Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Welcome Spring at Beczak

Welcome Spring! at Beczak Environmental Education Center featured Jungle Jim and his exotic animals. Jim is terrific. You can see his passion for animals in everything he says and does, and in his family's involvement with his work. The kids all loved him and learned a great deal.

We started off with learning about our Hudson River and the signs that spring has returned to our area. The kids got to make a craft -- spring crowns, of either a bird, butterfly or turtle. They went outside to look for signs of spring.

Then it was time for the main event. Jim started off by introducing the kids to Rocky, an African Spurred Tortoise, native to the savannahs of Africa. He eats tall grasses, weeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Tortoises are terrestrial (live on land), while turtles are aquatic (water). When Rocky is fully grown, he will weigh 200 pounds! His life span is around 100 years.

Next up were the snakes-- Ball Pythons, which are jungle dwellers. They are constrictors and kill their prey by squeezing and crushing. Snakes have poor vision. Their tongue is their main sense organ.

The kids also got to touch shed snakeskin.

Next, we met a Monitor Lizard from the African savannah. He is a carnivore, and uses his strong tail to defend himself.

Then we saw an Australian Bearded Dragon, who uses his beard to puff himself up and look bigger to prospective predators. This fellow eats crickets for his main meal, but he's omnivorous. His tail detatches to allow him to escape danger.

Another Aussie visitor was the Sugar Glider, which is a marsupial. It lives in eucalyptus trees and eats their sap and leaves. It is nocturnal, and can glide like a flying squirrel. We got a demonstration of this ability when he climbed up on Jim's head and dove off!

Next up was Poppi, the Kinkajou. Kinkajous are mammals with prehensile tails. They are from the rain forests of South American (Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica) and stay in the trees. They are an important pollinator and are related to raccoons.

Up next was Rickey the Fennec Fox. He's a tiny fox from the Sahara Desert region in Northern Africa. His huge ears help him dissipate heat, as well as provide excellent hearing for locating prey. He's nocturnal and omnivorous, eating insects, rodents, birds, bird eggs and grasses, roots and berries. His sandy coat is great desert camouflage, and also helps reflect sunlight in daytime and conserve body heat at night.

Sonic is an African Pygmy Hedgehog. He's nocturnal and has a spiny coat for protection. He eats insects, plants matter, and even poisonous snakes and scorpions (having a natural resistance or immunity to their venom.) They are born blind and quill-less, but the quills erupt from under the skin soon after birth. They roll in a ball for protection, covering any non-protected areas of the body. Unlike porcupines, their spines do not come off except when shedding their baby coat, or when sick or stressed.

And finally, we got a chance to meet Lola and Sugar, a pair of ferrets. Ferrets are members of the weasel family, and were used for hunting rabbits and rodents. Now they are mostly kept as pets. Sometimes they are used to run wires in close spaces. They are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive.

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