By Matthew Sockol
MILLSTONE – The Millstone Township Primary School recently had four special visitors enter their halls.
On Feb. 19, representatives of the Philadelphia Zoo brought animals to the school as part of the Zoo on Wheels program. The animals were presented to pre-kindergarten pupils.
The program, a first in Millstone for the Philadelphia Zoo, was made possible through a grant provided by the Millstone Township Foundation for Educational Excellence.
”If this is successful, it will become an annual event,” Principal Trisha Bogusz said.
The event was organized by pre-kindergartent teacher Brittani Adams.
Presenting the animals was Maren Stinson, who has been with the Philadelphia Zoo since June.
“I brought four animal friends and you are going to meet them all,” Stinson told the children.
According to Stinson, the zoo’s presentations typically feature four animals that are selected to represent a certain theme. The theme of the presentation at the primary school was the five senses and the animals chosen had at least one sense that was different from that of an average human.
She explained to the pupils that their senses tell them something about the world around them and she asked the youngsters if they could identify their five senses.
The first sense discussed was hearing. Before the children saw an animal they were shown an elephant’s ear and a rattlesnake’s skin, with the rattle still attached. The elephant ear demonstrated how large ears could get and the rattlesnake skin provided an example of how animals use sound for a specific reason. The children correctly guessed the rattle was used by the snake to let others know it was nearby.
Penny, a Lionhead rabbit, was then taken out of her cage. Stinson demonstrated to the pupils that unlike humans, Penny could move her ears by herself.
“Her ears move in different directions so she can hear what is going on around her,” she said.
Stinson also drew attention to Penny’s fur, which keeps her warm, and her large feet, which she uses for hopping.
The sight presentation focused on birds. Stinson first showed the pupils a picture of a snow owl and made note of its large eyes.
“If you had eyes like an owl, (relatively speaking) you would have eyes as big as oranges,” she said.
When asked what birds have on their bodies, pupils guessed fur and hair before they were informed that birds are covered in feathers. Stinson then brought out feathers from a condor, an owl, a peacock and a green-winged macaw.
The condor and owl feathers demonstrated a contrast in noise when flapping in the air; the condor’s feather was loud because the bird fed on dead organisms, whereas the owl’s feather was quiet to assist it in hunting prey. The peacock and green-winged macaw were shown because of their bright colors. When the children were asked if the peacock feather belonged to a male or a female, one pupil guessed it was female. Stinson informed the youngsters it actually came from a male.
“With peacocks, the boys are the pretty ones,” Stinson said.
She explained that the superior eyesight of certain birds allows them to identify each other by the colors of their feathers. Macaws which live in the rain forest are one such species to do this, and so was Ollie, a cockatiel that Stinson brought with her.
Although Ollie was small in size, Stinson said the bird’s eyes were big for his body and that he was able to see colors humans could not detect. Many of the children assumed Ollie had no nose, tongue or ears because those parts of his body were difficult to spot.
For taste, Stinson showed the pupils Kumiko, a pancake tortoise. The pupils initially thought she was a turtle, but Stinson told them that unlike turtles, Kumiko can not swim very well. The name of her species derives from her flat physique, which allows her to live in between rocks.
Kumiko was selected to represent taste because of her willingness to consume anything she comes across.
“She will eat anything that is put in her mouth,” Stinson said.
Smell and touch were represented by Jake, an African ball python. Three feet long and weighing 4 pounds, Jake was curled into a ball when Stinson showed him to the children, hence his species’ namesake.
Before the pupils saw Jake, they were shown a skunk’s skin. Similar to the rattlesnake’s rattle, the pupils knew a skunk uses an unpleasant odor to keep others away.
Once Jake uncurled himself, Stinson drew attention to Jake sticking out his tongue and informed the pupils that snakes use their tongue for as a sense of smell. She said Jake has no ears and never blinks because he has no eyelids.
“If you have a staring contest with a snake, you will lose every time,” she said.
Stinson then made note of Jake’s stomach, which was a different color than the rest of his body. She explained that Jake uses his stomach to sense vibrations and feel his surroundings. To help the children understand what vibrations are, she told them to feel their throat while they were speaking.
After seeing all of the animals, the pupils were allowed to touch the animal skins and feathers that Stinson brought with her to the primary school. The youngsters thanked Stinson for bringing her four friends to the school.