Amphibians, reptiles get day in the spotlight

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: July 23, 2006

Movie-goers around the country may be eagerly awaiting the release of “Snakes on a Plane,” but the Anniston Museum of Natural History had real snakes for visitors to touch and hold as part of its “Skins, Scales and Scholars” program Saturday.

The event, which also featured live lizards, turtles, alligators and frogs was part of the Fresh Air Family, a state-wide program that encourages outdoor activity.

“So many kids are tied up with all kinds of activities but they’re not doing some things that kids need to do,” Fresh Air Family’s Founder Verna Gates said. “We just really want to try to combat that to give kids and families the chance to go out and do things.”

Saturday’s program featured a talk by Dr. George Cline, a.k.a. Dr. Frog, the resident herpetologist at Jacksonville State University. Cline’s talk on frogs drew “oohs,” “ahs” and shouts of “cool!” from the younger members in the audience.

Cline said that Alabama has between 140 and 150 species of reptile and amphibians, putting it in the top five states in the United States.

“What a great place to live, to grow up in Alabama and have the diversity of species that we have,” Cline said.

Cline entertained the crowd by reproducing the sounds of different frog species; one “sounds like somebody’s plucking the strings on a banjo,” another “like running a finger over a comb,” he said. He translated the calls that male frogs make to attract females as, “Come on over to my pad, baby.”

He added that declining numbers of frogs the world over have scientists worried about the effects of climate change on reptile and amphibian populations. But he added that there is still time to repair the situation.

“I think there’s a lot of stuff we still can do, I think the reason we do projects like this is … we can get people active,” he said.

Gina Morey, programs manager for the museum, agreed that it is important to get children interested in the natural world.

“This is … to try to encourage kids to get out from in front of the TV and the Xbox and learn something about their world because it’s important for their future,” Morey said. “It’s for the next generation because they’re really losing that connection.”

Many members of that younger generation were in attendance on Saturday. Maiya Webster and Raven Whitfield, both 9, are members of Fresh Air Family’s Youth Board.

“I like all the varieties that they have, all the plants that you can look at – it’s just the variety and the colors,” said Webster, who is from Birmingham.

She added that she wants the program to help people “respect nature and to just appreciate it and to appreciate the world that God made to enjoy.”

Whitfield, from Leeds, agreed, saying she wants to help her classmates learn about the outdoors when she returns to school in the fall.

“I just want a lot of them to know the beauty of nature because a lot of them don’t go outside, they just stay inside and (play) video games all day,” she said.

Hannah Trull, 9, from Jacksonville, who was visiting the museum with her mother, brother and cousins, said she liked being able to touch some of the animals.

“I like the orange snake over there, the one that feels slimy,” she said. “I’ve seen a snake in my backyard once, I don’t know what kind it was.”

Trull said it was fun to learn more about the different kinds of reptiles and amphibians. Her mother, Renee, said she appreciated the opportunity to spend time with the whole family.

“We love it, something like comes around and it’s kind of nice to break up the day,” she said. “It’s not like they see reptiles every day.”

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