Marie McAden



Santa and snowmen and snakes. Oh my!

Posted 11/26/2012 12:25:00 PM

The Lowcountry’s newest holiday light display has all the usual Yuletide stars — Santa, Frosty and Rudolph — along with some not-so-traditional characters.


But that’s what makes Edisto Island Serpentarium’s Christmas Light Fest so unique. Where else are you going to find slithering reptiles lounging in a winter wonderland?

The outdoor lights are displayed in the exhibit space usually occupied by snakes and alligators. During the cold fall and winter months, the alligators go into hibernation and the snakes are moved to cozier quarters inside a storage building.

Although the outdoor residents are snugly tucked away, visitors can view plenty of snakes and other reptiles in the Serpentarium’s indoor gallery. Like the open-air observatories, the climate-controlled exhibit hall has been dressed up for the holidays with Christmas trees, lights and festive decorations.

With the Christmas Light Fest, you get a two-fer, of sorts. For the price of admission you can enjoy the holiday lights and get an up-close view of some very cool reptiles in their glass-fronted digs. The reptilian menagerie includes rattlers, water moccasins, anacondas and my personal favorite, the reticulated python — the world’s longest snake.

When I visited the Christmas Light Fest this weekend, Serpentarium owners Ted and Heyward Clamp invited me to hold their friendly 100-pound python. While I clutched the middle, the two brothers wrangled with the front and back ends of the 16-foot long constrictor.

Or at least that was the plan. No sooner did I cradle his heavy trunk in my hands than the snake wriggled his tail behind my back and around my thigh. Although his grip was firm but gentle, I quickly realized how he came to be classified as a constrictor.

The non-venomous python is one of hundreds of snakes in the Edisto Island Serpentarium. The Clamps, lifelong snake hunters and handlers, opened the facility in 1999 to educate the skittish among us about this often misunderstood reptile.

Born and reared in Orangeburg County, the Clamp brothers began collecting snakes as young boys on hunting trips in the country. They became so fascinated with serpents they built a walled enclosure for them in their backyard to be able to observe their daily habits.

“We would take our boat into the Edisto River to catch snakes,” Heyward Clamp recalled. “On one trip we might catch 50 water snakes.”

Heyward, the older brother of the two, moved to Florida in the early 1960s to work at the world-renowned Miami Serpentarium. Decades later he and his brother would open their own snake and reptile center on the Carolina coast.

May through August, visitors can view venomous and non-venomous snakes, alligators, caiman and snapping turtles in outdoor observatories designed to resemble the reptiles’ natural habitats.

“We want people to see the animals like they would in the wild,” Heyward Clamp said. “You’re not looking at them through glass. They’re in the trees and on the ground right in front of you.”

Not to worry. The critters cannot escape their walled compounds.

This May, the Clamps plan to open a new outdoor crocodile exhibit featuring a pair of Nile crocs, a rare Brown caiman and a baby Morelet’s crocodile.

From now until Dec. 29, the Serpentarium will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays for the Christmas Light Fest. Admission is $13.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors and $9.95 for kids 4 to 12. Children 3 and younger are admitted free.

You can get more details about the Serpentarium and the light display by clicking here or calling (843) 869-1171.