December 30, 2013

Children get up-close education on insects, amphibians, reptiles

By DUANE NOLLEN The Oskaloosa Herald
The Oskaloosa Herald

---- — OSKALOOSA — Due to a scheduling error at Blank Park Zoo Friday, children at the Scales and Tales Day Camp at the ISU Extension office learned about insects and insectivores as well as amphibians and reptiles.

Blank Park Zoo education specialist Audrey Sidey brought some insects as well as a hedgehog and salamander for children to look at and touch. Monica Post of Camp in a Can borrowed some reptiles from the Mahaska County Conservation Board for her part of the presentation.

The Mahaska County 4-H teamed up with ISU Extension to hold a two-day camp Thursday and Friday. The day camp was called “Camp in a Can: Scales and Tails.” Friday was the day children could see up close the animals they have been studying.

Sidey said Blank Park Zoo officials travel around the state to give presentations to schools, preschools and senior centers.

The first insect Sidey showed the children was a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.

Sidey said she had a male cockroach, since you could see he had two bumps on his head that serve as horns.

The cockroach has an exoskeleton and holes in the exoskeleton allows the cockroach to blow air through them to make a hissing sound to scare off predators, she said.

“He is used to being held, so he is not scared,” she said.

The cockroach lives on the rainforest floor and feeds off dead plants on the ground.

“He’s like a garbage man,” she said. “He’s really important” to the rainforest.

Sidey’s next creature was a Chilean Rosehaired Tarantula.

“They live in the dessert,” she said. “They live underground for the most part.”

This tarantula weaves a web; however, instead of catching insects, the web is used to camouflage the entrance to the spider’s hole, Sidey said.

“She likes to eat insects,” Sidey said.

The tarantula has a unique way of eating — after the insect has been paralyzed by a venomous bite, the tarantula will regurgitate on the insect. Enzymes will break down the insect so the tarantula will slurp it up, she said.

Sidey next brought out an Indian Walking Stick.

“This one comes from India,” she said. “It’s not the same species as the walking sticks we have.”

“He has excellent camouflage,” she said.

The walking stick is a nocturnal animal who eats leaves.

The cutest animal Sidey displayed was the African Pigmy Hedgehog.

If a hedgehog gets scared because a predator is near, it will curl up in a ball and let its quills protect it.

The hedgehog has quills, but they are not like those of a porcupine.

“It’d be like chewing on toothpicks,” she said of the hedgehog’s defensive quills.

“He’s also a nocturnal animal,” Sidey said. “He eats bugs and plants as well.”

The final animal in Sidey’s managery was a Tiger Salamander.

“This one you can find in Iowa,” she said.

However, the salamander would not be seen this time of year.

They live near ponds and rivers; however, “it’s freezing cold” so salamanders hibernate by digging under mud.

During her presentation, Post brought in two turtles, a snake and a salamander to show the children, said Amy Brianard of ISU Extension.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com