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ELC middle-schoolers thrilled by zoomobile

By Staff | May 10, 2011

Tom Smith, educational specialist with Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., showed students a bearded dragon. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Estherville Lincoln Central middle-school students had the chance to pet things that slithered, crawled, walked and flew Monday.

Tom Smith, educational specialist with Great Plains Zoo of Sioux Falls, S.D., brought along some of his animal friends for the education and enjoyment of ELC seventh-graders at Estherville High School Little Theater Monday.

According to Stephanie Wheatley, seventh-grade teacher, the program caps an interdisciplinary unit the students have been working on that includes a focus in English, science and geography. Students write a paper and also create a map showing where specific species are located.

Smith offered some very interesting information about the various animals he brought – information corroborated and even expanded upon by a number of students.

When Smith produced Chino, an Eastern screech owl, one of the first things he asked was that the volume be turned down a notch – the owl’s ears are so sensitive it can her a mouse under a foot of snow.

He talked too about the reason the owl has the feather structure that it does – to keep warm and dry as well as for flight and camouflage which helps it blend in with tree bark.

Smith also talked about owl pellets – something the students already knew pretty well since they had dissected them in third grade. The pellets are composed of bone and feathers that the owl doesn’t digest but instead regurgitates. Smith said naturalists can actually study owl pellets to determine what species of owl was present.

He said the owl’s bones are also hollow to aid in flight.

Spike, a bearded dragon, had long nails to help in climbing. Smith said the cold-blooded omnivore lives in a hot climate and can dig into the ground to stay cool.

The bearded dragon defends itself with its tail where it can also store fat. Its sticky tongue can capture insects as well.

Luna, a skunk, was obviously descented so the kids could pet it. Smith said the skunk defends itself with its spray.

As an omnivore, the skunk eats plants, bugs and other small animals. He warned students to avoid skunks in the wild due to not only their spray but also because they can carry rabies.

One interesting fact Smith noted about skunks was that they live about two years in the wild but up to 15 years in captivity.