Kids learn of animal adaptations at local libraries

Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Children at the Green Forest Public Library marvel at Oakley the hedgehog Monday. Programmer Mary Beth Gunter of the National History Educational Company of the Mid-South (NHECM) visited all three Carroll County libraries, introducing children to a variety of animals.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

Carroll County kids made some animal ambassadors feel right at home at their local libraries while learning what qualities make the animals well-suited to their natural habitats.

Programmer Mary Beth Gunter of the National History Educational Company of the Mid-South (NHECM) brought her mini mobile zoo to the Green Forest Public Library on Monday morning, making additional stops at the Berryville Public Library after lunch and the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library in the afternoon.

Gunter first introduced the children to Lenny, a blue-tongued skink. She explained that the word “skink” means shiny scales.

“Look how shiny his skin is,” she said. “He almost looks plastic and pretend.”

The other cool thing about the blue-tongued skink’s skin, Gunter said, is that it has overlapping scales.

“See how they move around when I run my hands over them,” she asked the kids. “That keeps the teeth of a predator from being able to penetrate through Lenny’s skin. That overlapping nature is very helpful for him.”

She said the blue-tongued skink’s main predators are cats and dogs, and the lizards have adapted to live in both urban and suburban areas.

“They’re really low to the ground, and here’s what makes his eyelids cool,” Gunter said. “It’s dusty and dirty down there, so his eyelids go up and over his eyes while yours come down and cover yours. His are like a screen. They’re see-through. He can still see, but they keep the dirt and stuff out of his eyes so he can move around.”

Gunter then brought out a hedgehog named Oakley. She said the hedgehog’s spines are kind of like toothpicks sticking in all directions.

“Some hedgehogs have spines going in the same direction,” she said. “The spines are made from keratin, the same stuff your fingernails are made from. This particular type can tuck into a ball completely. You cannot see any face at all.”

Hedgehogs have two muscles on their backs, Gunter said, that help make the hood.

“The hood is what it’s called when he tucks all the way under it,” she said. “His muscles are a lot like the muscles we have on our shoulder blades, which help us pull our shoulders forward. He uses them to pull his hood up over him.”

Like many locals, Gunter said, her next guest, Dustin, is not a fan of the hot summer weather.

“Dustin is a chinchilla. He lives in the Andes Mountains in South America, about 5,000 to 8,000 feet up,” she said. “It’s not super high, but if you live in the mountains you better have some good equipment.”

To survive in the Andes Mountains, Gunter said chinchillas have great coats and powerful little legs.

“Dustin’s coat is so dense and soft,” she said. “On your arms, you’ll see you have a little hair. You have like one or two hairs per follicle. Dustin has 60 hairs per follicle. That’s a lot of hair. Chinchillas have the densest coat of any animal.”

With a coat that special, she said grooming becomes very important.

“He has to take care of that coat and does that by taking dust baths. That’s why he’s named Dustin,” Gunter said. “He cannot get this coat wet because moisture will get down to his skin and he has a hard time drying himself.”

Chinchillas also need great jumping legs to live in the mountains, she said.

“He can jump six feet high or six feet across,” she said. “Chinchillas use their tails for balance while making jumps between the rocks. He can also release his fur to get away from predators. The predator winds up with a major furball, and Dusty makes a run for it.”

Kids also got to meet a Silkie chicken, an Angora rabbit and a pair of twin African pygmy goats.

“Thank you guys so much for coming,” Gunter said to the children at the Green Forest Public Library. “I really appreciate you being so well-behaved to make the animals comfortable.”

According to the website, NHECM provides wildlife outreach education throughout the Southeast. It says the school-age programs are designed for each particular grade level to focus on enriching the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum and include lessons on geography and world cultures, life sciences and biology, environment and conservation, foreign languages and the scientific method.

For more information, visit NHECM.com.

Programmer Mary Beth Gunter of the National History Educational Company of the Mid-South (NHECM) visited all three Carroll County libraries Monday, introducing children to a variety of animals like Oakley the hedgehog.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News
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