Reptiles give kids a big thrill

Second-grader Cody Sigman raise his hands as a boa constrictor tightens itself around him during “The Reptile Man” show. Nearly 400 Silver Ridge Elementary students, parents and staff enjoyed the Family Night event sponsored by the PTA.  - Seraine Page
Second-grader Cody Sigman raise his hands as a boa constrictor tightens itself around him during “The Reptile Man” show. Nearly 400 Silver Ridge Elementary students, parents and staff enjoyed the Family Night event sponsored by the PTA.
— image credit: Seraine Page

Hands-on learning took on a whole new meaning for students at Silver Ridge Elementary during a recent evening family event at the school.

Scott Petersen, also known as “The Reptile Man,” has been visiting several area schools with his crew of reptiles, including venomous snakes. Petersen brought reptiles of a variety of sizes, including an alligator snapping turtle, a milk snake, an alligator and others for students to see.

“Kids love Lucy the alligator,” Petersen said of the tiny alligator he brought with him.

Petersen has performed at more than 800 schools in the Pacific Northwest, according to his website. The former biology teacher taught students how to deal with wild reptiles and even performed tricks, like making his alligator, Lucy, fall asleep by rubbing her eyes.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Faith Jernigen, a fourth grader at the school. “I liked when the alligator fell asleep.”

Nearly 400 were in attendance for the event, filling every available space in the school’s gymnasium, including the floor, where most students sat. Parents filled in the chairs in the back, and staff members lined the perimeter of the room.

With each new reptile that Petersen pulled from its plastic bin, children squealed with delight. Several of the species considered dangerous in nature — such as a diamondback snake — were brought out inches away from students. But, Petersen said that each poisonous snake has had its venom taken out, creating no threat to any person who may handle one.

Prior to pulling it from its box, Petersen stuck his microphone inside for students to listen to the sound of the rattler when the diamondback gets agitated. He reminded students that in nature snakes are not to be picked up, and that students should walk away, especially from snakes.

With his alligator snapping turtle, he demonstrated how fierce the animal becomes when approached. The turtle grabbed at a glove that Petersen waved near its mouth.

“He’s afraid of people,” Petersen told the students.

The presentation came during the PTA’s “Family Night” a thrice-yearly event which features family-friendly activities. Special guest appearances like “The Reptile Man” happen every once in awhile, said Silver Ridge PTA President Sheila Jernigen. He happened to be in the area visiting other schools, and the timing turned out well for him to visit during the Family Night event.

“I think it’s awesome they can touch the animals,” said parent Jay Thompson. “It’s something neat. He has deadly snakes. Normally it’s behind glass, so I think it’s pretty neat (for the kids).”

Petersen saved the best for last, bringing out a 12-foot-long king cobra, dangling it over the front row of children sitting on the floor in front of him. He tried several times to get the cobra to show his “hood” but could only get the snake to stand up.

At the end of the show, he asked for eight volunteers, and selected students from the audience to stand in front of the auditorium and hold their hands out. He then placed a large yellow boa —that stretched the length of the children — in their hands.

By the end, some students were crying, while others were eager to touch some of the animals that Petersen left out, like a tortoise and the yellow boa. Some students were happy from just watching and not participating in the hands-on part of the event.

Colby Russell, 11, normally hates reptiles, but his parents noted he was fascinated by the show.

“He likes it,” Bill Steimke said about his son watching.

After the show, Russell still wanted no part in getting his photo taken with a snake or alligator. Watching from afar was just fine for the student.

The lesson learned over the course of the evening?

“Don’t get bit,” the sixth grader said.

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