Marie McAden



Fascinating wildlife exhibits are a Cypress Gardens bonus

Posted 10/8/2013 12:24:00 PM

Cypress Gardens may be known for its beautiful swampland setting, but this Lowcountry jewel offers much more than pretty flowers and moss-draped trees.

Along with the marquee water and walking trails, the 170-acre Moncks Corner preserve features a half-dozen wildlife exhibits that are every bit as entertaining as the main attraction. Exploring the exhibit section of the gardens, I felt like a kid on an Easter egg hunt, finding one ecological treasure after another.

We started out at the Nature Center, a wildlife wonderland with all kinds of interesting displays, including a collection of scat from alligators, raccoons, coyotes and mountain lions. At the “touch table,” visitors are invited to check out a beaver skull, a skin shed from an albino corn snake and a polyphemus moth cocoon. There are also tanks with a number of cool critters, among them a Chilean rose tarantula and an African clawed frog.

Around the corner is the alligator exhibit featuring a large pond with two of the well-armored reptiles. One of the gators was accommodating enough to lay at the front edge of the pond so we could eyeball its menacing overbite and nightmarish claws.

The Swamparium next door offered more monsters from the swamp, including an alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the world. The Gardens’ specimen weighed in at 100 pounds.

I was particularly taken with the animals from the “swamps of the world”. They included a water monitor from Asia, a green anaconda from South America and an African dwarf crocodile. But my very favorite reptilian resident was the two-toed amphiuma, a snake-like salamander with four itty-bitty legs. I’m talking about appendages so small, even a Tyrannosaurus rex would thumb its nose at it.

Just about the time I though t I had seen all the bizarre creatures I could stand, we came to the butterfly house, a bastion of beauty among the bog dwellers. Flittering all around us were masterpieces of nature with their dazzling colors and fanciful designs. I could have spent hours photographing all the varieties of butterflies I spotted amongst the flowering vegetation.

I also enjoyed the bird exhibit, featuring a motley crew of Triton cockatoos, African gray parrots and blue and gold macaws. It doesn’t take much to egg these wise guys on. A simple “hello” will get them chatting.

The entrance fee to Cypress Gardens is $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 6 to 12, free for tots 5 and younger. Click here or call (843) 553-0515 for more information.