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Snakes join the bookworms

Pythons, crocodiles and other reptiles were all part of the lesson at the Land O'Lakes library.

By MICHELLE JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001


Pythons, crocodiles and other reptiles were all part of the lesson at the Land O'Lakes library.

LAND O'LAKES -- Kyle Brady, 10, learned that the python grows bigger than the anaconda, even though he thought just the opposite.

"I saw the movie Anaconda and it was scary," Kyle said. "I thought it (the anaconda) was the biggest snake in the world."

Wrong.

Kyle and more than 100 other children learned a lesson on reptiles Thursday at the Land O'Lakes branch library during the weekly Florida Library Youth Program. The program encourages children to spend their summer reading books by using incentives and special shows such as John Storms the Reptile Man.

Storms comes from Fort Myers and injects a lot of humor into his hourlong reptile program as he teaches children and adults about snakes, crocodiles, gopher turtles and other reptiles. His facial expressions, gestures and stories about the critters are interesting as well as informative.

The first lesson of the day was about the pine snake. Storms showed a specimen to his attentive audience and described its weird eating habits.

"He eats bird eggs by swallowing them whole, like other snakes (do)," Storms said. "But then he stops the egg in his throat and bangs his throat on the ground, smashing the egg until he has scrambled eggs and egg shells."

Storms then asked the audience if they would like to eat scrambled eggs that way.

"No," the children shouted.

His next exhibit was a gopher tortoise.

"You knew he was a turtle and not a cow, didn't you?" asked Storms as the children responded with giggles and laughter.

He told them if they run across a gopher tortoise walking in the sun not to pick it up and put it in a pond to cool it off.

"The tortoise can't swim; it will drop like a rock and drown," Storms said. "Leave it alone and eventually it will find some shade."

Storms warned the children to never stick their hand into a gopher hole.

"Their roommate could be a diamondback rattlesnake," he said. "They are very compatible."

The next snake he showed was a rat snake.

"He lives everywhere; he is a good swimmer; he climbs trees, but he doesn't want to fight," said Storms.

Because the rat snake is bright orange, he can't hide from predators.

"If he has to fight, he goes berserk," Storms said, shaking the snake. "Acting like he is insane just might save his life."

The next reptile Storms brought out of a box was the bearded dragon from Australia.

This lizard's defense is its throat. When challenged, the lizard puffs up his throat to become a ball of spikes.

"No one wants to eat a ball of spikes," Storms said.

Storms also brought out a 14-year-old python named Sally.

"She has a lot of growing to do," he said as he placed a large portion of the 240-pound, 21-foot-long snake on the table. "There is still lots of Sally in the box."

Volunteers from the audience were recruited to lift Sally and put her back in the box.

"She weighed a ton," said Mary Rathman, the mother of Max, 7, one of the children who participates in the reading program. "You could feel his muscles; it was really cool."

Jacob Cannon, 9, said the snake was slimy and soft.

Mari Hardy, 7, said the snake was shedding.

"I wasn't scared," she said.

However, she agreed that she wouldn't want to run into one in her back yard.

Storms answered a few question after the program.

He told the children if they wanted to learn more, they could find the answers in the library.

Storms also brought a crocodile, a rattlesnake and a Burmese python for the children to see.

On Thursday the Open Circle Players will perform at 11 a.m. at the library at 2818 Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes. For information, call (813) 929-1214.

- Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459.

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