Archive for Saturday, June 19, 1999


June 19, 1999


A weeklong workshop on reptiles and amphibians for children ended with a bit of impromptu excitement.

It landed on the roof with a dull thud and instantly became popular. A dozen heads swiveled to see the slithering new specimen that dropped, literally, into their world.

For the 8- to 10-year-old participants in the KU Natural History Museum's "Reptiles and Amphibians" workshop, looking at recently captured snakes at the Fitch Natural History Reservation was exciting enough. When a completely new snake was kind enough to fall from a tree onto the roof of the reservation's main building, it caused near pandemonium.

The "Reptiles and Amphibians" program was part of the museum's summer schedule of weeklong workshops for elementary and preschool children.

After speculation and debate on the best way to capture a roof-bound black rat snake, the children watched as their teacher, Amy Sproston, rescued it from the rain gutter and put in a bag. Then it was back to the table, where retired KU professor Henry Fitch showed them how he studies snakes at the reservation he's worked at for more than 50 years.

"Are you going to keep him?" came a voice from the back.

"No," Fitch said, inspecting the newly found snake. "I'm going to release him again."

"Is he very big?" came the next query.

"No, not for a black rat snake," Fitch answered.

On the final day of their weeklong workshop, the 10 students got to show off much of the knowledge they picked up at the museum. They now can tell a ringneck snake from a milk snake, and they can tell both of those from a type of lizard that has no legs and looks like a snake.

"It can do that because of its underscales," Evan Mielke, 9, said as the group watched a copperhead snake slither up a tree.

Sproston, a KU graduate student, and undergraduate student Clint Gentry spent the week working as the group's teachers. After a week at the museum and a day at the reservation, their students were sold on reptiles and amphibians.

They also decided Fitch has a cool job.

"Do you catch snakes for a living?" Kristi Kesler, 9, asked him.

He liked that job description.

Kristi had one more question for the professor, this on about a small nonpoisonous snake he showed the students.

"Can I keep him?"

-- Erik Petersen's phone-message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is


The Kansas University Natural History Museum's "Summer Workshops for Young People" run through the first week in August. The programs use museum facilities and the wilds of east Kansas to teach children about the natural world.

Five-day programs run from June 21-25 through August 2-6. They aim at age groups from 4-5 to 10-12.

Each program focuses on a different aspect of nature.

For information on the workshops, call the KU Natural History Museum at 864-4173.

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