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Critters pay a visit to Kingman students

Above: Sam Huselton shows off a 5-year-old Gopher snake. Below: Fourth-grade students at Manzanita Elementary School got a chance to meet Jeep, a 9-year-old desert tortoise.

KINGMAN - It wasn't just the live animals that fascinated 9-year-old Apryl Lobley during a presentation Wednesday by the Arizona Game and Fish Department at Manzanita Elementary School.

Lobley, a fourth-grader, enjoyed seeing Sir Percival, a 12-year-old great horned owl; Jeep, a 9-year-old desert tortoise; and a nameless 5-year-old gopher snake. But she enjoyed the science behind the animals even more, from the physical and behavioral adaptations that have enabled Arizona wildlife to survive in a variety of habitats to the relationships between wildlife and their environments.

"I thought the presentation was great because it told us about the animals of Arizona," said Lobley, who has two cats, two turtles, two anoles, two tree frogs and several dogs at home. "I learned that gopher snakes can look and act like Diamondback rattlers to protect themselves, the ears of great horned owls are different than ours because one points up and the other points down. I like science, and this was interesting."

The hour-long program was presented to the school by Sam Huselton, wildlife education outreach coordinator for the Phoenix-based agency. Huselton travels the state with her animal charges and visits fourth-grade classes as her job, speaking to about 10,000 fourth graders a year.

She stopped at Manzanita and Black Mountain School on Wednesday and visited Hualapai Elementary and Kingman Academy of Learning Intermediate School on Thursday.

At each school, Huselton grabs her listeners' attention with a display of the animals, then delves into the physical properties of Arizona's wildlife, such as their eyes, ears mouths and body coverings. She also discusses the behavior that helps them to survive, including hibernation, migration, burrowing and whether they are awake during the day or the night.

Huselton, who has a degree in wildlife biology, also throws out tidbits of interesting information to the students, such as the fact that there are 13 species of owls, with the great horned owl being the largest, and that Arizona is the only state in the U.S. with four different types of desert habitat. Finally, she answers a volley of questions from the students on every animal science topic imaginable, from which animals have white feces to how spiders make the filament they string for their webs.

"This program is connected to the state's science standards, so it gives teachers an advantage because it teaches the basics and reinforces what the kids have already learned," said Huselton. "It's a really good thing for kids to see first-hand what they're learning in their classrooms."

Fourth-grade teacher Kerry Taylor agreed, noting the information fits in with the science curriculum she is teaching. Much of the presentation, such as physical and behavioral adaptation, is on the current AIMS tests that students must take, said Taylor.

Ethan Colbert, 10, a fourth-grader who raised his hand repeatedly to ask and answer questions, said he found the science information very useful. Colbert wants to be a nanotech bioengineer when he grows up, using tiny robots to make medical improvements for humans and animals.

"I thought the program was pretty good," said Colbert. "It was a humorous and educational show and I learned a ton of things that I didn't know. I found out that birds have a poor sense of smell, except for the turkey vulture, and I knew that animals who stay up all night are called nocturnal, but I didn't know that those who stay up all day are called diurnal. It's good to know all this science."


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