HOUGHTON - When Philip LaTendresse Elementary School fifth-grader Rylie Koskinen picked up the massive toad from Africa, it inflated itself to nearly the size of her head.
"When I put him down, he got smaller," she told herpetologist Michael Ralbovsky, who'd brought the toad to the Rozsa Center as part of his Rainforest Reptile Show.
About 1,800 local elementary school students celebrated Earth Day at the Rozsa with Ralbovsky, and his wife and partner Joaney Gallagher, during two performances of the show. They were joined by several guests rarely seen in the Keweenaw, including a large African lizard, a Central African toad, Fred the Alligator, a Gabon Viper and an African Spur Tortoise.
Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette
Michael Ralbovsky of Rainforest Reptile Shows introduces his friend Fred the alligator to Copper Country elementary students at the Michigan Technological University Rozsa Center Tuesday.
The event was part of the Rozsa's Class Acts program, which brings students from within the Copper Country Intermediate School District to special Rozsa events for $1 per student, and according to Rozsa Center Marketing Director Bethany Jones, the program even offers districts busing assistance to help as many students as possible attend.
The goal of the Earth Day event, according to Ralbovsky, was to teach students respect for the animals, and for the earth around them.
"I think they realize, because they've been seized (from illegal situations), that these animals need help - and not just the fuzzy kind," added Gallagher, executive director of Rainforest Reptile Shows.
"I hope they understand that all animals need our support, and we need to maintain their habitat. No matter how big or small, they need a place to live," she added.
Another major lesson of the day was how the various animals adapted to fit into their environment. Like all toads, the African toad Koskinen made friends with had no teeth and no claws. Frogs, Ralbovsky explained, have both, as well as wet, slimy backs unlike the toads' dry ones, better suited to the toads' lifestyle living out of the water.
Despite the lack of teeth, though, the African toad was certainly a carnivore.
"It also eats other toads sometimes," Ralbovsky said.
Each time Ralbovsky demonstrated an adaptation, he had the students repeat the word, and they hollered back with enthusiasm.
Another unique adaptation was the lizard's third eye, which he called a pineal eye. That eye was designed only to register light, he said. The lizard, he added, was one of the few animals in Africa that can kill and eat a cobra.
After the show, Kara Laramore, another Philip LaTendresse student, recalled a unique fact about alligators, which go through about 6,000 teeth in a lifetime.
"They've got a lot of teeth, about 80 at time," she said, adding "they probably get a lot of money from the tooth fairly."
On the urban myth front, Ralbovsky, who also captures released exotic pets in the Boston area, said he has known of alligators in sewers.
"The biggest I've caught in a sewer was six-and-a-half feet," he said.
Asked about good Earth Day activities, student Zoie Thierry suggested something Ralbovsky later echoed backstage, though he hadn't mentioned it during his act.
"Every Earth Day you should pick up all the trash you see," she said. "Or every day, even when it's not Earth Day."
Ralbovsky echoed the sentiment.
"If you want to do something for the earth, don't litter," he said. "I want them to go away with respect for all living things. If you don't respect where you live, you won't ever respect animals."
As far as the show's impact, Gallagher said she hoped the show would inspire students to be good ecological citizens.
"If you can see it and smell it, you'll want to do something about it," she said.