Exploring Costa Rica (And Encountering A Terciopelo) - Part 2

Posted by Jonathan Twining on Jun 11, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Costa_Rica_-_Terciopelo_Snake“Can you hear the dink frog in the vegetation over here?” I said to my colleague Dr. Darrin Grinder of Northwest Nazarene University. I went looking for this tiny frog that made such a loud, chirping call, but had no success. As I gave up, a thought went through my head … “Turn and look before you step”. As I turned, I gasped, for there before me was a large terciopelo (or fer-de-lance), one of the most venomous and dangerous snakes in Central America. She was about 5 feet long, and curled up on the path next to an enormous pile of brush. This was a snake I had longed to see (from a safe distance) since I started going to Costa Rica. I stood there admiring this beautiful animal until she finally decided she could no longer tolerate my presence, and moved off into the brush pile. The encounter was over. Or was it?

I have had a fascination with snakes since I was four years old. It started when my grandmother and uncle told me stories of their time as missionaries in Zambia, including encounters with black mambas and spitting cobras. To this day, the black mamba is my favorite snake, and at the top of my life list of reptiles I would like to see in the wild. Then my father bought me a set of books on the reptiles of the world - I devoured every last tasty morsel and was hungry for more. I think I read every book in the town library about snakes and still could not get enough.

Every year we visited my grandparents in Richmond, Virginia. Driving through Pennsylvania, we would always drive past Clyde Peeling’s “Reptiland”, and I could never convince my parents to stop there. My father was a pastor and a very frugal person, so the story was that we didn’t have the money. What made matters worse was that my grandparents took my cousin, Carl, to Reptiland on a trip north to see us, and he got his picture taken with a boa constrictor around his shoulders. That made me so mad. I’ve still never been there.

Living in rural Western New York, I frequently encountered snakes that would come in from the fields surrounding the church parsonage. Unfortunately, my mother hated snakes, and they were often killed on site, even though they were not causing any harm. Later, when I became a father, I wanted my son to learn from an early age that snakes are not to be feared, but respected, and there is no reason to kill them indiscriminately. At the age of four, I had a photograph taken with my son and a large boa constrictor around our shoulders. It kind of made up for not getting a picture with one at Reptiland.

When I began teaching at Eastern Nazarene College, I wanted to do something to educate our students and the community about snakes, as well as other reptiles and amphibians, and even spiders. Aristotle called these “the mean and lowly things”, but I wanted to change that perception. Today, we have an Animal Caretakers Team of students that keep around 15 animals which we use in our own classes as well as in live animal programs for schools, churches, and summer camps. And with these animals, I have helped many people address their unfounded fears about spiders and snakes.

Before I saw the terciopelo at La Selva Biological Research Station in Costa Rica, I had never before encountered a venomous snake in the wild. And as the snake crawled into the brush, I felt that I had missed an opportunity to share this snake with a wider audience, for I stood there without my camera. But later that night, Dr. John Cossel, my colleague and a herpetologist from Northwest Nazarene University, came in and told me that “my snake” was curled up beautifully again under the tree. I excitedly ran out the door with my cameras and there she was. God had given me another opportunity to see her and capture images that will remain in my heart for a long time. And the next night, there she was again, only this time she was with her mate. What an incredible experience for me, and I am grateful to God for allowing me to see such a magnificent member of his creation, one that he declared as “very good”.

Professor Jonathan Twining visited Costa Rica in May 2015 for two weeks with a group from Northwest Nazarene University and hopes to take ENC students in the near future for his Field Problems in Biology course. ENC science majors can also take advantage of the Spring Semester in Costa Rica offered through Southern Nazarene University at their Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in San Gerardo de Dota. For more information, email Prof. Twining at Jonathan.Twining@enc.edu.

Read Part 1 of Professor Twining's adventure to Costa Rica

To learn more about ENC's Biology Department, please download the Fact Sheet.

Learn More about Terciopelos (fer-de-lance)


Written by Jonathan Twining

Jonathan Twining teaches the ecology and environmental science courses for the Biology Department and is the advisor for the Animal Caretakers Team (ACT). Twining worked for a number of years as an environmental scientist and project manager with consulting firms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has been very active in the greater community, partnering ENC students with organizations like the Quincy DPW, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His passion and primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of vernal pool habitats. He has written numerous articles for NCM Magazine, and has been a speaker in local congregations about the care of creation (environmental stewardship).

Topics: ENC Faculty, Academics, Environmental Science