Lynchburg’s Miller Center introduces the reptile community to the public

Located on the first floor of Lynchburg’s Miller Center is the “turtley” awesome and wild Nature Zone. The Nature Zone houses several exotic animals like box turtles, catfish, water snakes, toads and even bearded dragons, introducing the community to all kinds of animals from around the globe. 

Lynchburg’s Nature Zone allows visitors to not only learn about unique animals, but to understand why it is important to take care of them. In order to meet the unique needs of the animals residing at the Nature Zone, there are several experts called naturalists that ensure the animals receive the correct meals suited for them. 

According to naturalist Nathan Shissler, most of the animals are omnivores and will typically eat meat primarily consisting of mealworms. For their leafy greens and fruits, Shissler explained the animals eat sweet potatoes, kale, apples, pears and carrots. 

 “Out in nature, they’d be getting several different things, so we try not to feed them just one thing over and over and over again,” Shissler said. 

Shissler said some of the quirkiest reptiles at the exhibit are Little Bit, an eastern box turtle, and Kupa, a bearded dragon. Little Bit, a fun and friendly turtle, has no problem “coming out” of his shell and loves to greet any visitor by simply crawling beneath their feet. 

Shissler also said that Little Bit always “knows when it’s time to eat, and he’ll poke his head up to see what you’re doing.” Kupa is the youngest bearded dragon at the Nature Zone and tends to try to assert his dominance when he sees the other bearded dragons, Shissler explained. 

Kupa has a lot of energy and enjoys running after mealworms and crickets. Some of the animals came from an animal hospital or were in an injured condition and required specific care because of their dependence on humans. 

“You don’t actually get to take the animals home,” Shissler said about the Nature Zone’s adoption process. “You are pretty much donating money towards a particular animal, and that money goes to a particular fund.”

 For example, Shissler said there are warming lights that need to be switched out routinely, and the money from the adoption process helps with updating the equipment. 

The Nature Zone also hosts survival education classes, hiking events and indoor archery. Shissler explained that the zone has Discovery Drawers, or drawers filled with everything from “rabbit poop to snake skins to seashells” and even “the skin of an entire goat.” The Nature Zone “has a drawer full of native animals” and non-native animals. 

The purpose of these drawers is to introduce people to the aspects of nature they would not normally be able to experience in a close-up setting. 

Another unique opportunity the exhibit hosts is a scavenger hunt that gives clues to kids about Virginia’s fascinating ecosystem, which makes it an educational place for schools to have their field trips or end-of-the-year events. For more information on the Miller Center Nature Zone, visit 

Davis is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

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