Families check out creepy creatures at nature center

By DENISE SNODELL Special to The Star


Pete Morrone and his two kids, Rianna, 4, and Coby, 7, check out a
prairie king snake shown in its cage by Seth Mullis, a Johnson
County Parks and Recreation officer. The recent presentation was
part of a series of family programs at the Ernie Miller Nature
Center in Olathe.

I think my blood pressure spiked,” said Donna Elliott of
Shawnee as she described her close encounter with the she
exoskeleton of a tarantula. “I wasn’t expecting the

That’s what happens when one attends a lecture called
“The Good, the Bad and the Smelly,” part of an
educational winter series offered by the Ernie Miller Nature Center
in Olathe. Elliot, her 4-year old son Ian, and about 60 other
people stared some repulsive beasts in the eye on a Sunday

A live tarantula joined the party as well, which delighted

“I liked the big spider!” he said.

However, the eight-legged visitor stirred an opposite reaction
with others. One little boy summed up the more popular viewpoint
with a pout and three words, “Get it away.” Maybe this
part covered the “bad.”

Johnson County Park Police Sergeant Chrissy Stirling and Officer
Seth Mullis presented a variety of critters that made the crowd of
families gasp, ooh and ahhh. Stirling’s goal was to dispel
the bad reputations many of these animals have amongst the human

While Mullis carried a caged snake around for close-up views,
Stirling reminded the group that snakes are good.

“They eat mice. We should be thankful for the
snakes.” Now that sounds “good.”

Stirling also offered tips on what to do if you cross a
snake’s path in the wilderness: “Be very calm, step
back and walk away. They’re more scared of you than you are
of them.”

Debatable, judging from the nonverbal cues in the room.

But what about the smelly? Was an olfactory mishap awaiting this
knowledge-hungry group? Perhaps a live Pepe Le Pew hidden in the

Luckily, there were no bad cops giving a lecture. An inoffensive
skunk pelt was passed around the room, along with skunk facts and
tips on how to counteract the smell of this mammal’s spray.
Something about tomato juice.

In Pepe’s place, his more socially acceptable weasel
cousin paid a visit. Romeo, a live ferret, was a crowd pleaser, and
even reminded Prairie Village resident Anthony Stiles, 6, of his
own pets: “He’s like my guinea pigs.”

Eight-year-old brother Elliot still preferred the arachnid
visitor: “It has eight legs and it’s hairy.”

People interested in learning about animals and nature can
attend Sunday afternoon lectures through February.

Be warned, though. Exposure to good, bad or smelly creatures
could give some family members unconventional ideas for household
companions. Pete Stiles, father of the two boys, had an idea:
“I was suggesting we get a tarantula. They make great

His wife, Wendy Madarasz, had another idea: “I like them

Sounds like a plan, Mom. A good one.

Posted on Fri, Jan. 18, 2008 10:15 PM


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