Salamanders, Snakes, Turtles and Frogs – A Day Out with the Center for the Environment

04/15/13 by Rebecca Rider

This fearless child eagerly held a spotted salamander.

The Center for the Environment at Catawba College gave kids a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians April 13. The event, which was open to the community, offered salamander hunts, a look at turtles down by the lake, and live snakes, frogs and toads.
Sarah Moore, outreach coordinator at the Center, said that she hoped the day would “bring an appreciation for these animals, let people see that they're not creepy and crawly, and [help them learn] how air quality can affect the creatures.

“Twenty years down the road, these kids are going to be making decisions,” Moore said, “and if we say, ‘No, you can't develop this area because there are spotted salamanders here,’ we don’t want them to [say], ‘Psh, spotted salamander, what's that?’ You know, a lot of people making those decisions have never even held one.” That unique opportunity is exactly what kids who attended the event were able to experience.

Green Education Outreach (GEO) team members took small groups into the Fred Stanback Ecological Preserve to look for salamanders. Those unfamiliar with the animals were taught the proper way to look for them and a bit about these shy amphibians. Groups spent 10-15 minutes carefully rolling over rotting logs and peering underneath, looking for spotted or marbled salamanders.

John Wear helps the children find spotted and marbled salamanders.

When an excited shout indicated that one had been found, everyone rushed over to see. Those who wanted to hold the salamander rubbed their hands in the damp dirt under the logs, because salamanders require some special handling as the oils in human skin are toxic to them.  The salamanders were passed carefully from hand to hand until it was time to return them—putting the log back exactly as it was found, and placing the salamander on the ground next to it, letting it make its way back into hiding. 

Sarah Vermillion, a 7th grade home-school student, was particularly enthusiastic about finding salamanders, but said that she loved the event because she could “find people I can relate to.”

Next, visitors were led on a loop through the preserve down to Baranski Lake, where Catawba student Jonathan Cooley taught them about turtles. Several GEO team members stood by with pre-caught red-eared or yellow-bellied sliders in buckets to lift up and show off. The young students proved enthusiastic about the experience, asking how they could identify turtles or tell if they were male or female. 

ACE Education Director Mir Youngquist-Thurow shows Ava Corriher the corn snakes.

Inside the center’s facility, Agape Center for Environmental (ACE) Education had three friendly red corn snakes for visitors to touch or hold—whichever they were more comfortable with. Mir Youngquist-Thurow, the Environmental Education Director at ACE Education, answered questions as she showed off her snakes. She and her corn snakes frequently visit schools to help kids learn about reptiles and their unique function in the environment.

“I always hope that people will realize reptiles and snakes are pretty cool animals, and that it's ok not to like them as long as you realize that they have a place and a purpose,” she said. ACE Education also offers fieldtrips and other unique environmental learning opportunities.

Sarah Moore led a short interactive presentation which illustrates how things that are part of daily routine, such as driving or using hot water, contribute to poor air quality. Poor air quality, she explained, can contribute to the formation acid rain, which is harmful to reptiles and amphibians.
GEO student Jonathan Cooley tells young students about red-eared and yellow-bellied sliders.

Members of Girl Scout Troop 1441 were among the visitors that came out to show their support for herpetology. The girls were impressed with the day and excited about all they had learned. “This trip really inspired me to learn more about nature and animals,” Girl Scout Kira Rymer said.


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