Monday, September 14, 2015

Field Trip - Nature Discovery, Williamston, MI

Yesterday (13 September 2015), Shara and I visited Williamston, MI for the sixth annual Michigan Snakes Day at Nature Discovery.  Nature Discovery is a nature-based business owned and operated by biologists Jim and Carol McGrath.  In their own words: NATURE DISCOVERY is dedicated to enhancing awareness and sensitivity toward Michigan's diverse living resources through natural science education.

Jim and Carol have operated Nature Discovery  for the past 28 years - most of that time out of their home!  They have the most complete collection of Michigan reptiles and amphibians anywhere in the state - currently 46 of 52 species.  Maintaining their "zoo" is a full-time job.

Some of the tanks at Nature Discovery

They regularly take their collection to locations around the state and present to thousands of people every year.  Until recently they have been helped by their four children, but the kids have all grown up so Jim and Carol are now largely on their own.

One Sunday each month, Jim and Carol host a themed open house at their home-based nature center. During open houses, visitors have the opportunity to observe and interact with the many species that call Nature Discovery home.  To learn about upcoming presentations and open house date please check out their monthly newsletter.  The cost to attend one of their open houses is only five dollars per person.

Here are a few of the species that we observed during the open house yesterday.

A young Spotted Turtle - photo by Shara LeValley

A Green Snake at Nature Discovery - photo by Shara LeValley

An American Toad peeks out from under a log in its habitat - photo by Shara LeValley

Two Fox Snakes peer out from an old blue bird house in their tank

A Box Turtle dozes in the sun at Nature Discovery
A collection of aquatic turtle species enjoys the warm sun

To maintain the diversity of species in their collection, Jim and Carol frequently capture wild specimens to replace animals that have died of natural causes.  Some species live longer than other - some snakes live more than a decade and turtles commonly live much longer.  Other species (especially some frogs) may only live for a couple of years.

Because they maintain such a large number of animals on site, there is always the potential that some of the animals will successfully breed and produce offspring.  When this happens Nature Discovery occasionally has an excess of certain species of animals.  When this happens, the extra animals are frequently donated to schools and other educational facilities that have booked presentations through Nature Discovery.  Part of the reason for out visit was for Shara to pick up a four year old rat snake to add to her classroom.

Shara with her new classroom pet

This new addition to the "zoo" measures nearly four feet long.  It is very gentle due to repeated handling.  Shara and I handled it for two straight hours while we visited Nature Discovery.  At one point, in addition to the snake we were bringing home, Shara had five additional snakes climbing on here.  Almost 26 feet of snakes in total!

Shara is not an ophidiophobe

Anyone with an interest in nature in general and Michigan reptiles and amphibians in particular should see a display or presentation by Jim and Carol.  I learn something new every time I see them.  I book them every year for the Isabella County Environmental Education Day and they are one of the highlights for students and teachers alike.

Nature Discovery is located only an hour and fifteen minutes from Mt. Pleasant.  It is well worth the drive to visit during one of their open houses.  If Sundays are not an option, special appointments can also be arranged.  To arrange a special visit or to receive their newsletter in your email contact them at 

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