Creeping and crawling event

Published 3:58 pm Thursday, October 23, 2008

The haunting calls of owls in the night might make for a frightening tale, but the Alabama Wildlife Center staff tried to ease fears with their Creatures of the Night Saturday.

“[We focused] on the important part each of these animals play in a healthy ecosystem and dispelled a few myths and fears about nocturnal animals,” said Sandra Allison, director of rehabilitation and education for the center.

The wildlife center invited the public to attend the free event from 1-5 p.m. Saturday for both education and family-fun. Children and adults alike got the chance to meet Coosa the barred owl, hear stories related to nocturnal animals and get their faces painted.

Dave Holloway, a senior naturalist from Camp McDowell, entertained kids and adults alike with information about reptiles and amphibians.

“My Grandpa always tried to mess with me and told me that the tongue of a snake would sting you but really the tongue helps snakes smell,” Holloway said.

Holloway also taught the kids the different patterns on the skin of snakes and that there are more than 144 species of animals that live only in Alabama.

“I honestly didn’t know they could make their faces bigger to scare off other animals,” Heather Thorn, 9, said of the gray rat snake.

She and her sister Natalie, 7, agreed that they weren’t scared of snakes before but they learned a lot. They also enjoyed the arts and crafts and learning about the great horned owl the center had on hand to meet the kids.

“We talked about a lot of fun facts — Virginia opossums, they have 50 teeth in their mouth even though they are very docile and non-threatening to humans. And many people may not know that owls can turn their heads around 270 degrees and have eyes fixed in their sockets,” Allison said.

This is the first year the center has held the event. Spokeswoman Janet Bryars said the center feels the need to better educate people.

“Take opossums for instance, what do you think about them,” Bryars said. “A lot of people think they are mean but they’re not. Animals get a reputation based on nuisances they cause because people have moved into their wooded areas.”

Speakers throughout the day discussed everything from spiders and snakes to scorpions, as well as other animals associated with Halloween. Bryars said the center hopes families enjoyed the event.

“It’s geared toward children so that we can teach them how to live with wildlife early on,” Bryars said.

The wildlife center takes in an average of 2,500 animals each year. That number often spans 100 species. Visitors Saturday got the chance to see the release of a barred owl first-hand. The owl came to the center with a broken wing, eye injuries and parasites.

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos released the owl at 5 p.m. Saturday to close the nature-filled event.