The Reptile House of the New York Zoo, the first large building to be erected in the Bronx Zoo Park, contains a series of examples, carefully selected, to afford a general view of the four important groups of living reptiles—turtles, crocodiles, lizards and snakes—and of the still more interesting amphibians—frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, among other reptiles. Even in this large building it is impossible to show anything approaching a complete collection of the reptiles of the world, and the arrangement of exhibits of reptiles varies from time to time according to conditions and demands on space.
To the right of the south or entrance hall there is shown, for purposes of local interest and instruction, a collection of the harmless and poisonous snakes of New York State. The window cases at the left of this hall house a series of American batrachians, including various frogs and toads, among them the huge bullfrog; the curious glass snake (really a lizard but having no external legs), the hell-bender, salamander and others.
At the western end of the great central hall of the New York Zoo, in the Reptile House, is the Crocodile Pool with its sloping banks, for which the conservatory of tropical vegetation behind affords a natural setting and a homelike outlook for the inmates. A number of American alligators, from two or three to twelve feet long, inhabit the pool the year round.
One division of the Crocodile Pool is occupied by the gavial, a rare crocodile from the Ganges River.
Young alligators are kept in four groups, according to size, in various parts of the Reptile House.
The central space of this main hal of reptilesl of the New York Zoo is devoted to the turtles. A large tank at the eastern end accommodates the larger specimens and is also a nursery for many young crocodiles and alligators. A stream of water thirty-five feet long, with banks of earth and living plants, is divided into sections for the smaller species of turtles, of which thirty or more types are exhibited. The strange aquatic, soft-shelled turtle is in a case at the right of the entrance.
The batrachians or amphibians (frogs, toads, newts and salamanders), Nature's half-way house between land and water animals, are shown in a series of cases flanking the western and eastern ends of the Turtle Pool. A few may be found on the south side of the building. This collection is one of the best in existence, containing nearly one hundred different species from all over the world, some of them very rare. Certain of these reptiles exhibit very interesting adaptations, as the axolotl, a Mexican salamander which lives in water as long as the water lasts but if this dries up begins to breathe with its lungs and to walk about on the land. The rare tree toads of Australia and African swimming frogs are found here.
Serpents or snakes (with some lizards) are ranged around the northern and eastern sides of this hall of the New York Zoo. Of these, the huge tropical boas and pythons of India and Africa and the anaconda and boa constrictor of South America are among the most showy of a large and interesting series. The largest specimen is the regal python of Africa, twenty-two feet long and weighing 170 pounds. Other specimens are the Indian python, the garter snake, blue-tailed lizard, horned toad (a desert lizard), tree boa, pilot snake, carpet snake and others. The exhibit of venomous snakes is especially comprehensive and contains among others the diamond-backed rattlesnake of Texas, the cobra-de-capello of India, responsible for the loss of about 18,000 lives annually, and the deadly fer-de-lance and bush-master of South America.
Bordering on the north side of the Turtle Pond is a fine collection of snakes of the southern United States, and a case on the southeast side of the hall exhibits skulls and fangs of harmless and poisonous snakes, indicating the difference between them. Many interesting snakes and batrachians find a place also on this wall. The southwest wall is devoted to the Economic Rodent-Reptile Collection, showing the rodents most destructive to agricultural interests and the snakes which prey upon them. This extensive and valuable series contains about fifty species of rodents, some of them rare and interesting, such as the Egyptian desert mouse, the Indian jerboa, the Egyptian jerboa (a kangaroo-like rat), porcupine mouse, European marmot and the flying squirrel; and, inasmuch as some of those exhibited are nocturnal in habit, it is an achievement to have induced them to show themselves in daylight.
The Reptile House formerly contained a considerable collection of insects. It has been found impracticable to keep this up for lack of space, but various interesting tarantulas, centipedes and other types are still to be found here, among them the curious bird-killing spider.