Omaha Wildlife Encounters visits Lake Minatare Elementary

May 8, 2019

MINATARE — Tripod, Oreo and Ziggy were among the animals that visited Lake Minatare Elementary School Monday during a Wildlife Encounters presentation.

Students entered the gym shortly before 2:15 p.m. to find wildlife educator Jillian Lenz standing with several animal crates behind her. Lenz has been a wildlife educator for the Omaha Wildlife Encounters for four years.

After choosing four volunteers, Lenz brought out small, brown-and-black Madagascar cockroaches. She placed the cockroaches on the students, who had their eyes closed. Once they opened their eyes, several students began to side eye the little cockroaches crawling on their shoulders. As the students picked them up, Lenz shared how the cockroaches have small hairs on their legs to help them hold onto an object.

“On those poky, little legs, are these tiny little hairs to help them grip things,” she said.

The Madagascar cockroach is also known as the hissing cockroach.

“They do make a hissing sound,” said Lenz. “If they are upset, if they are fighting over territory, all different reasons, is why they make that hissing sound. What’s really cool is when they hiss — they are releasing air out of their abdomen. They have these tiny holes underneath and when they exhale, that’s when they make the hissing sound.”

A cockroach is a decomposer, so they eat anything that falls to the forest floor. They can also survive for 10 days without a head.

David Baker-Baszler made his way to the gym floor and closed his eyes while holding out his hands. As Lenz removed the next animal from the crate, the students erupted in laughter. Upon opening his eyes, he was shocked to see an alligator in his arms. The alligator is named Tripod, since it is missing a front leg. Since alligators use their back legs and tails to swim, Tripod can still swim like every other alligator. Alligators lose 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.

Jaylee Sarchet was the next volunteer who came to the floor. Instead of holding out her hands to hold the next animal, Lenz had Sarchet open her eyes to pet Oreo the skunk.

Skunks spray when they feel threatened by their surroundings. Had the students been loud when Lenz brought Oreo out of his crate, he might have lifted his tail to spray. As Lenz raised Oreo’s tail, the students let out a gasp in terror of being sprayed. Some of the students in the front row were splashed with water, as she raised his tail.

“He is what we called de-scented, which means he is not able to spray.”

When a skunk sprays, the supply will be replenished after 10 days, which makes them vulnerable to predators like owls and coyotes.

Oreo’s favorite snacks are carrots and insects.

The next reptile the students were introduced to was Bethany the boa constrictor snake. Snakes use their tongues to sense the vibration of their surroundings since they do not have ears.

While Dirk Odendaal, Oliver Brannan, Madison Engel and Brock Bolinger held Bethany, some of the students did not like the snake.

“I didn’t like the snake because of how it was so long and it looked and wrapped around (Lenz),” said Faith Hurd.

For Reese Aschenbrenner, the snake was cool.

“I really liked the snake,” he said. “I just like the spots on it.”

Ziggy the kangaroo was the last animal the students met. Lenz held Ziggy in a blanket as the students learned about kangaroos and Zoleigh Reffalt got to see her up-close while petting her.

“My favorite was the kangaroo because it was so small and cute,” said Hurd.

The students did not get an opportunity to see the macaw as she was preparing to roost and did not want to come out of the cage.

Lake Minatare principal Jeremy Behnke was grateful to bring this unique learning opportunity into the school for the students.

“I love the opportunity to give kids hands-on experience,” said Behnke. “We hope they learned something from it.”

Following the presentation, Lenz said, “I hope they learn how amazing our planet is and it’s important to protect and save these animals.”

Families and the community were invited to attend an evening performance at 6:15 p.m. where they had opportunities to interact with the animals.