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Zoo-archeologist will share knowledge about creatures that slither and crawl.

October 08, 1998|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine how difficult walking would be if your hips and shoulders were inside your rib cage.

If this sounds like an outrageous concept, just think of turtles. That's how they're built and they get around just fine.

OK, so they're not exactly speed demons, but that's understandable considering their unique physique.

No other animal is structured like the ancient reptile, believed to be 65 million years old.

These are the kinds of things that fascinate Burbank anthropologist Dana Bleitz. Reptiles and amphibians are her life. Her cluttered Burbank home is packed with books, boxes containing results of numerous studies and memorabilia such as Indian rattles made of turtle shells and snake shed.

She also has thousands of skeletons and a freezer with a variety of specimens.

And there are her beloved snakes--45 in all--housed in the living room and bathroom. There's Blondie, an orange and white gopher; Guy, a brown California king; and Big Red, a red racer with a tail that looks like a coach whip.

"They're real fast and they can bite if you don't handle them right," Bleitz says as she cuddles Big Red. "I can recognize if a snake is stressed by its positions."

Fortunately, on this day Big Red was relaxed. So was Clementine, the eightysomething California desert tortoise that shares the house with Bleitz and the rest of the gang.

Bleitz has a degree in anthropology but she's also a zoo-archeologist, which means she uses animal remains from archeological sites to determine hunting patterns and environmental changes.

On Saturday, Bleitz will share many of her findings at the 17th annual Reptile and Amphibian Exhibit at the North Hollywood Recreation Center.

The show, sponsored by the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, will feature hundreds of species from around the world, conservation displays and educational exhibits.

"We don't sell animals at our event," Bleitz said. "We want to promote appreciation and the importance of amphibians and reptiles in world ecology."

The event also will focus on care for pet amphibians and reptiles.

Too often, Bleitz says, they're abandoned or mistreated because people rush to purchase them without learning about their needs and how they may develop.

"We don't want people buying a cute little lizard and dumping it when it grows to be 6 feet," Bleitz said. "That kind of thing happens."

Bleitz and the rest of the show's participants also hope to correct much of the misinformation associated with amphibians and reptiles.

For example, a common misconception is that all reptiles are dangerous, she said. And much of the fear of reptiles comes from the belief that they are poisonous and stupid, although most are smart and harmless.

Among the things her large exhibit will have is information on reptiles and amphibians in Indian folklore. Her favorite is an explanation for earthquakes.

"The folklore says mud was put on the back of a turtle and when the turtle got tired of sitting still and suddenly moved, it caused the earth to move," she said. "There are so many other good ones."

Bleitz will also show her precious frog, snake and lizard skeletons. Her most interesting possession is a huge tortoise shell taken from the world's largest Galapagos tortoise in captivity.

The tortoise, which weighed 650 pounds, died at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1991. The shell weighs 55 pounds, and Bleitz still has the bones, too. "Aren't they just beautiful?" She said. "I gutted the tortoise and cleaned the bones myself. It was a mess."

BE THERE

The 17th annual Reptile and Amphibian Exhibit on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at North Hollywood Recreation Center, 11430 Chandler Blvd. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children ages 6-13. Information: (818) 765-6665.

* Send Jaunts ideas, allowing at least two weeks' notice, to staff writer Irene Garcia at The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or send e-mail to Irene.Garcia@latimes.com.

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