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Press: News for Kids: Boa, Oh, Boa!

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on March 27, 2001 at 16:17:28:

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION (Georgia) 19 March 01 News for Kids: Boa, Oh, Boa!
Coldblooded Creatures Lurk At Fernbank (Julia Bookman)
An amazing thing happened when News for Kids visited Fernbank's "Reptiles." A vicious water monitor lizard, more than 6 feet long, stood up, clawed the glass wall, thrust his powerful tail back and forth, and wildly flicked its tongue at visitors. The kids watching jumped up and down, yelling, "Awesome!" and "Wicked!"
Looking for some close encounters of the scaly kind?
Then head to Fernbank Museum of Natural History, where nearly 30 snakes, lizards and other reptiles appear live and in person. Make that "live and in creature."
"Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly" exhibit has come to Atlanta from Clyde Peelings Reptiland, a private reptile zoo in Pennsylvania.
Up to 30,000 metro kids will check out these reptiles on school field trips. If you're not among them, you have until May 6 to go to Fernbank and examine 19 reptile species.
"I used to think all turtles looked alike," said Elesha Coons, 9, viewing the reptiles with her class from Sonny Carter Elementary in Macon. "I never knew one looked just like a pancake!" She was watching a spiny soft-shelled turtle. It does look like a large pancake --- but can swim pretty darn fast.
Other kids were more impressed by the Burmese python, which is known as "The Big Guy."
"The Big Guy" is actually a 12-year-old female that's more than 16 feet long and weighs 145 pounds. She mostly stays coiled, looking lazy and humongous. For such a big girl, she doesn't eat much: just two to six rabbits a month.
Several lizards are here, too, including the venomous pink-spotted Gila monster from the Southwest, the veiled chameleon with a tongue longer than its body and the side-necked turtle. There are eight snake species, including the Gaboon viper, which has the longest fangs of any snake (up to 2 inches).
The exhibit is loaded with cool facts about reptiles and plenty of hands-on action. At the "reptile discovery station" cart, you can pick up and examine real reptile remains, including snake skins, bones and a snapping turtle's shell. Here's proof, once and for all, that a turtle can't really jump out of its shell, like you see in cartoons, because its ribs and backbones are part of the shell.
At other stations, you can flip boards and push buttons to learn about these coldblooded creatures. For example:
Snakes shed their skin every four to six weeks.
Turtles and tortoises don't have teeth. Instead, they have a sharp, serrated beak, like birds.
What's a quick way to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator? The crocodile has a narrow and pointy snout; an alligator has a wide, rounded snout.
At the main entrance to the museum, glance at a sign that gives the "reptile encounter" times scheduled for that day. They are when Fernbank biologist Heather Heimmer appears with one reptile --- maybe the blue-tongued skink lizard or the Eastern kingsnake.
Heimmer talks and answers questions about the creature she's holding --- and then lets everyone touch it.
The other day, Heimmer had a 6-foot boa constrictor wrapped around her neck and body.
The snake didn't feel rough or slimy; it felt like smooth rubber.
Kids learned that the boa flicks its tongue to sense what is near.
The kids also learned the boa constrictor swallows its prey whole. How can it do this? The boa can stretch its head to three times its normal size because its jaw bones are loosely connected.

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