalls Brenden. That wish came true at age 3, but the preoccupation with learning about and acquiring an array of reptiles and amphibians didn't start until after he joined 4-H after he turned 6. Bryan followed suit with an interest in amphibians and reptiles when he joined 4-H.

Now their Clarksville home and back yard are literally full of cages and ponds for housing and caring for a veritable jungle of reptiles and amphibians.

In view from the family's breakfast room table you'll find African newts and a fire-bellied frog nestled in an aquarium tank hopping with crickets trying to avoid becoming dinner for one of Bryan's ++ exotic pets. In one of the knee-high pens filled with grasses and damp earth in a shady area of the back yard, a caiman, a feisty crocodile from the Amazon, rests in a pool of aerated water. Turtles from exotic locales such as Honduras, Zaire and the Philippines occupy pens nearby.

And what of the lizards in the living room and the snakes in the numerous basement aquariums?

The neon green lizards are iguanas from South America, known affectionately around the Bosmans' household as Captain and Gilligan -- or "the escape artists" as Bryan calls them with glee.

And the snakes . . . well, none of the half-dozen species are poisonous, something an enthusiastic mother gladly proved by wrapping a 3-foot corn snake around a visitor's hand to demonstrate that hey, they really aren't slimy.

"Snakes have been given a bad name. Actually they are really important to the ecosystem's balance," notes Brendan in scholarly fashion.

"I give a lot of talks at school and to clubs about the reptiles and stuff I have. I always tell people they shouldn't kill snakes. We need them more than they need us."

"This is what our dinner conversations are like," says Mrs. Bosmans.

Brendan and Bryan take this business of their 4-H projects pretty seriously. Both display an impressive knowledge about their creatures. (And they should. After all, their goal is to open their own zoo one day.)

Ever wondered how snakes slither around so deftly? A bony tube from skull to tail acts as a set of feet, and their scales act like treads on a tire or shoe, says Bryan.

And just how dangerous is the august-looking brown king snake in the basement? Not much of a threat to you and me, advises Brendan.

"But they'll kill almost any poisonous snake incredibly fast."

In step with their dizzying grasp of animal kingdom facts and trivia, the brothers have developed a respect for the balancing act of nature and a concern for man's prickly intrusion on it. Each is doing what he can with projects to correct the balance.

Bryan often releases baby turtles and frogs into the woods and fields near the family home to replenish nature's stock. And Brendan has embarked on an effort to set right the entire ecosystem of a nearby pond.

"They stocked it with too many predatory fish, and now everything is out of whack," he explains.

What with the kids going in so many directions at once with exotic creatures,is there any limit their parents have set on what's allowed?

"Absolutely no poisonous snakes at all," says Mrs. Bosmans sternly. "Not until, at least, they get their zoo."

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