Museum visitors learn facts and myths about S.C. wildlife

Photo by Jacob Wingard Sean Poppy holds Scooter the coyote to keep him calm as he is presented. The animal was struck by a vehicle years ago and has since recovered.

Halloween might be all about the costumes, candy and scares but this year the Savannah River Ecology Lab and the Aiken County Historical Museum did something a little different. They invited the public to join them for a lecture on the myths and facts about some of South Carolina’s wildlife.

“While this wasn’t anything spooky, it was a nice Halloween family activity,” Brenda Baratto, executive director of the museum, said.

Orchestrated by Sean Poppy, outreach coordinator for the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab, the event featured several live animals for both children and adults to marvel at. As part of the presentation, Poppy would explain a bit about the animals, their defense mechanisms and the myths and legends associated with each one.

Poppy’s animals included a bullfrog, a toad, South Carolina’s state amphibian the spotted salamander, a glass snake, a coach whip snake, a snapping turtle, a box turtle, alligators, a great horned owl, an opossum and a coyote.

Poppy gave an interesting factoid about each animal; for example, the bullfrog could prey on baby alligators thanks to its large size and wide mouth. When it came to myths, Poppy was quick to dispel one of the most prevalent.

“You cannot get warts from a toad going to the bathroom on you,” Poppy said while the crowd laughed in response.

There were no scares during the event; however, Poppy made sure to tell one old wives’ tale about the coach whip snake.

“This snake is said to chase you down and whip you to death,” he said. “These snakes also have a very slender tail. The stories used to say that to make sure you were dead after whipping you, the snake would stick its tail into your nose. If it felt you breathing, then the snake would keep whipping you.”

When the talk concluded, Poppy allowed the visitors to gather around and take closer looks at the animals and handle some of the smaller ones.

The great horned owl, snapping turtle and coyote could not to be handled due to their skittish nature and potential to harm others.

“This was the first time we’ve ever done this,” Baratto said. “We felt that it tied into the museum thanks to our natural history section. We were pleased with the turn out, especially with so much going on.”

The museum plans to invite the Savannah River Ecology Lab back in the future for more talks.