Fourth-grader Samantha Perrien recalled seeing an alligator once when she was in Florida. But, she wasn’t about to touch it.
The Annunciation Catholic School student had the chance to touch a baby alligator last week as part of a presentation from the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for students at the Havelock school.
"It’s pretty cool," she said.
Nicole Garris, outreach assistant at the aquarium, gave a presentation about reptiles in North Carolina. She taught the students interesting facts, such as what makes up hair and finger nails in humans also makes up the scales of an alligator, that snakes can shed their skin up to four times per year, that some sea turtles hold their breath up to four hours and that alligators can lose up to 3,000 teeth in their lifetimes.
When asked how alligators can see under water, Perrien had the answer.
"They kind of wear goggles," she said. "They close their eyes, but it’s clear."
However, she said her biggest lesson was how to determine the size of an alligator just by looking at its head. The length between its eyes and nose in inches is the reptile’s approximate length in feet.
"Everything is so interesting," she said. "I like science. It’s fun."
The presentation was part of the school’s curriculum as students have been learning about animal habitats in their science classes. The next project for the students is to create animal habitats, which will be displayed in the school’s library.
Along with the alligator, Garris also had a king snake the students were allowed to touch and a box turtle. She also had a loggerhead sea turtle the students were able to see.
"They always love it. They are always so excited," Garris said of the students. "It’s always great to have animals so they can actually see them. It’s better than just talking about them. You can see the excitement on their faces.
"When they don’t see the animals, it’s almost out of sight, out of mind, but when they can actually see a turtle, it usually hits home a little bit more."
Some of the students were a bit squeamish when Garris pulled out the king snake. She explained that the snake was non-venomous and that only six of 37 species of snakes in North Carolina were venomous. She explained to the students how they could tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes.
"Snakes are not as bad as you think they are," Garris said. "They may be scary, but they’re good to have around because they’ll eat mice that can get in your house, and nobody wants to sleep with mice."
The alligator seemed to be a hit with the students.
"Look, he’s smiling," one student said as she saw the baby gator’s teeth.
Garris said the presentations are designed to teach the students about the animals and their habitat.
"We really want to hit home with conservation messages," she said. "We want to help people understand what they can do to help out the animals that live around them."
The N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is open year round except for Christmas and New Year’s Day and is located about five miles west of Atlantic Beach off N.C. 58. For more information, call the aquarium at 247-4003 or go online to www.ncaquariums.com/pine-knoll-shores.