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  • Megann Horstead

Coming out of their shells: Jr. high students meet scaly wildlife during demo


Got snakes? Call Colin Langenderfer and Mike Levins, of Crosstown Exotics.

The self-proclaimed reptile wranglers visited students at Mokena Junior High School Friday, May 12, to give them an opportunity to see and learn more about cold-blooded creatures.

The demonstration featured a host of reptiles, including household names like the tortoise and python, and lesser-known critters like the blue-tongued skink and Asian water monitor.

“I think that it’s important for people to have hands-on experience with wildlife in general,” Langenderfer said. “They’ll be more [inclined] to protect when they get an up-close opportunity.”

“It’s a chance to interact with things most people wouldn’t get a chance to interact with,” Langenderfer said.

Mokena Junior High School teacher Tracey Lesh arranged to bring in Crosstown Exotics after writing a grant application and gaining approval by the Mokena Educational Foundation.

Students in Lesh’s class had studied the habitats, diets and the life cycles of reptiles.

“Mainly, they learn better hands on,” Lesh said. “It’s a good culminating activity when they get a hands-o

n experience.”

Often, the reptile wranglers get various reactions when they host demonstrations.

“A lot of people are enthusiastic,” Langenderfer said. “You get people who are intimidated depending on what’s out. [With] turtles and tortoises, people stick around. When we take out the snake, that’s when we get the squeamy reactions.”

Eighth-grade student Zoe Lyerla volunteered to hold the Blue Tongue Skink, a live bearing species of reptile from Australia. It has a blue tongue to use as defense to thwart off predators.

“It was pretty cool,” she said. “It felt like really slimy.”

Lyerla said she typically feels comfortable around reptiles, with one exception.

“I’m just afraid of one reptile: snakes,” she said.

When the reptile wranglers later brought out a Burmese python, Lyerla squirmed. Still, Lyerla joined her peers in lifting up and holding the 16-foot critter.

“I got a kiss,” she said as the python stuck out its tongue.

While people sometimes fear reptiles, these critters face their share of threats in today’s world.

“Many Asian species—specifically, turtles and tortoises—are going through population decreases because of harvesting,” Langenderfer said. “Many are dying because people eat them as food.”

Now, that people have other staples to eat like cow and chicken, refusing to reform to such harvesting is crucial, Langenderfer said.

Other challenges for reptiles include habitat destruction and urban sprawl.

Langenderfer said he wishes people knew more about the effort to spread awareness for the challenges reptiles face in today’s world.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” he said. “With every generation, you have your nature icons, [like] Steve Irwin. I don’t feel there’s many of them around. You have Animal Planet and National Geographic giving them documentaries, but it’s taken a bit of a backseat due to not having as many of these icons around these days.”

The goal, according to Lesh, is that students will walk away gaining an appreciation for the experience.

“For me, I’m hoping they make a connection with what they’ve been learning and with the reptile [wranglers,]” she said.

#Mokena #education #specialeducation

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