Scaly Critters (FBCEC)

Summary:

Participants will dispel common misconceptions about snakes in this activity. They will learn to tell the difference between a venomous and nonvenomous snake. They will also learn about common snakes of Arkansas. (Note: This presentation can be expanded to other reptiles such as lizards and turtles.)

Grade Level:

2 - 12

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:

No

Location:

Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR

Contact:

Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484

Duration:

45 minutes - 1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 30

Special Conditions:

Live animals are used and must be currently available. Inquire.

Objectives:

  • Describe characteristics of reptiles.
  • Recognize that snakes (and all reptiles) are valuable to ecosystems.
  • Compare venomous and nonvenomous snakes.
  • Examine and touch a live snake under the direction of a staff interpreter.

Key Terms*:

Ecosystem

Fang

Habitat

Herpetology

Nonvenomous

Pit viper

Predator

Reptile

Venomous

*See glossary for definations

Materials:

Arkansas snake guide

At least one exhibit snake

Snakes of Arkansas poster

Background:

Thirty-six snake species are indigenous to Arkansas, and only four types of snakes native to North America are venomous. These are the copperhead, cottonmouth, rattlesnakes and coral snake. The first three are found in the Ozarks, but it is highly unlikely a coral snake would be found near Crooked Creek. Copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes are members of the family of pit vipers. Pit vipers have two heat sensing pits between their eyes and their nostrils and are believed to detect the presence of other animals. Snakes are extremely beneficial predators and important members of their ecosystem. Most are harmless to humans. 

Procedure:

  1. Introduce the term “herpetology.” Ask the group what they know about Arkansas’s snakes and have them name snakes native to the area. Record their responses.
  2. Share common snake misconceptions, and then show how important snakes are for their habitat.
  3. Show photos or a slide show of different snakes of Arkansas. If available, show them a real snake, snake skins, skulls, sheds, etc. Go over each item, showing the participants distinguishing features of the snakes they are studying. Let them handle the items and comment.
  4. It is important to teach participants to distinguish between venomous and nonvenomous snakes in Arkansas. There are many ways to tell the difference. Show pictures of the Arkansas pit vipers and heat sensitive pits, the diamond-shaped head and the segments of the tail. Describe the fangs of venomous snakes. Tell participants that they should never get close to a snake if they do not know whether or not it is venomous. Use the venomous snakes of Arkansas poster to help see the differences. Discuss the habits and habitats of these snakes so participants are aware of when and where they may be encountered. Convey an appreciation and respect for these interesting and valuable predators.

Modifications:

Expand this lesson into a “reptile lesson” by including information and exhibits of local lizards and/or turtles. Although not native to the Ozarks, Arkansas’s alligators may be highlighted as well.

Review:

  • Explain why snakes are important to their habitat.
  • What are some characteristics all reptiles share?Describe the fangs of venomous snakes.
  • Identify the differences between venomous and nonvenomous snakes.
  • List the four types of venomous snakes indigenous to Arkansas

Resources:

Glossary:

Ecosystem – plants and animals interacting with each other and their physical environment

 

Fang – long, sharp tooth on carnivores

 

Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs

 

Herpetology – a branch of zoology dealing with reptiles and amphibians

 

Nonvenomous – without a venom-producing gland and cannot inflict poison

 

Pit viper – any of various venomous snakes of the family Crotalidae, such as a copperhead, rattlesnake or fer-de-lance, that has a small sensory pit below each eye

 

Predator – an animal that hunts and kills other animals, usually for food

 

Reptile – any cold-blooded, egg-laying, air-breathing vertebrate of the class Reptilia, including turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodilians, amphibians, tuatara and various extinct members including the dinosaurs

 

Venomous – able to inflict a poisoned bite, sting or wound