Sparkles and Snakes

Cool Summer Nights, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, June 1—Aug. 31

Sparkles and Snakes

There are at least two kinds of rare diamonds in the world—diamond gemstones and diamondback rattlers. And if you are intrigued by either of them, you'll want to be at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum this Saturday.

Diamonds of the Desert is a new exhibit designed to celebrate the museum's 60th year. But while many 60th anniversaries are celebrated as a diamond jubilee, most don't include venomous reptiles.

The unusual exhibit will showcase seven diamondback rattlesnakes paired with sparkling diamonds to accentuate their rarity and beauty. The exhibit also kicks off the museum's Cool Summer Nights series. From June 1 through Aug. 31, special programs will be held each Saturday night. The museum houses 17 of the 18 species of rattlesnakes found in the Sonoran Desert, according to Russ Solsky, a reptile keeper for the museum. Solsky, who will be in charge of placing the snakes into display cases for the exhibit, said he cares for about 70 rattlesnakes a day.

But only a few from the museum's collection are on display at any given time, Solsky said. The snakes are switched out to reduce their stress levels, as well as to use them for breeding.

The rattlers on display for Diamonds of the Desert will include seven different species of diamondbacks, including an Eastern diamondback and an albino that has pink eyes and has lost all normal pigmentation, Solsky said.

While the museum usually only has animals that are native to the Sonoran region, Solsky said officials decided to bring in an Eastern diamondback from a breeding institution in Florida because it is considered the "king" of rattlesnakes.

The snake on display will be a baby, but Eastern diamondbacks can grow up to 8 feet long according to Solsky.

The pairing of snakes with gemstones is expected to increase interest in the display. "If you can just imagine these guys in those cages, with their habitat, and then have the diamonds in there, it's going to be really kind of breathtaking," said Rosemary Prawdzik, the museum's director of marketing and sales.

"I'm personally excited to see people's faces when they walk in and see this," Prawdzik said. If you could be "like a fly on the wall and you listened to what people had to say, it would be pretty incredible because you don't see those two things put together."

At 6:30 and 8 p.m. in the Warden Oasis Theater, curators will participate in a presentation called "Live and (Sort of) on the Loose."

Visitors will be able to see venomous snakes, Gila monsters and Mexican beaded lizards up close, but in a safe way, according to Prawdzik.

Prawdzik said she hopes the activity will give visitors an appreciation for the different species as well as an understanding that they aren't aggressive unless threatened. The rattlers will be available for observation throughout the summer.

Also at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, members of three Tucson Native American flute circles will perform.

Other themes for the Cool Summer Nights series include Living with Harmony in the Sun, Family Fun: Astronomy and Desert Animals and Insect Insanity and Photography.

All of the shows should be great for kids, Prawdzik said, adding that children are encouraged to bring black lights to hunt for scorpions and check out fluorescent minerals that glow under black lights.

"On summer Saturday nights here, when the sun goes down, it's almost like a fairyland," Prawdzik said. "When people live here, they tend to not appreciate things that are in their own backyard, but the Sonoran Desert and the ecosystem is phenomenal. The survival of the plants and animals, their techniques for living in such a harsh climate—it's just kind of a way of celebrating life."

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