The nearly 100 people fell silent in the gallery as the first special guest prepared to make her appearance. She seemed a bit reluctant, but when she finally appeared, the crowd showed their appreciation with a subdued “oooooh!”
Spaz the Pueblan milk snake curled around the hand of Jessica Olp, program lead for education at Rolling Hills Zoo, Hedville.
Milk snakes, Olp told the children and adults gathered Thursday evening at Hays Public Library for Zoo to You, were so named because they were thought to drink milk.
“Farmers back years and years ago thought they did drink milk because they were always found in dairy farms,” Olp said.
In reality, the snakes were attracted to the dairies by the mice that would get into the corn fed to the dairy cows, she said.
As Olp walked among the rows of seats to give people a close-up view of Spaz, children commented on her “super shiny” red, black and white bands. Olp explained that was part of the snake's adaptivity — the theme of the evening’s presentation.
The Pueblan milk snake’s markings are similar to the venomous coral snake, which helps protect it from predators.
“Here’s a saying you always need to remember: Red on yellow will kill a fellow, red on black, you’re OK, Jack,” Olp told the crowd.
Olp and her fellow program lead, Lori Scuitte also showed the crowd several biofacts — a skull, claws and some animal skins — all taken from animals that had died of natural causes, Olp explained. Holding a zebra skin, she explained that while an individual zebra’s black and white stripes do not blend in with the African plains, an entire herd of zebras will blend together in the eyes of a predator like a lion, she said.
Olp also presented two other animals. Jack, a uromastyx, is also known as a spiny-tailed lizard, from Africa. It will often hide in rocks with only its tail sticking out to help protect it from predators.
Taz the European polecat, or domesticated ferret, wasn’t eager to stay in her playpen, so Olp held her instead as kids and adults gathered around to learn about her kind.
Rolling Hills Zoo is winding down its Zoo to You tour. Funded by the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, the tour has taken animals and educational materials aimed at children across the region, including Ellis, Hill City and Bird City.