‘Creature Teachers’ kick off Babcock Library summer reading program

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Ashford - posted Thu., Jun. 20, 2013
Jaelyn Campbell volunteered to meet 'Harry' the tarantula, held by Creature Teachers instructor Richard Roth. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Jaelyn Campbell volunteered to meet 'Harry' the tarantula, held by Creature Teachers instructor Richard Roth. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

There’s no mistaking the song of a kookaburra – it’s a loud chuckling sound you’ve heard in probably every jungle movie you’ve ever seen, even though the kookaburra is native to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. (To refresh your memory, click here http://cincinnatizoo.org/blog/animals/kookaburra)

Normally, kookaburras only sing in the morning, but youngsters and their families were treated to the call of Elvis the kookaburra (who’s actually a Pink Floyd fan) at a program presented by The Creature Teachers on June 14 at the Babcock Library in Ashford.

Creature Teachers is a family-owned business based in Massachusetts that specializes in environmental and animal education.

Their visit to Ashford was the kick-off event for the library’s summer “Dig into Reading” program. Other visitors this summer will work with children to make dinosaur “fossils,” try drumming, create tie-dye T-shirts and more.

Children at the June 14 event received a colorful drawstring bag with a chart and stickers to track their reading activity, guidelines for meeting the summer reading goals and for the adults, facts about the benefits of reading with children.

Besides weekly prizes (i.e. tickets to local baseball games), participants will be eligible for “grand prizes” such as Ride-a-Fire-Truck-to-School, a Day with a Horse and LEGO sets.

To get started, pick up an information packet at the Babcock Library (www.babcocklibrary.org) or call 860-487-4420.

At the kick-off, Creature Teacher Richard Roth asked the audience of about 80 why it’s not wise to remove an animal from the wild.

He agreed with one young audience member who replied, “It’s not nice,” and then elaborated on why by saying, “Every animal has a job to do” in its native environment.

As an example, he introduced a snowy white, almost 2-foot-tall umbrella cockatoo named “Elliott” and explained that like many other birds, Elliott’s diet includes fruits – including the seeds, which don’t get digested.

And so, one job a bird has is to spread these seeds “in a nice little fertilizer packet,” he said. In fact, about 70 percent of seed dispersal in our world is done by birds, he said.

“Elliott,” whose relatives live in the tropical rain forest, came to The Creature Teachers via a person who had to give him up because the powdery coating on his feathers aggravated her asthma, Roth said.

Other creatures Roth brought included a brightly-colored green tree python, a red-eyed tree toad and a cane toad with the bulk of an overfed house cat.

Roth used the cane toad as an example of another hazard of removing a creature from its native habitat. This toad was brought from Hawaii to Australia in 1935 to eat beetles that attack sugar cane crops. Unfortunately, it turns out that almost nothing in their new home ate cane toads.

These toads have two bumps on their heads – glands – that produce a poison so toxic it can kill a crocodile, Roth said.  And apparently their eggs don’t appeal to Australian predators, so virtually all of their tadpoles survive, he said.

Originally, about 100 of these giant toads were imported and bred; today there are more than 200 million of them and they continue to migrate to new areas causing the extinction of other native species as they do so, Roth said.

Other animal guests Friday included a four-eyed possum (who gets its name from white spots over its actual eyes); a baby (de-scented) skunk; “Walter” the alligator; and “Harry” the tarantula.

When 9-year-old Jaelyn Campbell volunteered to help count the tarantula’s legs, instead of eight, she discovered 10 – but she and the rest of the audience learned those two “extra” appendages are actually “pedipalps” found on male spiders.

Roth also explained that “Harry” doesn’t chew his food but uses his fangs to poison his prey “and turn it into a bug milkshake,” and then uses them like straws to sip his meal “until the bug crumples up like a juice box.”

To learn more about The Creature Teachers, visit their website at http://www.thecreatureteachers.com.

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