By Bruce Harper Karnes Countywide staff
FALLS CITY – The animals that different countries have placed in space for research were the topic of conversation and viewing Thursday afternoon in Falls City.
The Research, Education, Propagation, Conservation and Outreach (REPCO) organization from Minnesota provided the program as self-named Crocodile Crystal and her mother, Mother Nature Nancy, introduced to an eager audience of about 40 youngsters the various animal species which have been used to study the effects of weightlessness in space.
“Everybody has heard of Jurassic Park, right? Well, nobody will get eaten today,” said Crocodile Crystal as an introduction to bringing out her animals.
Crystal’s real name is Crystal Poyfair and it’s Nancy Poyfair who accompanies her and helps with the program’s presentations. The duo has been touring the country with their animals and show, stopping at numerous libraries along the way to entertain and educate the young readers.
The first animal presented to the attentive crowd was a toad. A volunteer from the audience was asked to come forward and make sure the toad did not hop off the provided green carpet.
Crystal explained how the toad would act in a gravity-free space capsule.
“It would just float around, kicking off the sides of his compartment, upside down or not. It got along just fine in space,” said Crocodile Crystal.
“Everybody’s heard that if you kiss a toad or frog, it might turn into a young prince?” asked Crystal.
“Do I have any volunteers?” holding up the toad to the kids. Everyone laughed but the answer was, of course, no.
It took a little coaxing, but Crystal puckered up and kissed the toad, but no prince appeared. She went on to explain how to tell a male toad or frog from a female of the species.
“A white or pale patch under the chin tells you it is a female and a dark or black patch under the throat tells you it is a male,” Poyfair said.
She looked under the chin of the toad she was holding, showing its pale patch to the audience, and explained, “That’s why it didn’t turn into a prince. This is a female toad.”
The next animal required another volunteer. A young boy eagerly raised his hand and was asked to come up front, turn toward the audience and hold out both hands, palms up.
The audience was asked not to say what the next animal was as she brought it out for everyone to see. The youngsters recoiled just a bit, but did not reveal the identity to the volunteer.
Crocodile Crystal gently placed about a two- or three-foot corn snake across the volunteer’s hands. He handled it like an old pro, gently holding the yellow and white snake as it wreathed across his hands and arms.
A Russian tortoise was the next creature to be presented. Crystal explained the Russians sent such a reptile to space in their Sputnik program back in the 1950s.
The tortoise had a few problems in space as it was always getting turned upside down and had a hard time righting itself. But, with no gravity it was not too bad for the tortoise.
Another turtle was presented and a race between the two was suggested. The race got off to a very slow start as neither animal was too comfortable performing or showing any speed to the gathered children.
“OK, let’s bring out a pro racer,” said Crystal as she hefted a common box turtle out and into the contest. He took off across the green carpet and finished the race as the easy winner.
When asked if the kids in the audience liked furry animals, the answer was a resounding yes. She went behind the table and slowly brought out a plastic container filled with sand and a tarantula.
“It’s furry and fuzzy,” she told the crowd of suddenly noisy attendees. Crystal explained all sorts of spiders and big tarantulas have been sent into space.
“They all performed just great, making their webs just as they do back on earth,” Crystal said.
“Space did not bother the eight-legged creatures at all.”
A gecko and a box of mealworms were brought out to end the presentations. The lizard really enjoyed space. It acted like it was all its playground, bouncing and jumping around – just enjoying the ride, she explained. The mealworms had two uses in space, Crystal explained.
“Space programs sent them up to test if they were affected by weightlessness and they were also used as a protein source as food for the people at the space station. Who wants to try a mealworm?” asked Crocodile Crystal.
There were no takers. The audience then lined up to get a chance to touch the corn snake and one of the turtles. Some were eager to feel the animals but a few were hesitant as expected.