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Reptiles revealed during library presentation

Jul 25, 2017 11:56AM ● By Kelly Cannon

Shawnee Sawyer explains the difference between a tortoise and a turtle with Laser, the desert tortoise. Desert tortoises are native to Utah and an endangered species. (Kelly Cannon/City Journals)

By Kelly Cannon | [email protected]
Holladay youngsters got an up-close look at some of the native Utah reptiles that may be prowling around their backyard. Held on July 5, Revealing Reptiles was a special presentation by the Ogden Nature Center that brought three live animals to the Holladay Library.
“Our mission is to unite people with nature. We bring nature to individuals and to libraries and things like that,” said Shawnee Sawyer, the outreach educator with the Ogden Nature Center. “The Salt Lake County Library has asked us to come and do programs throughout the summer.”
The two programs this summer are Revealing Reptiles and Owl Tales, both with live animals and facts about the animals in question.
“This program was all about reptiles,” Saywer said. “We basically talked to people about what makes a reptile a reptile and how they’re different from amphibians.”
At the Holladay Library, the live animals included Laser, a desert tortoise. Native to Utah, the desert tortoise measures between 10–14 inches long and 4–6 inches tall. They can weigh between 25–30 pounds. While they have long back legs for crawling, their front limbs are flattened with sharp scales for digging. They spend about 95 percent of their lives underground since, as reptiles, they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Adult tortoises can live a year or more without access to water. They can live to be 50 years old.
The desert tortoise is currently an endangered species. While ravens, gila monsters, kit foxes, badgers, roadrunners, coyotes and fire ants are all natural predators to the tortoise, they are mainly threatened by man-made dangers including urbanization, habitat destruction, vandalism and illegal collection.
Another animal was Bert, a Great Basin gopher snake. Tan with large square blotches, the gopher snake is a constrictor. It asphyxiates its prey, usually rodents, rabbits, birds and occasionally lizards. The gopher snake is also a great imitator. It can vibrate its tail rapidly if threatened, and if there is dry grass or leaves nearby, the resulting sound can resemble a rattlesnake. It can grow up to seven feet long, but the average length is two-and-a-half feet to six feet.
The last animal presented by Sawyer was Gil, the salamander. Gil was used to demonstrate the difference between amphibians and reptiles. Because he’s not a reptile, Gil does not have scales and lives in aquatic surroundings.
Sawyer said she picked Laser, Bert and Gil because they are native to Utah.
“I like to show people something that they might actually see,” Sawyer said. “These animals have been to lots of programs so they’re good around crowds.”
The goal for the presentation was to get kids to understand these types of animals are all around them.
“It’s not just animals in the zoo but they can find in Utah and in their own backyard, and a few ways to protect them, specifically the tortoise,” Sawyer said. “Because they’re endangered, I think it’s important for people to see them and have a connection with an actual endangered species so they can make choices in their life to protect them.”
To learn more about the Ogden Nature Center visiting different Salt Lake County libraries, visit To learn more about the Ogden Nature Center, visit