Cape Fear Serpentarium – Wilmington, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura
Cape Fear Serpentarium is permanently closed.

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Cape Fear Serpentarium

An exotic reptile facility showcasing some of the rarest, most venomous snakes in the world. 


Bright green snakes coil around branches behind thick panes of glass. Vipers curl in the corners of their cages, while king cobras seem to camouflage with the dirt. They live along some of the rarest, most venomous snakes in the world, at the Cape Fear Serpentarium.

The Serpentarium in Wilmington, North Carolina, is dedicated to rare, deadly, and otherwise fascinating reptiles from around the world. It emphasizes large or highly venomous snakes, measured on a scale of one to five skulls.

In addition to the glass cages full of dangerous reptiles, the Serpentarium also features plaques with a number of engaging stories about its founder, snake hunter and herpetologist Dean Ripa. He survived at least 12 venomous snake bites, only to pass away in a tragic shooting in his apartment above the museum in early 2017.

The site houses the world’s largest known collection of bushmasters, a rare group of large pit vipers from Central and South America. Its black-headed bushmasters are the only breeding-pair in captivity. The Serpentarium is also likely the only site in the world to dedicate a full plaque to describing its owner’s reaction to being bitten by one of these highly venomous snakes in graphic detail—and warning: it’s not pleasant. Apparently, 13 vials of anti-venom might keep you alive if you get bit, though it’s extremely rare to actually survive a bite.

Other exhibits include pythons and boas, crocodiles and cobras, and the delightfully strange alligator snapping turtle. The Serpentarium allows one man’s passion for and dedication to these reptiles to live on.

Update: The Cape Fear Serpentarium closed in May 2018.

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