Cape Fear Serpentarium is an indoor rare reptile facility located in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. The serpentarium originated in 2001 under the care of herpetologist Dean Ripa who is still the director and owner to this day. The building itself is composed of a 10,000 square foot space and the construction site was on the grounds of the old Wilmington Iron Works. Inside, there are 54 displays built by Hollywood set designers and are regarded as the biggest of their kind internationally. The displays have been designed to imitate the real habitats where the animals would live in the wild. Looking through the glass fronts, visitors can witness live feeds, mating and even combat.

The species found in the serpentarium come in the form of 80 species of of both indigenous and exotic reptiles. At any time, there are around 150 animals which are displayed. The animals in the main exhibits are giant crocodiles, giant constrictors, exotic lizards and dragons and dangerous and rare venomous snakes. Considered to be one of the world's most recognised and extensive collection of reptiles, the serpentarium has been led by the expert knowledge of Dean Ripa who has been studying reptiles with a focus on snakes for over 20 years. Mr Ripa has appeared on Discovery TV and Animals Planet amongst others and has written academic papers on reptiles in the past. The serpentarium is open all week with limited hours which can vary each season and only accepts cash for admissions.


The exhibits are divided into species and within this, types of species. There are four main exhibits with 54 displays throughout. Visitors can see the a freshwater alligator snapping turtle which is the largest species of snapping turtle in the world. The turtle is known as Chomp and during live feeds he showcases his powerful jaw action as he seizes the food. Other animals outside of the main exhibits are a number of insects and a tarantula.

The Constrictors/ Non Venomous Exhibit is comprised of 5 bays with giant constrictors housed in them. Visitors can see a giant anaconda which is around 35 years old and one of the oldest in the world. Other constrictors are the reticulated pythons which are the longest snakes in the world at 30 ft long.The reticulated pythons have been known to swallow people whole, as Mr Ripa will detail if a tour is taken with him. During feeding visitors can pet the constrictors as they wrap their body around their prey.

Within the Crocodiles Exhibit are 3 large and fully equipped interior habitats with 3 species of crocodile. Inside, some of the animals which the visitors can see are the giant saltwater crocodile named Bubble Boy and a deadly nile crocodile, a breed which is infamous for eating people across Africa, South East Asia and the U.S. Also in this section is the siamese crocodile. The habitats contain rocky landscapes, plant life and water for the crocodiles to swim and rest in. If visitors are present during feeding time they can watch the crocodiles leap upwards to snatch their prey with jaws which are the strongest of any animal species in the world.

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Another exhibition is the Great Lizards and Dragons exhibit. This exhibit has bays which are home to several exotic and large species of lizards. Within the tropical style enclosures is realistic looking rocky terrain, plant life and bark. Visitors can view the savannah monitor, black throat monitor, Argentine tegu and green iguana as they sleep, eat, feed and explore their habitats.

In the Venomous Exhibition visitors can find 40 different species of snake. One of the most notable is the 15ft king cobra with enough poison to kill an elephant. Visitors will also find mambas, rattlesnakes, vipers and others. Mr Ripa famously bred bushmaster snakes in captivity for the first time in record at the serpentarium. He also bred a hybrid bushmaster which brought to life an extinct species after millions of years. Visitors can also see the the snapping turtle Chomp which is the largest species of snapping turtle in the world. During live feeds Chomp showcases his tongue and powerful jaw action as he seizes the food.

Ongoing programs and education

For educators, the serpentarium offers special "Teacher Appreciation Days" where they can come in without paying the admission fee. Information on this is found with the Educational Coordinator. A whole host of downloadable lesson plans, crafts and educational resources are downloadable from the website too. Guides are available for pre booked tours for adults and children.

Back to: Wilmington, NC

20I St, Wilmington, NC 28401, Phone: 910-762-1669

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