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Not your average creatures at HPL

By Jon Bishop

HARVARD — Rick Roth of Creature Teachers, a Littleton-based environmental and animal education business, does exactly what’s in his organization’s name.

So, on Wednesday, he came to the Harvard Public Library and taught local kids about animals from around the world. But because of the temperature, he had to pick and chose which ones to bring.

Still, the animals that came along with him were pretty unique.

The first was a sugar glider, a nocturnal marsupial native to Australia that earned its name because it likes to eat sweet things and it glides.

After putting that away, he asked people in the audience if they liked snakes. Many said yes and some said no.

He pulled out a boa constrictor, which he said is “all camoed out,” because it needs to blend in with its surroundings.

And then came the proverbial animal presentation question: would anyone like to hold it?

Roth called on Russel Kilkenny, a student at Hildreth Elementary, and gave him the snake.

“He’s not going to bite you. He ate three kids yesterday,” Roth said, to laughter.

Another was a blue-tongued skink, a lizard that can, like many in its genus, lose and regenerate its tail.

“It’s amazing how they can regenerate that,” Roth said.

And then there was the kinkajou, an animal that resembles a lemur but is actually related to the raccoon. Like the sugar glider, it’s nocturnal.

“They are very important as nocturnal pollinators,” he said.

Others were the coati, an animal that is native to South America, Central America, and the North American southwest and is another relative of the raccoon, and a chameleon, lizards which, contrary to what many people believe, change colors not to blend in but to reflect their mood. They also have impressive tongues. Roth told one child to place a bug in his hand and hold it up to the chameleon. So he did. The lizard spotted it and gobbled it up.

The final two creatures: an alligator with its jaw taped shut, and a kookaburra, a Kingfisher relative from Australia and New Guinea. Making a humming noise got it to make a loud and laughter-like call. According to Roth, even the most innocuous thing could get the kookaburra going: a car radio, for instance.

Judging by the oohs and the aahs and the frequent laughter, the audience, both kids and adults, had a good time.

Stephanie Hooper definitely did.

“I particularly enjoyed the kookaburra,” she said. “The chameleon was another favorite of mine. So vibrant.”

Her grandson, Graham Bala, liked the sugar glider.

Roth said that he has many different programs, often mixing them up to make sure nothing gets stale.

“I just really enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy getting the kids involved.”

Abby Kingsbury, the children’s librarian, said she appreciated that a wide variety of ages showed up for the show.

“Roth does a great job,” she said. “He’s awesome. We’ve had him here several times. He’s just always terrific.”

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