- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

THERMOPOLIS, Wyo. (AP) - Scott Shupe admits that there is something about snakes that makes most folks shudder. However, instead of shuddering we should be grateful.

“Snakes are Mother Nature’s number one mouse trap,” Shupe told his audience at Ralph Witters Elementary during an assembly.

Shupe, a naturalist with the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, brought his World of Reptiles program to students in Thermopolis thanks to the school district and Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation.

As little ones gasped, cheered and sat with their eyes glued to Shupe’s breathing-hole-covered boxes, he one-by-one pulled reptiles out and explained how unique the critters are.

“They are highly specialized animals,” he said holding a boa constrictor. Snakes, he explained have no eyelids and no ears.

“You can’t sneak up on him just because he can’t hear you though - he can feel your footsteps because he has special nerves on his belly,” Shupe said.

As the snake’s tongue flickered in and out, Shupe told the students that the tongue was picking up scents in the air and taking them back to pockets inside his mouth.

“Instead of smelling, he’s tasting the air.”

As he pulled a small python from its cage and draped it around his neck, Shupe said the great thing about snakes was that “you don’t have to handle them at all, you can wear them as a necklace.”

While most people think of snakes as “slimy,” they are actually dry and feel a lot like leather.

Snakes, he said, are cold-blooded animals. “That doesn’t mean their blood is cold, it means their body temperature stays the same as the environment they are in.

“Snakes in Wyoming have to go underground in the winter because if they stayed on the surface they’d freeze solid.”

Besides the boxes of snakes, Shupe also brought a tegu lizard, saying as he held up the large reptile for inspection, “snakes and lizards are closely related, cousins.”

As he lifted an African spurred tortoise from its case he told the students it was just a baby, only about 25, but could live to be over 100. Turtles and tortoises are no longer considered reptiles, he added, but are now in a class of their own.

The tortoise shell, he explained, is made of solid bone.

“Believe it or not, his shell is part of his skeleton.” He added that, unlike in the cartoons, a turtle cannot run out of its shell. “That would be like you running out of your skin,” he said with a smile.

The black and white banded king snake he showed the students gets its name from that fact that it is king of the snakes, enjoying a meal of other snakes.

“He’s completely harmless to people but deadly to other snakes.” Shupe added whenever he finds a king snake he brings it back to his rural home to keep other more dangerous snakes away.

The highlight of Shupe’s program was when he had school principal, Deb Brown, and two teachers take the “snake test,” holding a corn snake for 10 seconds. The youngsters laughed and pointed, slowly counting to 10 as each adult held the reptile.

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Information from: Northern Wyoming Daily News, https://www.wyodaily.com

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