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Getting Up Close and Personal with Reptiles

Friends of the Oakton Library sponsor a hands-on educational program for kids

The conference room was stuffed to the gills on Saturday morning with about 75 kids, many of them accompanied by an adult, who came out to enjoy Reptile Wonders.

The program is a traveling nature center, owned and operated for more than 20 years by Brian Kristal of Westminster, Md.

For Kristal, who has an animal management degree from the University of Maryland, it’s all about teaching kids “everything reptiles” through an interpretive, interactive, hands-on program.

Are snakebites a job hazard?  “Absolutely,” he said, but remember, “people get bit by animals [like mosquitoes] everyday!”

Kristal owns close to 115 animals and travels throughout the region performing at schools, libraries, birthday parties and corporate events.

The crowd watched in wide-eyed amazement and the gasps of excitement grew as Kristal introduced each animal.

Today Kristal introduced Michelangelo, an eastern painted turtle; Captain Bitey, a snapping turtle; Mrs. T, a male spurred African tortoise; Squishy, a bearded dragon; Sassafras, a blue-tongued skunk; P.J., a Savannah Monitor lizard, a bull snake and Lemon Drop, the mighty Burmese Python.

For almost an hour, Kristal, ably assisted by Ms. Sarah-Beth, weaved fact, fun and fiction into captivating animal tales. He shares, for example, where these animals live, what they eat and what eats them. 

Kristal engages his audience, assuring members they can touch or “just watch.” 

He also describes each animal’s adaptations and their specific defenses. 

Reptiles are a big draw for Rose Mangino, age 9, who is on her summer break from Waples Mill Elementary School.  She says she “loves snakes.”

“I like that they can swallow something in just one bite,” she said. 

Kristal reminds the audience a snake usually eats “once every three weeks.”

Kristal admits it’s a big job taking care of so many reptiles. When there’s a power outage, for example, it’s a big problem in the winter, as reptiles can’t provide their own body heat.

“We have a lot of back-up generators,” he said, smiling. 

The Friends of Oakton and George Mason libraries co-sponsored the program as part of a large array of

Asia Williams, a parent active on the Providence Elementary PTA said she was going to investigate having Reptile Wonders come to her school. 

“He was good with the kids, and funny, but gave lots of interesting information in short bits,” she said.

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