Dale library gets a wild start for summer reading program

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By Don Steen ~ Staff Writer • reporter@psci.net

The Dale branch of Lincoln Heritage Public Library kicked off its summer reading program with a visit from Animal Tales, featuring live animals from six continents. Grant Allen, naturalist for the organization, told the crowd he would have brought along a critter from Antarctica as well, but they tend not to fare well in a southern Indiana summer.

The program was made possible with support from Spencer County Bank and Southern Indiana Power.

Kids were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with a number of animals, as well as show off some of what they learned in school this year. Allen presented a giant, inflatable globe before each animal was brought out, asking his assistants to point out what continent their visitor hailed from.

The guest list included a smooth-sided toad from South America, a leopard gecko from Asia, a sugar glider from Australia, a legless lizard from Europe, a pygmy hedgehog from Africa, and a boa constrictor from Hog Island. Allen explained some of the interesting quirks from his eclectic bunch of animal friends.

The smooth-sided toad is poisonous, but only if one attempts to eat them. The little fellow sat serenely as Allen remarked on how smooth-sided toads are a rarity, as toads are generally known to have bumpy skin.

The leopard gecko, so named because of its spotted skin, hunts in much the same way as its feline namesake. It is an ambush predator, hiding with its natural camouflage suited for the deserts of central Asia. They are commonly kept as pets due to their docile nature around humans.

The sugar glider of Australia was a bit out of his element, being a nocturnal marsupial from the other side of the world. It took him some time to demonstrate his ability to jump from a tall pole held up by a helpful assistant, gliding across the room to Allen. Sugar gliders are so named for their penchant for sugary foods, such as sap, nectar and fruits. They are similar to flying squirrels, but like other marsupials of Australia, mothers keep their young in a pouch during infancy. 

The legless lizard of Europe was a bit hard to distinguish from a snake. As it’s name suggests, the lizard has no legs and moves itself like a snake. One of the distinctive features of the legless lizard is that it, like its legged cousins, can shed its tail to evade predators. 

The pygmy hedgehog of Africa warranted a bit of care in handling, as its quills can be a bit painful if held the wrong way. Fortunately, the hedgehog was friendly as it was paraded through the crowd, secure in Allen’s hands and confident in its ability to curl up and hide if necessary. 

The grand finale was the Hog Island boa, a native of the Cayos de Cochinos Islands off the coast of Honduras. They are generally calmer than other boa constrictors, as their home environment lacks predators capable of hunting them reliably. It took several kids to help hold this large snake and demonstrate its full length.

Allen himself was born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky. He began his animal career through Nurture to Nature, a wildlife sanctuary he and his mother started together. In 2014, he co-starred in Bandit Patrol on Nat Geo Wild for three seasons. Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at Kentucky Wesleyan College. He joined Animal Tales in 2022 to help educate and entertain others with programs showcasing exotic animals from around the world.

Featured Image: A line of kids stand in awe as they held a Hog Island boa constrictor with the help of naturalist Grant Allen

A Wild time: Children in attendance were introduced to a variety of wild animals through the supervision and help of Allen Grant, and they also got the chance to participate in many fun activities as well