A journey through the Aquarium Reptile Complex (ARC) at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is a journey through lush mountain coves, scorching deserts, dense jungles and brilliantly colored oceans. Nearly 80 habitat exhibits in this 22,000-square-foot facility take the visitor to fascinating lands and seas brimming with animal life.
The ARC, opened in 1989, was the highlight of Riverbanks’ first major expansion project. The facility was not intended to be a traditional reptile house or aquarium, but rather a unique blending of the two. The combination of innovative design, exotic creatures and creative educational graphics makes the ARC one of the Southeast’s educational and recreational showpieces.
Four galleries—South Carolina, the Desert, the Tropics and the Ocean—house Riverbanks’ extensive collection of reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. The ARC’s collection consists of more than 1,200 specimens representing 250 species.
Each gallery contains a series of large, naturalistic exhibits called dioramas. Most have skylights that allow for luxuriant plant growth and contain other features that give the visitor a realistic look at each animal’s natural habitat.
South Carolina Gallery
The Palmetto State’s assortment of native reptiles, amphibians and fish is represented in the ARC’s South Carolina Gallery. Twenty-four individual exhibits follow the waterways of the state from the weathered peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the coastal wetlands of salt marsh grass and black needle rush.
Along the way, visitors are able to view native creatures such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, hellbenders and bog turtles, as well as fish such as bream, crappie, bass and even rare Atlantic shortnose sturgeon.
The largest diorama in this gallery depicts arid desert regions with their incredible variety of reptile life. Gila monsters, chuckwallas, iguanas and snakes sun themselves on boulders, hide beneath cactus and dart over loose, sandy soil. Videos and other interactive displays explain how the sidewinder rattlesnake and other reptiles have adapted to this harsh environment. Species from other world deserts and less dry areas such as savannas and grasslands also are displayed in the Desert Gallery.
Tropical Habitat and Gallery
The air in the ARC’s Tropical Habitat is thick with moisture. Clouds of mist drift through the lush vegetation while shafts of sunlight fall on Amazon pools swirling with piranha and electric eels. A huge anaconda lurks beside a stream, while sideneck turtles wait for passing fish among the trunks of flooded trees. False gharial crocodiles, which may be extinct in the wild, rest in the dark waters of their river habitat.
The adjacent Tropical Gallery gives visitors a closer look at tropical jungle animals in their natural settings, including green mambas, king cobras, monitor lizards and poison dart frogs.
The wonders of a hidden world come to light in the Ocean Gallery. More than 15 aquarium exhibits plunge the visitor into the ocean on a journey through coral reef gardens bursting with color and life—cold, rugged northern coasts rich with crawling creatures and clinging plants; and sandy sea floors teeming with schools of darting fish.
A 55,000-gallon Indo-Pacific coral reef tank houses sharks, moray eels and a myriad of other warm-water reef fish. Divers enter the aquarium daily at 12:30pm, and are swarmed by hundreds of fish anticipating their feeding. Adjacent to this tank is a 6,000-gallon Caribbean coral reef tank with its own collection of brightly colored residents. Renovated in 2002, new artificial corals will remain bright for years to come and help to bring out the natural colors of the reef fish.
A special cylindrical aquarium houses fish that live off South Carolina’s coast and at times is home to loggerhead sea turtles. Riverbanks staffers raise the turtles until they are too large for the 600-gallon tank before state wildlife officials return them to the sea in hopes of helping to increase the population of this threatened creature.
Smaller aquariums representing the tremendous variety of ocean life, from giant lobsters to tiny seahorses, surround each large tank in the Ocean Gallery.