SUQUAMISH — The blue-tongued lizard’s name was Sweet Pea. The snapping turtle was called Roxanne. And the albino python was dubbed Baby.
All three were visitors to Suquamish Elementary Thursday afternoon as the school got a visit from Scott Petersen, the “Reptile Man” — a former high school biology teacher who now travels and gives presentations to elementary schools.
Petersen last stopped at Suquamish Elementary about three years ago.
Principal Joe Davalos said he remembers the trip vividly because he had his picture taken with a python draped over his shoulders. The photo still hangs in his office.
“It doesn’t lose appeal,” Davalos said. “The kids are enthusiastic about animals, and any time they can see them, it makes it all the more better.”
Petersen blends educational moments in with the reptiles; he quizzed students on the place animals live in (a habitat), whether snakes chase humans in America (they don’t), and even what his first name was — when the children replied “Scott,” he smiled and said, “Good, you remembered.”
But the hit of the show was the presence of the reptiles.
Petersen started the first of two assemblies by bringing out Roxanne, a female snapping turtle from Louisiana. He has access to such creatures because he runs a reptile museum in Gold Bar that includes such rare creatures as an albino alligator;. All of the reptiles have been caught or raised by people, and Petersen told the pupils that he doesn’t catch the animals in the wild.
He also explained how Roxanne opened her strong jaws to threaten potential enemies. He induced her to snap her mouth, showing the kids how strong her jaws are and explained how the bumps on the back of her head make her resemble the bottom of the river, making it easier to catch fish.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked.
Petersen followed Roxanne with a blue-tongued lizard that flicked her tongue at the wide-eyed students (“She’s not trying to be rude,” Petersen joked), a green iguana with a ringed and a spiky tail, and a series of once-poisonous snakes that now had their venom removed.
He had a penny-colored copperhead, a water moccasin with a tick body and even a rattlesnake. Petersen also had a cobra, a rhinoceros viper, a boa constrictor, and the two biggest hits of the visit: an albino python and a small alligator named Lucy.
He does about 1,000 shows a year, and has been giving such presentations for about 13 years. Peterson said tries to educate the kids and make them less afraid of the reptiles, even though the latter element adds to the show’s appeal.
“The fear and mystique of these animals makes it interesting,” he said. “The show wouldn’t be the same if I did it with bunny rabbits.”