BOUNTIFUL -- First-graders at Valley View Elementary had a few extra creepy and crawly lessons added to their normal curriculum Tuesday when they got to see and hold some unusual creatures.
Cary Drage, with Creature Encounters of Utah, unleashed several animals, including lizards, snakes and spiders for the kids.
The students jumped when Drage put two bearded dragon lizards out on their desks. One bearded dragon tried to race off, but stopped just in time to turn around and stare down the students.The other dragon stayed put, basking in the extra attention.
All the students had a chance to pet the dragons, while Drage talked about the spikes coming out of their cheeks.
"The spikes are actually quite soft, but when they encounter another lizard or bird that wants to eat them, they puff out their cheeks, making their spikes look more menacing, in hopes of deterring the animal," Drage said.
Student Isaac Baldwin said he was surprised when he first petted the bearded dragon.
"The lizard was kind of rough, but on the sides, it was soft," Isaac said. "It was kind of cool, because they look weird."
The first-graders have been learning about animals this year, so teachers Michelle Francis and Connie Woodland decided to enhance their experience.
"We thought this would be a great experience for them to see some of the animals we are studying this year up close," Woodland said. "Even my real shy ones held the animals."
When Drage pulled out two rose hair tarantulas, explaining that the species from Chile does not have a dangerous bite, nearly the entire class wanted to hold one.
The 3-inch, furry critter was a little daunting to some. Adrian Price, who put on a brave face while holding it, quickly informed Drage, "I don't want to hold it anymore."
Adrian later said she thought it would bite her.
"Nothing happened, so it was kind of fun," she said.
While the students took turns holding the hairy spiders, Drage explained that the tarantula has eight eyes and eight legs, and that it technically does not have a mouth, instead using its two teeth to bite food and stick its hollow tongue into it, basically drinking its food instead of chewing.
After the spiders, Drage pulled out of a pillowcase a large, black and brown dumeril's boa, one of the smaller boas that comes from Madagascar, he said, reaching a length of only 6 feet versus their boa counterparts, which can reach a length of 12 feet.
With the snake out of the container, there was a mixed reaction from students. A few scattered "ewws" were drowned out by the cheers of several other students declaring, "That's awesome."
Drage showed them the scales on the snake -- smooth on top, but a little rough on the bottom. He explained how the snake uses those scales that are attached to strong muscles to travel.
"It's almost like they are doing a belly dance, because they roll the muscles, which moves the scales, which grips the ground, and they can crawl along," Drage said.
Drage said he likes having the chance to teach kids about animals and how to be good pet owners.
"Parents need help teaching responsibility and respect of pets, so this is something the kids need to know. Besides, who doesn't like playing with animals?"