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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on July 14, 1999 at 17:32:40:
CHICAGO TRIBUNE (Illinois) 13 July 99 Kids Cozy Up To `Scary' Critters (Pat Harper)
Mokena: Reptiles are not the cuddliest members of the animal kingdom, but they exercise a peculiar charm of their own, as evidenced by the 100 kids who packed the Mokena Library Monday to meet Dave DiNaso's collection of scaly critters.
DiNaso's Traveling World of Reptiles included a pair of friendly iguanas, a banana-colored Burmese python named Chiquita, a tortoise and a high-fiving monkey frog.
"We're not going to meet cute, wimpy animals like bunnies," DiNaso said.
"Nothing bites," he said of his menagerie. "They are all extremely friendly."
Whatever their cuteness deficit, reptiles play an important role in the environment, he said.
"All these disgusting animals . . . are all here for a reason. I call (reptiles) scary animals because look where your moms are sitting," he said pointing over the children's heads to the chairs in the back of the room.
While moms may have been leery, their offspring were eager to make some new friends.
Samantha Richards, 12, of Manhattan, and Sean Regan, 5, of Mokena set the daring tone by letting iguanas Dino and Mimi nibble carrots right out of their mouths.
Marc Shanahan, 12, of Manhattan kicked up the no-fear factor a notch by letting DiNaso wrap Chiquita, the albino Burmese python, around his neck.
"I've held that snake before--at the Kankakee fair," Marc said. "I like how they feel. It feels like a dry fish."
Even more than lizards, snakes get a bad rap, DiNaso said.
"I feel sorry for snakes," he said. "Only 10 percent of them are poisonous, and none of them are slimy." The python keeps its favorite snack, the rabbit, from overpopulating the forest, and snakes closer to home keep the insect and rat population down, he said.
"The next time you see a snake, the worst thing you could do is kill it. There are no poisonous snakes in Mokena," he said, displaying an assortment of local serpents, such as barn, garter and milk snakes.
And reptiles do tricks, too, as Tony Wirth, 4, of Manhattan learned. "Mom, a frog gave me five," said Tony, who also held a chameleon on his head and a baby alligator in his arms.
Nicole Ernat, 6, of Mokena, got to play a head game with Ogre, an opossum DiNaso brought along to give mammals some equal time.
Ogre, who seemed to like his perch, resisted removal a bit by curling his tail around Nicole's ponytail as DiNaso picked him up.
DiNaso, who lives in Willow Springs and began taking his traveling reptiles on the road six years ago, has displayed his crew at schools, libraries and birthday parties.
"All kids like reptiles. All kids like animals," he said.