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MO Press: Grade-schoolers learn snakes aren't such villains after all

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Sat Nov 27 09:56:33 2004  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

POST-DISPATCH (St. Louis, Missouri) 25 November 04 A Long Story - Grade-schoolers learn snakes aren't such villains after all (Robert Goodrich)
Reptile study suddenly became up close and personal Tuesday for students at St. John the Baptist School in Smithton as they petted and handled snakes and an alligator brought in by the St. Louis Herpetological Society.
"Herps in the Classroom" is a program started in memory of Adam Valentine, an area youth who was already a reptile expert when he was killed in a traffic accident three years ago at age 18.
It began as a six-week pilot program at an inner-city high school in St. Louis. Mary Jo Ganey, second-grade teacher at St. John, is using it for the second year. She said it teaches children about much more than reptiles.
No venomous species were employed in Tuesday's demonstration, for obvious reasons. Even so, some students had to be coaxed to touch them.
Sixth-grader Abby Biekert, 11, admitted she was nervous. She feared a snake would snap at her.
But after classmates persuaded her to touch Big-Mouth Sue, an 11-foot-long albino Burmese python, she reached out repeatedly to pet the snake again.
"OK," she said with relief. "I'm done."
Others couldn't wait to handle their cold-blooded visitors.
"Feels kind of scaly," observed second-grader Andrew Crites, 7, as he held an 18-inch-long hognose snake from Missouri.
Andrew reassured fellow students. "You can pet him. He feels really cool."
Ganey said she has always loved reptiles. She has had one or more in her classroom for eight years.
At present she has three corn snakes and a baby Burmese python that happens to have been hatched from an egg laid by Big Mouth Sue.
The Herpetological Society presenters were Karen Lucy and Dave Doyle. As Ganey introduced them, she announced: "We've learned a lot about the animals. Most of all we've learned to respect them."
Lucy taught the students some new facts about snakes. "Why do they have forked tongues?" she asked.
"It helps them smell?" one of the youngest students ventured.
"But why is it forked?" Lucy persisted. "How about direction?"
Most snakes hunt at night and have poor eyesight, she explained. The forked tongue helps them determine the direction a smell or heat source is coming from.
Lucy said the blacksnake is the most common serpent in Missouri and Illinois, but the one at Herpetological Society headquarters was shedding its skin. She brought a Great Plains rat snake instead.
A snake has basically the same organs as a human except that "His organs are all elongated," he said. "They can actually eat something that is three times their size (diameter)."
The jaws unhinge to allow swallowing, and the windpipe opens near the mouth opening to accommodate that.
Doyle said an alligator grows about one foot a year, and its mom protects it until it is about 3. If babies wander, they tend to get eaten by predators, he said. That's why an alligator lays so many eggs.
Grade-schoolers learn snakes aren't such villains after all


   

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