Slithering surprises delight students
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Seward Elementary School students react with awe at the snakes from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo that visited them Friday afternoon.
It’s not often that children respond with great enthusiasm to their parent’s routine question, “how was your day in school today?” But Friday, they could barely contain their excitement when asked that question. Seward Elementary School students received a treat Friday afternoon, a visit from noted naturalist Scott Shupe of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, and his large collection of live reptiles, thanks to Rachel James at the Seward Community Library.
These Alaskan kids, some of whom have never seen a snake or tortoise in the wild, got to see a 10-foot Burmese Python, a young Boa Constrictor and a number of small snakes, an African spurred tortoise (whose shell made a loud hollow noise when knocked) and one of the largest lizards in the America’s, the Tegu Lizard.
With each new reptile that Shupe brought out of its plastic container to show them, the student’s jaws dropped. They collectively “oohed,” “aaahd” and applauded, and a few clutched one another’s hands or shoulders. They were especially amused by the program’s finale when their principal David Kingsland did the dreaded “snake test” that required he hold a small snake that slithered in his hands while they counted — deliberately slowly — to ten.
Snakes are the single most feared animal in the world, Shupe said, although the majority of them are harmless. Shupes’ folksy Kentucky drawl, and storytelling abilities kept the students rapt attention, and made his information more memorable. They couldn’t help but believe Shupe telling them that the black and white Kingsnake that was sticking its tongue out to sample the air, “makes a great pet, but he won’t ever love you like your dog will.” Or his warnings to be especially quiet before he took his Tegu lizard out, as it likes to bite when it gets nervous, and he “really, really doesn’t like to me holding him when he’s nervous.” They learned that the African spurred tortoise, with a hard, knobby shell that thunked loudly when knocked, was only a youngster, even at 25 years old, but could live 50 to 150 years, and would double in size.
Reptiles which share similar features such as being cold blooded, and having forked tongues or slits for eyes likely are viewed by scientists as related, like moose and caribou are, said Shupe. But the legless lizard he showed them, that looked almost exactly like a snake, is an evolutionary transition species that breaks the mold. Like the lizard, it too had eyelids, external ear openings, lacked belly scales, and has a “way cool” tail that can break off, he said.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Seward Elementary School Principal David Kingsland does the “snake test” as the students count slowly to 10.
Shupe also gave the students information they could use when visiting the Lower 48. Some 90 percent of all snakes in America are harmless to humans, although they do have teeth and can bite, he said. But even dangerous snakes won’t harm people if they don’t feel their lives are threatened. “If you don’t bother them, they don’t bother you,” he said.
On the other hand snakes can be extremely useful to the environment and especially to farmers, he said. Kingsnakes can kill all other snakes. So if rattlers are a problem in the area, it’s good to see one, as they will keep the others at bay. Bull snakes are known as nature’s number one mousetrap, and prairie farmers love them because they chase rodents into their burrows. In the southern states especially, farmers love red corn (rat) snakes. They got their name from smart farmers throwing them into their corn cribs to kill off troublesome mice and rats.