Best herps (and other ectotherms) for schools

Discussion in 'General Reptile Discussion' started by pythonmum, Oct 12, 2015.

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  1. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    Next year I start a new position as Head of Environmental Education at my school. I will oversee a large outdoor area, a small indoor area and some native bees (Trigona), goldfish and hens. (The goldfish are in a lovely formal pond, but you never see them.) A blue tongue lives in the garden, but it is rarely seen. Plenty of skinks. Frogs occasionally move into the goldfish pond for a couple of weeks.

    Students from preschool to year 12 use the facility.

    I had a scientific license in a previous school and kept a big Murray-Darling Python in my classroom. He was a big hit. I would like to expand the variety of animals to use for education.

    Some ideas include
    • putting out water barrels to provide more frog habitat.
    • Moving my Stimson from home to the indoor area (license transfer)
    • Setting up a big aquarium with native fish, so that the kids can see them
    • phasmid enclosure

    I welcome feedback and advice from those who keep animals in a natural setting. My experience is all with indoor enclosures or just enjoying natural wildlife. This is in Sydney, so any outdoor herps need to be able to cope with winters given only basic assistance. I also need animals that can handle minimal care during school holidays. The hens are cared for by staff on short breaks and get re-homed over the summer. Goldfish do fine eating algae.
     
  2. CrazyNut

    CrazyNut Well-Known Member

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    Most reptiles will be fine for a couple of weeks during school holidays. All you have to do is give them some extra food each meal for 2-3 meals prior school holidays, alternatively you could miss a feed and do a really big feed right before holidays start. Bearded dragons would be a great choice as would cuningham skinks. Geckoes are great however can be difficult to observe due to nocturnal habits (a way around that would be keeping them in a really dark area under an infrared light, the red infrared lights will allow you to see them without disturbing them). Monitors are awesome, the only downside is they have really sharp claws that can scratch so probably better for the older year levels say year 7-12.
     
  3. BredliFreak

    BredliFreak Well-Known Member

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    I would say an outdoor pit would be good, with blueys, EWD's, turtles, cunninghams or whatever you want. For snakes I would say carpets over antaresia since they are generally are more active during the day compared to ants (from what I've heard, never kept ants). I like the gecko idea, you could do something like the gecko cave at the Alice Reptile park. Maybe an ackie or spencer's might be nice?

    Bredli

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    Oh yeah, maybe you could have a walk in pit where kids could hand-feed lizards?

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    Or arrange herping field trips?
     
  4. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    A walk- in pit would be great. How high would it need to be for blueys? A low wall is appealing, but we have fox that come through regularly and kill the chickens if they are not locked up, so I might need to fully enclose a pit to protect the lizards.

    Definitely no larger monitors, as the preschoolers will want to touch the animals. An ackie might be okay.

    In in my experience, no Python will be particularly active in the day. The appeal of moving in my Stimson is that she is the most mellow animal ever, so I have no fears of her biting kids. I can barely get her to bite her thawed rats!
     
  5. Bluetongue1

    Bluetongue1 APS Veteran APS Veteran

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    Love the ideas you mention. The more on-going hands-on interaction there is the better.

    Some other ideas...

    • A small permaculture garden. Growing herbs, veggies and fruits that can be harvested and used in Home Economics classes or just used and eaten by the kids.
    • Worm farm. The kids could put out bins to collect organic lunch scraps to add to weeds for feeding the worms. The worms and the liquid fertiliser and compost they produce could be on permaculture garden and others.
    • Native fish in aquarium. There are a number of ‘tadpole friendly’ species of native fish that can be used to control mozzies in water outdoors. These would be good native species to keep, promote and possibly even breed and supply to the local community. Species suitable for Sydney are Murray Rainbows, Crimson Spotted Rainbows and Pacific Blue-eyes.
    • Freshwater crustaceans. You could also raise native freshwater crayfish and maybe shrimps.
    • Native aquatic plants. Grow local native aquatic plants for local re-veg projects or for use in local frog friendly garden ponds.
    • Raising tadpoles. Collect frog spawn from pond (before the goldfish) and raise tadpoles to be released as froglets back into the school grounds. (I have raised thousands over the years using recycling crates and feeding them only on discarded green outer leaves of lettuce from the local supermarket- roughly tear up the lettuce leaves, boil for 5 minutes and then freeze, store and feed out as ice cubes.)
    • Encouaging Water Skinks. By establishing suitable habitat in gardens adjacent to or near the pond, you could provide good habitat for wild water skinks to establish. Things like low, bushy floweing plants, piles of flattish rocks. logs or limbs, especially with hollows, deep leaf litter mulch for breeding food etc.
    • Local Native Plants: Can work with a local native plant group to propagate and supply these to the school and local community members. You could also establish example of these around the school gardens, maybe with accompanying information plaques (like you get botanic gardens).

    Australian frogs are basically terrestrial, often only frequenting water bodies to breed. This probably explains why you getting them for just a few weeks. They no doubt spawn but the presence of goldfish would ensure zero tadpoles survive as formal ponds are not heavily planted enough to provide even a chance.

    The goldfish not being visible is likely due to predatory birds, such as Herons and Kingfishers. They will take advantage of easy-to-spot fish in a confined space with limited plant cover, often returning until no further fish can be caught. So you end up with either no fish or ones that are extremely wary and shy and won’t show themselves in the open. Netting or mesh can prevent this but tends to be aesthetically undesirable in a formal pond. An alternatively is to use Koi carp that are too big to be preyed upon.

    Security can be an issue in school grounds. These are often the target of unwanted visitors out of hours, especially weekends and holidays. While garden beds generally escape damage, potted plants and set up equipment make targets for vandalism. These are best put under lock and key, such as a weld mesh covered enclosure/compound, if at all possible.
     
  6. Klaery

    Klaery Well-Known Member

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    Native bees (well the ones most keep) are Tetragonula now :) Might need a label update. I think an enormous biotype freshwater tank would be fantastic. Being a school you would probably focus on local habitats and species. That is something I have thought about doing. We have a horticulture program for 10s that opt out of science (how dare they!) that ties in quite well. They maintain a bit of a food forest with a section of that being focused on native food plants. They also maintain a large vege garden, some of the grounds and do a few paths and things. Might be something to consider.
     
  7. BredliFreak

    BredliFreak Well-Known Member

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    I cooked up a quick idea on pages for a thing for inspiration. The idea is to have an indoor thing for herps and the aquarium, some vege patches bees and chooks and whatnot and then a walk-in avairy with native herps and frogs (e.g GTF, longicollis, EWD,EWS,barbata,shinglebacks and blueys,marsh frogs, perons etc.)

    Here is the idea:
    [​IMG]

    Hope this helps!

    Bredli

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    Maybe you could have a food stall where you could charge money for food to handfeed the lizzies... I'm sure the school would like extra income.

    Bredli
     

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  8. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thanks for the ideas! We have a permaculture veggie and herb garden which students can harvest and eat from. Our food forest has things like coffee beans, grapes, young berries, etc. We had some great young berry jam last season and the indications are that the new crop will be great. Getting near making a cup or two of coffee, too.

    There is a small native garden which I intend to vastly expand with bush foods and other useful plants. The chooks have a nice big yard with a sizeable shed for night time and bad weather.

    We have plenty of worms in the compost (which the little ones love when I dig them up) and I have kids working on homemade worm farms that can go in the playground where students throw out food scraps. We are aiming to cut down on our food waste into the rubbish.

    The current fish pond is small, very decorative and has nice hiding places (I have lost large goldfish at home due to herons), but not good for kids to learn about and watch fish. I like the idea of a really big native fish tank outdoors with plants or a cover to protect the fish. Any websites with good plans or examples? These would be great!

    There is a weed-filled wetland are on campus that provides habitat for water skinks, frogs and insects. It is difficult to get to it and I want to improve the pathways so it is easier to look at the wildlife. I could probably find some tadpoles there. They would have a better chance if I raised them and I have plenty of lettuce from the garden. Then I could release them back into the wetland area. Sounds like a good plan.
     
  9. kingofnobbys

    kingofnobbys Suspended Banned

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    If the kids learn to respect the herps and can enjoy watching them , caring for them, and if they are tame enough, have the chance to interact one on one with them , then I WISH ALL SCHOOLS had a teacher or two who were energetic enough to establish similar facilities on site , the main concerns are likely to vandalism, theft, roaming cats and dogs getting into them killing off the animals who live there are what happens during school holidays ?
     
  10. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    It is a boarding school, so there are people around during shorter school holidays. This means pretty good security, too. Foxes are still a problem, so a pit would need to be fully enclosed. Hens are rehomed at the end of the year and new ones purchased in early Feb. It is easy to find homes for tame laying hens. If keeping herps at school, you are allowed to take them home for school holidays on a scientific license. I also live close enough to drop by every few days.
     
  11. Bluetongue1

    Bluetongue1 APS Veteran APS Veteran

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    Hey! What you have established sounds really really good. Clearly I did not have my thinking cap on when I replied. Should have realised you would have had a sound basis of environmental ed in the school to warrant an appointed coordinator.

    I would lay odds that you work in a private school. Myself and a couple of good friends struggled for many years to try and give environmental ed a profile in the state based high school we worked in over here. We had some success but it was a long hard road.

    I absolutely see some real advantages to keeping reptiles in the classroom or school, especially snakes. It would give you the ability to engender informed attitudes towards them amongst students. The reality is that it makes such a difference to kids when they can get up close and personal with reptiles. Just being able to watch a carpet snake coiled on a forked branch, or to handle a central bearded or a bluey, can make a difference for life. And the opportunity to assist with or just watch feeding these animals is such a huge buzz for most kids. They will literally clamber over each other for the opportunity to do so. And their eyes fairly pop out of their heads watching a python walk its jaws over a rat. I don’t think it even matters that such reptiles may not be particularly active for the most part, other than maybe when feeding. Observing them and any feeding or handling session quickly totally changes how they view reptiles. They invariably see them in a whole new light – one of wonderment and captivation instead of irrational fear and mistrust.

    Love the idea of a pit. If you are able to set one up, with say a chicken wire roof on it to keep out the fox, there’s any number of species that would be eminently suitable. Cunningham’s Skinks, as mentioned, are great as they can be kept as a small colony. Specimens from the granite belt on the western slopes are particularly colourful and very cold tolerant, remaining active well into autumn. I kept a group for years as a kid. Jackys and Mountain Dragons are social and day active lizards, chasing flies and any wayward Cabbage White butterflies. I am sure the kids would get a real buzz out of feeding them woodies or mealworms and the like. Actually, cultures of live food could be a responsibility given to the students. With active dragons one thing one does need to be a little careful in pits is that these rather athletic little blighters can run and launch themselves over the walls, if the geography allows it. This is something I found out the hard way with my Tawny Rock Dragon colony.

    From personal experience, I found when trying to get finance for a pathway and possible boardwalk to access degraded swampland adjacent to the school I was working at, that virtually no-one viewed the expense involved as worth the outcome. However, when the proposal was couched in terms of enabling access to allow weed removal and then revegetation, with a view to ultimately providing access to a rejuvenated natural swamp ecosystem, then a number of community organisations showed a genuine interest. Unfortunately I left the school before we could put anything into practice with respect to this intended project and, unfortunately, no-one picked up the baton. The regional council did ultimately build a walk path around the swamp, with a couple of boardwalk access ramps into a couple of the least disturbed sections of the swamp. It would be a major long-term undertaking that presents a number of facets and phases, and would likely involve partnerships with community groups and local council, all of which would provide invaluable learning experiences for kids. These types of partnership and the potential outcomes tend to be viewed rather favourably by school admin. Of course it depends on the attributes of your particular area and these may well render a project of this nature as impractical.

    In my initial response I mentioned providing habitat for EWS around the pond. The specific reason behind this is that often these skinks do become accustomed to human presence and can actually get quite cheeky in their interaction. On the other hand, wild bluetongues tend to remain quite flighty, quickly disappearing into cover at the approach of a person. Regular offerings of appropriate food treats can help overcome this to some degree. In my experience with them the only ones that seemed to ultimately lose their fear of humans were those that were captured and regularly handled. This is based on a couple of decades of having wild bluetongues living in the yard of my parents’ home and at the same time interacting with a substantial number located in the remanent bushland directly across the road at the rear of the property.

    One lizard I have had a lot of experience with is Copper-tailed Skinks. These can also become quite accustomed to human presence and are, like water skinks, quite active foragers. They really are brilliant when observed basking in full sunlight... really great little skinks! Another possibility for a pit is the White’s Skink. They can also be kept in multiples but are a bit more territorial. They are an attractively patterned skink that gets to a reasonable size and are not reluctant to show themselves once they get used to you.

    You know, with plenty of logs, old fallen tree limbs, sandstone rocks and tussock grasses, such as the many varieties of tough but highly ornamental Lomandras now available, plus a few Gymea Lilies and eucalypt leaf mulch, you could create a superb mini Hawkesbury Sandstone ecosystem.

    What I can say with certainty is that you are clearly doing an awesome job. The sorts of educational experiences that you are already providing kids with will be informing them, engendering skills and forming attitudes that will all play an important part in their future lives. It’s hard enough just to teach the 3 R’s, let alone impart values and understandings that can contribute to their future values and quality of life and how they might they might live it. You quite deservedly have my admiration. Keep up the great work!
     
  12. cement

    cement Subscriber Subscriber APS Veteran

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    Hope it works for you Python mum! The good old diamond is your local species so they would go allright there, even in an avairy. Also, just a word about snakes in schools as a relocator, the snakes I get out of schools are always the healthiest and robust individuals vens or pythons. schools are generally full of rats and therefore the snakes that end up there are always really well fed. I did a callout to a steiner School here on the Central Coast last season, they had a nice native creek system running through the school yard, fenced with horizontal fencing wire so easy to get through and the edges were sandstone rocks. There were some ponds in it, only just enough depth to breed frogs and also reeds and vegetation. Along with this nice native feature though came the apex predator, one very large red belly.
    Being a primary school, it had to go, fair enough too. So as nice as the natural settings are, just be aware that you are providing habitat for the vens as well, and just keep an eye out.
    Like the old saying....build it and they will come!!
     
  13. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    Bluetongue, sounds like you had the same wetland battles we do. We put in a proposal for upgrading the wetland with boardwalks, but if we made it easily accessible, the council wanted the area to be fully enclosed with pool fencing. The cost of that was ridiculous. At the moment we are upgrading by stealth, with Duke of Ed students doing their volunteer work with bush regeneration around the wetland. We have a mulched path around half of it, but no easy way to get down to the water/base area. That requires a bit of a scramble and is best done in gumboots, as you can't always tell which areas are wet! And yes, it is a private school. It is hard to get the committed leadership to set up such a facility in the public system. At a public school, I used to take frequent advantage of the adjoining bush.

    At my previous private school I kept a big MD in the classroom. He was great. You could control he rowdiest group by requiring them to sit down and finish their work before getting him out. Many students also admitted that they became interested in snakes when they learned about them, which is wonderful.

    Cement - There would certainly be some healthy RBBs in the area, as there is a bushland corridor with a stream very close to the campus, too. May have to call you! If they stay in the wetland and bush areas, we are fine. If they come up to the nature playground when it is covered in 4-year-olds, it is more problematic.

    I will have to look for a suitable spot for a pit. I have my eyes on an area for a big outdoor tank with native fish - just need to find a design that appeals to me. A pit will take a bit longer. I am hoping that a rarely used car park adjoining the environmental area might become a native garden. Could put a nice pit near there...
     
  14. Bluetongue1

    Bluetongue1 APS Veteran APS Veteran

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    @pythomum. The requirement that it be “fully enclosed with pool fencing” is totally unreasonable. I warrant that this demand is not backed up by the local council by-laws. We investigated the statutory requirements for fencing of water bodies in our local government region and discovered that only those nominated as swimming pools required any fencing at all. There are natural lakes, artificial lakes, ornamental ponds and streams etc on public and private land that are not required to be fenced. Similarly, fish and lily ponds, even those which the public have full access to, have no fencing requirements. Ornamental water features and fountains etc are in the same boat, regardless of depth, size or form.

    I reckon that you could probably locate any number of examples of water bodies in the local area where there is no requirement for any form of fencing, let alone meeting the standards set for swimming pools. It is really disappointing to hear you have had that sort of obstructionist BS thrown up to thwart your efforts. A basic post and rail fence with a few strands of plain wire is clearly adequate, especially given there is likely no legal requirement for any form of fencing in such an area anyway.

    Out of curiosity I Googled “swamp boardwalk images”. It was interesting to see the number that had no fencing at all, but it is probably not all that surprising. When you think about saltwater piers and jetties, and similar structures in freshwater bodies, the majority have no fencing along part or all of their structure where they sit above deep water.
     
  15. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    I agree about the BS with the wetland fencing. As soon as that hit, it immediately put the upgrades into the 'too hard' basket. Councils all around Sydney are getting the hard word about amalgamation, so the state of play may be very different next year.

    I had a meeting with the Head and confirmed the area for my Indigenous garden. They are tearing out a useless car park and will put in a garden. Nice to see progress that way rather than the opposite! The native soil is clay, so we will create big banks with sandy soil for species like Waratahs and xanthorrhea.

    I love the idea of a mini sandstone ecosystem. There is an area under a big Bunya pine that I think would be good for a lizard enclosure. They would be a great teaching tool and popular around the school. Because it is in a public area, we will have to build a sturdy aviary with a padlock. That will definitely keep out the foxes! I will put this to the Head next year around this time when I have a start on the main garden layout and plantings. That gives me plenty of time to look at designs, show how it would work into the curriculum and find some pictures of animals and enclosures. I can get the big tank for native fish a lot sooner and have also picked out that spot.

    Next week I have a curriculum meeting with the Jr School, so will gently float the animal ideas as appropriate. I think it is pitiful that the only native animal we keep around the environment centre are the bees. I intend to remedy that!

    If I can get a DT student or two interested in making an aquarium or reptile enclosure, I may be able to get things happening earlier. I think I will drop by the TAS department with some baked goods soon and have a chat about year 12 major works...
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2015
  16. Dopamel

    Dopamel Not so new Member

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    i noticed the stumpy tails at the National Reptile Museum in Canberra absolutely loved shedding against drift wood so i'd definitely have some thick sticks (if you cant get drift wood, it is expensive unless you know where to look) it looks good and the lizards love to use them for shedding posts

    I'd love for you to include stumpy tails in your enclosure but they're expensive :( also have a thermometer and humidity reader around
     
  17. pythonmum

    pythonmum Subscriber Subscriber

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    Stumpy tails are nice, but I want locals so I don't have to get too elaborate with the enclosure climate control. I am tending toward the Cunningham's skinks, as they are a bit slower than the dragons and eat just about anything. The preschoolers would love to feed them organic produce from the garden. A few insects and snails would be fun, too. We don't use any pesticides in the area, so it would be safe to feed them wild invertebrates.

    I have had second thoughts about the area by the tree, as there is no electricity to the area and a heat rock or tile is probably a good idea for winter. However, I think that the baked goods to the DT teachers is a good way to start my enclosure!
     
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