LAURINBURG — The Summer Reading Program at Scotland County Memorial Library was infested with snakes, lizards, iguanas and … children of all ages Wednesday.
About 300 youngsters filled the library early and anxiously awaited the annual Snakes Alive presentation by Ron Cromer of High Point, and they weren’t disappointed with the 75-minute interactive show.
“People see a snake of any kind and they are immediately afraid, which is why so many snakes are killed,” said Cromer, who has been doing his show at libraries and schools for 20 years. “But being able to identify them can be helpful.”
Cromer proceeded to show the crowd various sizes and types of snakes, each one eliciting a chorus of ohhhhhs and ahhhs from the children.
As he was showing them, Cromer told the crowd that venomous snakes will have a diamond-shaped head as well as specific coloring and designs. Those common in this region are the rattlesnake, cottonmouth, water moccasin and coral snake. He also said that snakes can only strike within one-half of its body length.
“So if a snake is four feet long, as long as you are more than two feet away you should be OK,” he said.
Cromer also explained some of the dangers, misconceptions and how to handle snakes — as well as why there are snakes at all.
“Snakes are a very important part of our eco-system,” Cromer said. “Farmers need and like certain types of snakes to keep animals out of their crops.”
Some of the interesting facts he shared with the crowd included that snakes:
— Smell with their tongues, which are forked but are not sharp.
— Can see very well.
— Are completely deaf.
— Should be pet from head to tail so as not to damage its scales.
— Its scales have an almost leathery feel.
Cromer emphasized to the youngsters in the crowd that, if they should see a snake of any kind in their yard or home, they should immediately notify an adult.
“Don’t take chances by getting too close,” he said.
The crowd also got a chance to see Blue, a rare blue iguana — as well as a few lizards — all of which were kept away from the snakes for safety purposes.
Then it was time to let the children and adults alike touch or hold the snakes and lizards. First up was Zayonna Bethea, 8, of Laurinburg, who bravely allowed a black corn snake to wrap around her arm and neck briefly.
“It was cool,” she said afterward. “It wasn’t slimy at all.”
Lynnette Butler, youth services librarian, had the pleasure of feeding Blue a piece of yellow squash while Cromer held the iguana.
“For a long time I’ve just stayed in the background,” she said. “This time I decided to just get out there — and it was an interesting experience.”
If there was one person who simply glowed while handling one of Cromer;’s snakes, it was Jaenaie Monley of Laurinburg. She beamed as she carefully handled a colorful milk snake.
“That was so neat,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”
But the grand finale lit up the library like a July 4 fireworks show when Cromer unveiled his prized snake — a 15.5-foot Burmese python named Frieda, one of the five largest species in the world.
“This python can easily eat alligators,” Cromer said, “just like the ones they’ve been having trouble with in the Everglades of Florida.”
Amid gasps and wide-eyed expressions, Cromer began pulling Frieda out of her box and slowly handing her to 12 volunteers little by little. Once they had the python secure, they lifted the monstrous snake above their heads.
“Everybody love seeing Frieda,” Cromer said, “but most kids don’t want to get too close.”
As Cromer began putting Frieda back in her box and closing up his show, the crowd remained abuzz as children talked about the experience.
A second show, primarily for older children, was held in the afternoon.
Next week on Wednesday, the library will host another Summer Reading Program event at 10:30 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m. The presentation will be Captain Jim’s Magical Summer Reading Program.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]