Tallahassee Museum & the New Snake Digs

June 01, 2019  •  19 Comments

Tall Mus Pond DinosaurTall Mus Pond Dinosaur

Loch Tallee Monster?

Our kids grew up with the Tallahassee Museum nearly in their backyard... and they spent many joyful hours there.  Any of you who knows this amazing place, also knows how lucky we were.  So when Mike Jones and Suzie Buzzo called me a year ago to see if I'd be willing to donate some of my photos to use in creating a new (renovated) Snake Center, I was honored and said, "Of course!" But - of course - it wasn't that simple. The new habitats required images 108 inches wide by 20 inches high, meaning EXTREMELY WIDE panoramas.  Nothing in my portfolio could be adapted.  Plus, the photos needed to be of specific natural habitats for six species of snakes. So, I took it on as a challenging and fun year-long project: learning the right ecosystems, finding them nearby (with the help of my knowledgeable photo pal, Bob Thompson, a retired park ranger), composing attractive landscapes representing them and then making very w-i-d-e panoramas, typically 180 degrees or more, each composited from about 12 photos that I stitched together.

Spoiler alert: There ARE photos of snakes below toward the end... (I have had enough feedback over the years to know that snake pictures creep out some people.) But I've included other photos of the Tallahassee Museum to give you a broader sense of this cool place.  And, for the snake lovers, I've included some extra snake photos from the Florida wilds.

Prayer BearPrayer Bear

Prayer Bear

Zip Line CrystalZip Line Crystal

Crystal having fun on the Zipline.

The Museum backs up to a gorgeous cypress wetland, Bradford Brook, and includes a nature trail that winds among fenced habitats housing local native wildlife. Plus there is an authentic (semi-functioning) old Florida cracker farm (which my kids LOVED).  And more recently, a tree-to-tree zipline and adventures course.  There is an art gallery and open air sculpture venue, a hands-on Science Center, a beloved playground and cafe, and other historic buildings, and more.  If you haven't been here and get a chance to visit, it is a Must-See-Do.

Bradford CreekBradford Creek

Bradford Brook wetland

Gray FoxGray Fox
Grey Fox

The "zoo" part is not remotely your typical zoo. The fenced areas are large enough that, from the boardwalks and trails, you sometimes can't see any animals in the woodsy habitats.  When you do, it might be after a careful search... like finding a camouflaged sleepy fox way up in a live oak tree...  Or finding a Florida Panther lying regally beside a tupelo tree down by the creek.

Panther PortraitPanther PortraitFlorida Panther. Tallahassee Museum

Here are some more sights you might see along the nature trail and Museum grounds.

Red Wolf PortraitRed Wolf Portrait

Red Wolf (Pups born here are used in a re-population effort in North Carolina. N. FL was historically part of their territory too.)



Hawk (Many of the animals were found injured, rehabilitated, but are unable to be returned to the wild.)

Bobcat in OakBobcat in Oak


The Farm House

Turkey FaceTurkey Face

Kid's Eye View of Turkey Face at the Farm (There are sheep, a cow, a pig, a mule, and other fowl.)

Sugar Cane Press... still used!



(Tiny) Screech Owl

Marley GatorMarley Gator

Marley participating in Science Center activities

And now, on to the newly renovated Chapin Snake Center.  Note that this is much more than just "caged animals".  These snakes are used both actively and passively to educate thousands of children and adults about the value and importance of snakes in our ecosystems, as well as a chance to see their beauty up-close, even to touch and hold these mostly gentle creatures... perhaps reducing that reflex fear and repulsion among the snake-phobics referred to in my "spoiler alert" above.  Too many people will reflexly get the garden hoe if they see a snake in their yard. This Snake Center may diminish some of that reflex.

Mike & Suzie at Snake CagesMike & Suzie at Snake Cages Mike Jones and Suzie Buzzo, Animal Curators

While these snakes may also live along the Nature Trail, they tend to stay out of view of the visitors - a good thing I suppose. But at the Center, visitors can safely get a closeup view of six (or more) local snakes.

Six of the photos below -- those showing the wood-framed face of each cage -- were photographed after-hours-after-dusk (when reflected glare on the front glass was absent) by one of the Animal Keepers and generously offered for my use here -- thank you, Laura Augustine!

Let's start at the Diamondback Rattlesnake in a (simulated) upland meadow...


In this fisheye-like distortion, I attempt to show you how my "backdrop" photo wraps the back and both sides of the cage. (No, the snake is not there... it has access to a small side cage where it can go, especially when keepers need to tidy up the main cage.)

Upland Meadow Pano - RattlesnakeUpland Meadow Pano - Rattlesnake Here's what it takes to wrap the whole cage - the full upland meadow panorama is 108" x 20" - a composite of 12 stitched together photos.

Diamondback DisguiseDiamondback Disguise

Eastern Diamondback in the wild (Despite its amazing camouflage, s/he was spotted by Bob Thompson on a hike together.)

Diamondback CamouflageDiamondback Camouflage

Suspend your fear and see the beauty.  The snake never moved or reacted despite our close proximity.

Next we'll visit the Cottonmouth aka Water Moccasin at the edge of a spring... 

WetlandPano -CottonmouthWetlandPano -Cottonmouth Here's my spring/wetland habitat panorama for the Cottonmouth  (that wraps the above cage).

CottonmouthCottonmouthPaddling beneath a low branch on a small wild creek in N Florida, we were both surprised and unhappy when this venemous snake fell into my lap.

Florida Cottonmouth in the wild (This one literally fell into my lap while kayaking. I made the photo a few minutes later.)

And the Banded Watersnake habitat... very similar to that of the Cottonmouth.

Banded Water snakeBanded Water snake
Wetland Pano - Water SnakeWetland Pano - Water Snake My spring/wetland scene for the Banded Watersnake exhibit

Banded WatersnakeBanded Watersnake

Banded Watersnake in the wild

Slithering HouseSlithering House

Slithering House - Watersnake convention at Wakulla Springs State Park

Two species of rat snakes share the next cage...
Shed in habitat -Red and Gray RatShed in habitat -Red and Gray Rat

Wood Shed Pano-Rat SnakeWood Shed Pano-Rat Snake For this one, Mike and Suzie wanted a man-made structure, like a shed, included (our woodshed?) - popular Rat Snake digs!

Yes... we have lots of (especially Gray) Rat Snakes around our yard...

AcrobatAcrobat Oak Snake PortraitOak Snake PortraitGray Rat Snake in tree Limbless ClimberLimbless Climber

Expert climbers, even without hands or feet.

Red Rat SnakeRed Rat Snake

Red Rat Snake aka Corn Snake, in the wild

DM looking inDM looking in Backdoor view of the Rat Snake habitat. Me, looking in from the front window.

Next, the Eastern Indigo...

Indigo SnakeIndigo Snake Scrub Flatwood Pano -IndigoScrub Flatwood Pano -Indigo

My panorama of Scrubby Flatwoods for the Eastern Indigo Snake habitat



Eastern Indigo Snake at the Museum

Eastern Indigo CloseupEastern Indigo Closeup

Scary? Nah. Harmless (and beneficial) Indigo Snake

Indigo ScalesIndigo Scales

Indigo Scales

Finally, we needed a scene of sandy flatwoods for the Pine Snake...

Florida Pine Cage_v3Florida Pine Cage_v3
Sandy Flatwoods Pano - Pine SnakeSandy Flatwoods Pano - Pine Snake My panorama of sandy flatwoods - Pine Snake habitat

Sides are 30" wide and back is 48" - so for each,  the wrapped image measured 108 inches wide by 20 inches high!

I've never seen pine snakes in the wild, much less photographed them. But I'm taking this photo op to throw in one of my favorite snakes from our yard - the Scarlet Kingsnake. (No, it is not a "red-on-yellow" Coral Snake.) This is a sweet secretive and beautiful creature.

Scarlet KingScarlet King Scarlet Kingsnake Head OnScarlet Kingsnake Head On

Nose-to-nose. This one oughta make you smile!

There you have it... the Tallahassee Museum and it's new Chapin Snake Center. It is a wonderful (and super-kid-friendly) way to visit nature.  Enjoy!

Cypress PondCypress Pond

Thanks for visiting my photoblog. May you be inspired to find a way to get out into nature to play, view, hike, paddle, or simply sit and be. I promise it will be soul-restorative.   Please share the link to this blog with friends and family who might enjoy it. And I always love your comments below.


Jennifer Clinard(non-registered)
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to volunteer with the animal department for a few years. They are a dedicated, hard working team. You have captured the essence of the museum is such a sensitive, well informed way. Bravo
Doug Alderson(non-registered)
One of my favorite places where I worked for ten years. Thanks for bringing it to life for me again!
Susan McIntosh(non-registered)
Stunning Photos. Thank you.
Mike Riffle(non-registered)
Wow, what a treat! I've visited that wonderful place so many times with my kids. They all grew up going there at least once a month. My two boys would see who could run to the snake exhibit the fastest every time we went. They knew all the scientific names of all the animals. What a blast. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Now I'm inspired to visit again.
Linda Beckman(non-registered)
Thank you, David for the fabulous photos of the Tallahassee museum, one of my favorite places in the whole world. Now I will never have to waste time there trying to take photographs of all the animals. I will just save yours and when I need to look at a photo I will have your fantastic photographic images.
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