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Amazing Animals Featured in Summer Science Camp

This article appeared in the July 1, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Carmen DeLeon and Susan Hartzman
Special to the Enterprise

Reptiles are sometimes termed creepy, cold-blooded, and even slimy.   At Explorit, reptile animal ambassadors work to reverse these common misconceptions.  In reality, these creatures are no more menacing than the furry companions, such as dogs and cats, that many seem to prefer, and they can be just as fun to pet.

Explorit is home to three different reptile species- Ball Python (Python regius), Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and Blue-tongued Skink (Tiliqua scincoides).  These animals are supported in part by grants from the Glide Foundation and daily care is provided by Explorit staff members.

This summer, Explorit’s reptile residents will take center stage in the animal themed Summer Science Camps beginning this week.  Students will have the chance to meet each reptile as well as see their incredible adaptations in action.  Explorit’s reptile residents will help show students about the different ways animals can move and how their bodies are adapted to their modes of locomotion and foraging. 

Spike and Isa, the Bearded Dragons appear menacing with their spiky, rough skin and ever vigilant glances.  However, they are expert predators of insects and pose no threat to humans despite their scary name and outward appearance.  With long legs and independently twitching eyes on either side of their head, the dragons run with quick bursts of speed and can use their sticky tongue to catch and eat insects.

Blizzard, the Blue-tongued Skink, has small stumpy legs on the sides of her long body, keeping her belly low to the ground.   As one may guess, her disproportionately short legs are not exactly fit for running.  Her spade-shaped head is the perfect tool for burrowing and her hefty muscular body allows her to slide along as she flexes back and forth.   Despite Blizzard’s outwardly clumsy appearance, she doesn’t have any problems stalking her lunch of live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.  Skinks in the wild are fond of slow-moving prey like snails and beetles, so exceptional agility is not necessary for Blizzard to catch up with her favorite snack.  Her strong, crushing jaws are an added tool for catching prey in addition to her fruits and vegetables.

While Blizzard’s stumpy legs may seem extreme, Connie the Ball Python has no legs at all.  In fact, the only evidence that Connie’s evolutionary predecessors had legs are the claw-like anal spurs on her under side.  Rather than walking, specialized rectangular scales on Connie’s belly help her move by gripping the surface beneath her, allowing her to pull herself forward in a ratcheting motion.  With so many scales along her belly, the movement appears smooth.  If she needs to move around a corner, she can use another object, like the side of her tank, to push off of and change direction.  Despite not having legs, Connie’s scale and muscular adaptations let her find a way to slither where she needs to go, as well as constrict her prey.

Overall, Explorit’s incredible reptiles are excellent examples of the variation found in the animal kingdom.  Whether they are running, sliding, or slithering, each animal’s unique adaptations help them survive.

Explorit’s coming events:

Summer Camp through Aug 19: Several spaces are still available in the preK-K and 1st-2nd grade sections of Explorit’s Summer Science Camp.  For information about openings, visit http://www.explorit.org/camp or call (530) 756-0191 Monday-Friday from 9-4:30. 
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Explorit Science Center’s 3141 5th St. site is the location for field trips, programs for groups, astronomy club meetings, and Summer Science Camp.  It is also the hub for Explorit’s traveling programs that reach an 18-county region.  The site is open to the public for special events and to groups by reservation. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org.

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