At Lake Myrtle Elementary School and across Florida, John Storms guides children through a world of creatures that includes a turtle, a crocodile and Julie the python.
By MICHELE MILLER
Published March 17, 2004
LAND O'LAKES - Eight-year-old Bradley Burns had never lifted a snake before. But last week, there he was along with 16 other brave volunteers, hoisting a 13-foot-long, 95-pound python named Julie high over his head.
"That was so cool," he said, echoing the opinions of others who had been called up to help coil Julie back in her large wooden box.Julie was the grand finale and just one member of the belly-crawling menagerie of John Storms, also known as the Reptile Man, who appeared last week at Lake Myrtle Elementary School.Storms and his critters - Julie the python, a large snapping turtle, a gopher tortoise, an African lizard, a crocodile, a fox snake that is indigenous to the Midwest and a rather rambunctious green iguana - are regulars on the school circuit.With his bulging eyes and loud booming voice, Storms serves as a guide through the amazing world of reptiles, drawing shivers and squeals from children throughout Florida."Oh my gosh, that thing's scary," third-grader Dana Wesler said as Storms pulled a young crocodile from its wooden crate. "Stay away from these guys," Storms warned. "They're nasty!"Storms, who started out as an animal importer in Fort Myers, decided to take his educational show on the road about 22 years ago. "I met a guy who was doing these kinds of programs, and I just didn't have the desire to get the animals out of the jungle and into the zoos," he said.Now he makes his living spreading the word about how important these creatures are to the environment. "Every one of them serves a purpose," he said. "None of them are out there looking at you and thinking, "Oh, lunchtime."'Storms, who delivers information on creature habits and habitats as well as stern safety warnings for those encountering a snake or alligator, has been appearing at Lake Myrtle "since the school first opened.""He's definitely a favorite here," said principal John Abernathy, who brought Storms in as a reward for students who made it through two weeks of FCAT testing. "He certainly goes a long way to relieving the stress."In fact, students such as second-grader Kaitlyn Smeltzer are so familiar with his show that she was among a throng of youngsters asking, "Where's Sally?"Sally, a 21-foot-long python and the mother of Julie, was absent last week because she is expecting offspring once again, Storms said. She should deliver 100 to 120 eggs in late March or early April."She hasn't eaten since she got pregnant in September, so she doesn't like to go out," Storms said. "Imagine how you'd feel if you hadn't eaten in six months."[Last modified March 17, 2004, 01:20:38]