HSU student Taylor Sweet (left) with visitors at the HSU Natural History Museum in Arcata on March 3. Photo by Kyle Orr.

Natural History Museum displays amphibians and reptiles


The HSU Natural History Museum in Arcata was the place to be on Saturday. Amphibian and Reptile Discovery Day was full of surprises, knowledge and amusement.

“It turns me into a kid again,” Humboldt State biology major Victoria Yefremenkova said.

Violet Cook, a third-grade student at Freshwater Elementary School, was excited and having a blast learning about nature. The HSU Natural History Museum is her favorite place.

When asked what she liked best at the museum, Cook said, “the fossilized sea shells.”

Entwined in the festivities with the snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs and salamanders was a scavenger hunt where children of all ages could fill in the names of live reptiles and amphibians.

“I think they liked the scavenger hunt about the reptile facts the best,” Ann Walance, a community member who brought her grandchildren to the event, said.

Other activities of Discovery Day included snake and reptile photo button making, coloring and crafting a frog out of paper supplies and having pictures taken while holding a python or a bearded dragon.

HSU student Aidan Brannney, a wildlife major, was taking the photographs of people holding the pet python or the bearded dragon for his herpetology class.

“People come out and get exposed to the reptiles and find out they are not as creepy-crawly as they are often made out to be,” Branney said. “Some of them are actually endangered, threatened with extinction. It’s all in conservation, right?”

The HSU Natural History Museum has internships and work study paid positions for students.

“It’s a great way to get involved with the community through internships,” Allison Rafferty, HSU biology student and intern at the museum, said.

Rafferty was wearing an inflatable Tyrannosaurs rex outfit in front of the museum for the event, waving and welcoming visitors to Discovery Day.

“It’s all about connecting with people,” HSU biology graduate Adrian Macedo said.

Macedo co-authored one paper that he submitted to be published in Herpetology Review, and co-authored a second paper that has not yet been submitted for publication. Macedo researches red tailed coastal frogs and coastal giant salamanders.

“We need a baseline description of as many amphibians as we can find before things change and the species are gone,” Macedo said.

Children who attended Discovery Day wanted to learn and were respectful. Where the tortoises are on display, one child who probably couldn’t read the posted sign politely asked Andrea Ortiz, the worker watching the tortoise, if they could touch the tortoise. The sign said “please do not touch,” but Ortiz allowed the children to touch the tortoise gently and not the head. The children touched the tortoise ever so softly and smiled.

On another table, a reticulated python is devouring a mouse. Some kids rushed up in excitement, others moved on unaffected and some passed by with a little tear in their eye for the mouse.

Siblings Quin, Lucy and Jack Biondo stop to watch the reticulated python eating.

“Why don’t they chew their food? We do,” Quin asked.

Quin and Lucy are twins in the first grade and Jack is in the sixth grade, all attending Jacoby Creek School.

“You don’t usually get to pet a 10-foot snake,” Jack said.

Dean Savieo attends Mistwood School where he is in group three. Group three is equivalent to the fourth grade. Savieo liked the Gila monster the best, because they are poisonous.

When asked if he liked snakes, Savieo said, “Kind of. Snakes will strangle you, especially the ball python.”

The reptiles at the museum belong to HSU students and alumni. The amphibians live at HSU where they are cared for by HSU professor Sharyn Marks and the herpetology department students.

“Some of the axolotl salamanders came to the school 20 years ago as eggs to be part of the animal development course,” Marks said. “We used to give them away. Now they are a restricted species requiring a special permit.”

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