Stafford Library kicks off summer reading program

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Mon., Jul. 1, 2013
Children at the Forest Park Zoo on the Go show reach out to pet ‘Spike.’ Photos by Annie Gentile.
Children at the Forest Park Zoo on the Go show reach out to pet ‘Spike.’ Photos by Annie Gentile.

Stafford Library’s children’s summer reading theme is “Dig Into Reading,” and to help kick off the program on Saturday, June 29, Forest Park’s traveling Zoo on the Go visited with five different “digging” animals.

There to handle and talk about the zoo animals were CIT volunteer Kira Bourret and summer intern Naomi Haber.

“A nervous animal is not a pet-able animal,” said Haber, so she instructed children to stay seated and quiet and to only pet their backs and tails. The instruction helped “Spike,” the one-year-old baby alligator, remain calm and comfortable. Haber said alligators can live 30 to 40 years in the wild, but up to 80 years in captivity, and that the males of the species can grow 14 to 15 feet in length and weigh from 400 to 1,000 pounds. She said crocodiles can get even larger.

“Female alligators and crocodiles, when ready to lay their eggs, use their legs and heads to dig a deep pit,” said Haber. “Then they lay their eggs and cover them up.” Haber said the temperature of the eggs determines whether the offspring will be male or female, with cooler temperatures resulting in females and warmer temperatures resulting in males.

Francesca, the peahen, had a different name as a chick. Because the zookeepers thought the fowl would grow into a vibrant-plumed male peacock, she was originally named Franklin, and got her name change a bit later on. Haber explained that peahens are less colorful than their male counterparts, as their plain brown plumage provides a form of camouflage, which is helpful when they need to protect and hide a nest of eggs.

Arguably the most curious of the creatures that visited from Forest Park’s Zoo on the Go was Cactus Flower, the North American pygmy albino hedgehog. White, with red eyes, Cactus Flower digs for tasty insects and also digs little burrows under logs so she can stay cool in the shade.

Those who tried petting Cactus Flower got a bit of a surprise when she would suddenly jump in reaction to their touch. “I call it a ‘hedge hog hiccup,’” said Haber. “It’s like petting a hairbrush,” she said.

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between turtles and tortoises, Haber and Bourret were happy to explain. They brought along a no-name Eastern painted turtle along with Gertie, a tortoise, for comparison. Turtles, Haber explained, live most of their lives in and around water and have webbed feet and smooth, flat shells that help them flourish in that habitat. When in danger, they often slip into the water and swim away. Tortoises, on the other hand, live on land, usually in very dry climates, and their shells are domed. “When Gertie is in trouble, she stops moving and tucks her head inside her shell and lets it do the job of protecting her,” said Haber.

Turtles and tortoises do have a couple of things in common. Both are connected to their shells by their backbones, and, like their friend Spike, they too use their bodies to dig a hole to lay their eggs.

“Dig Into Reading” runs through Aug. 17 and encourages children to “read for a cause.” For every book that participants read and enter online, the Stafford Library will provide a token to put in a jar representing one of four charities - the SafeNet food bank in Stafford, the Happy Feet animal rescue retreat for llamas and alpacas, the Red-Tar Spirithorse Therapy Riding Center, and “We Give Books,” an organization that donates books to charities in communities around the world. At the end of the program, the Friends of Stafford Library will make donations to the participating non-profits in proportion to the number of tokens they received. Participants will also have the opportunity to win raffle prizes, which include donated passes to Six Flags, The Basketball Hall of Fame, Old Sturbridge Village, Mystic Aquarium and The Connecticut Science Center. Call 860-684-2852 for more information.

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