07/13/12 — Reading program offers 'up close' with amphibians

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Reading program offers 'up close' with amphibians

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 13, 2012 1:46 PM

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Jan Tu shows off her reptiles and amphibian to a curious crowd at Fremont Library's summer reading program. The program was to encourage children to check out books about the animals. They got to see a bullfrog, salamander, box turtle, corn snake and a baby American alligator.

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Jan Tu, a science educator with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, raises an alligator away from her face when it started to flail while showing it to children and adults at the museum's reptiles and amphibians program at the Mount Olive Train Depot Thursday. The program also made stops at the Goldsboro and Fremont libraries as part of the summer reading program. Ms. Tu also brought several more of her friends from the museum with her, including a bullfrog, a snake and a turtle.

FREMONT -- Fremont Library welcomed children, parents and a live alligator to its summer reading program Thursday.

There were several gasps and yells of delight as the children got to see and learn about turtles, snakes, lizards, salamanders and, of course, alligators from visitor Jan Tu, who came from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science.

"We love it. It's just great," said Billie Lancaster, who has been bringing her grandson to the weekly program all summer.

Ms. Tu, who speaks to groups of all ages, said the goal was to spark the children's interest and to get them to start reading about reptiles on their own.

She started with the basics.

"Amphibian," she said, is just an old Greek word that means "double life" -- meaning they live both in the water and on land.

"How many of you live on land?" she asked.

Most of the children raised their hands.

They also learned how tadpoles grow legs and push their tails back inside their bodies ("like pimples," Ms. Tu said), how to help a turtle stuck in the road and how to tell the difference between a corn snake and a copperhead.

She also taught them not to hurt snakes just because they are scary. The snakes, she said, are a lot more afraid of people than people are of them.

Because snakes can't see or hear very well, Ms. Tu said they often think humans are like Godzillas, which makes them panic and bite.

"We don't get rid of snakes. We just learn how to be around them," Ms. Tu said. "We don't get rid of roads just because they're dangerous. So we don't get rid of snakes."

She taught the children that copperhead and cottonmouth bites rarely ever kill people, but they should still call 911 right away. And the most important thing, she said, is that they won't bother you if you don't bother them.

The children also learned the difference between girl frogs and boy frogs (most girls don't croak), which kind of frog actually says "ribbit" (Pacific tree frog), and that human fingernails are made of the same material as reptile scales (a protein called keratin).

But they still had questions.

"Why does it look like its jaw is melting?" one boy asked about the alligator.

"How do fish breathe underwater?" another girl asked.

"Do bigger frogs eating smaller frogs make them cannibals?"

Ms. Tu told them they would have to read to find out.

Several children went straight to the bookshelves after the program to check out anything they could find on snakes, frogs and alligators.

Ten-year-old Michael Lancaster said he wanted to learn more about alligators after seeing Ms. Tu handle one in the library. She held it by the neck and warned the children that it would bite if it got the chance. The baby alligator responded with a growl.

"It was cool," Michael said. He added that he's a big fan of the show "Crocodile Hunter" on Animal Planet.

Lisa Stevens, branch manager of the Fremont and Pikeville libraries, said the summer reading program's popularity has exploded this summer. Last summer she had three children in the Fremont program and about 15 in the Pikeville program. This summer she has about 35 in Fremont and 48 in Pikeville.

The Pikeville Community Center will host North Carolina Aquariums July 26 at 10:30 a.m. as part of the program. Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis at both the Fremont and Pikeville libraries.