When most people see snakes, they run away fast. But a group of about 40 Ceres children and 21 adults went out of their way Monday afternoon to flock to the Ceres Library Monday to see Python Ron McGee's educational exhibit of slithering and crawling creatures.
McGee started out with the smallest creatures in his collection. He pulled out a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach and told of about how other cultures - like in the Philippines where they eat crickets - actually eat certain bugs.
"Now you guys might not think you eat bugs but everybody in this audience eats bugs," said McGee. "There's bugs in your food whether you want to believe it or not. I've eaten bugs on purpose and they're a lot better than you think they are."
McGee traces back his interest in snakes back to his childhood growing up in Snelling where he was encouraged to go out and trap bugs in a jar. He suggested that kids should never be scared of a bug or snake and kill it, citing the environmental benefits of each one. For example, many snakes keep down the rodent population and a Praying Mantis is great at gobbling up black widow spiders. When showing a corn snake, he noted they can eat 300 to 500 rats in a lifetime.
He followed with a display of a tarantula, which has never been proven to kill anyone from its bite "despite what the movies tell you." The black crawling fuzzy creature is intended to keep insects and rodents under control. "If I put a small mouse in there the spider will kill the mouse and eat it. Their venom is designed to liquefy flesh."
He explained that the hairs on the tarantula are mildly poisonous as a defense and he cautioned kids to leave them alone if encountered. "Let nature be nature," he said.
McGee brought out of one of his plastic containers a bearded dragon lizard.
"He would try to jump out of the box and bite me when I first got him," said McGee, explaining that the previous owners never handled him because they were afraid of him. Despite the animal's attempts to puff up to scare off McGee, he now pets him on the head and he falls asleep in his hand.
"This is my all-time favorite lizard to recommend for the kids to have," said McGee of the bearded dragon.
McGee showed Otis, a bearded dragon from Australia and a large Black and White Tegu, which are not good for kids' pets since they have powerful jaws that can bite. He shared that the animal can smell food up to a mile away through its tongue.
"They found out that some of these lizards are more intelligent than a dog and we usually don't associate that kind of intelligence with these animals."
McGee suggests that anyone wanting to own a pet should research its growth and needs.
"Calvin," a Cayman Lizard, eats aquatic snails, crayfish and clams. He buys bags of sea food at the Asian markets in Modesto for food.
"Snakes are not mean, they are afraid of you," McGee said. "If you're up here like me and the snake is down there, what do we look like to the snake? A giant. They don't what you are and then they bite because they have no arms and legs to fight with."
Before bringing out a big lizard to "cuddle with," McGee announced his name was "Puppy." "I always name my animals nice names so people are not afraid of them. If I named a lizard ‘Killer' then we've got a different idea of what I'm ready to take him. But since he's Puppy it makes you want to see him."
When he brought out Puppy, as Asian Water Monitor Lizard, gasps came from the kids.
"You may think this lizard is big but I have one of these whose body is bigger than my wife and wife is not that big," said McGee. "This lizard can get to be 160 pounds. This is second only to the Kimoto Dragon, which is the biggest lizard in the world."
"Steve," an African spur tortoise that can grow as big as a table top, reach 250 pounds, and live over 100 years, was brought out by McGee.
"If you went down to your local pet store, they're only about the size of a golf ball. This is why you parents need to research because if you bought one of these without knowing what you bought, it's the third largest species of tortoise in the world."
They only eat grass, fruits and vegetables.
Many of the snakes in the collection came from people who discovered lost pets in gardens and wanted them to go to a good owner. They called McGee, who has been taking snakes on educational exhibits since 1981. He brought out a corn snake, which can eat up to 500 rats or mice in a lifetime.
"That's what these snakes do for our environment - they keep rodent populations under control," said McGee.
He said venom from snakes contributes to medicines for high blood pressure, cancer and blood thinners. "The pharmaceutical companies just don't tell you that's where it comes from."
He pulled out a Ball python which rolls up in a coil for protection and said it's a great snake for kids to keep as pets. It rarely gets over six feet long.
The only snake that is poisonous in Central Valley, he said, is the Northern Pacific Rattle Snake. In the Philippines, where his wife was raised, there are dozens of poisonous snakes.
At the end of the show, McGee tickled the kids by allowing volunteers to "wear" a belt or headdress of a corn snake. He wrapped the snake around the waist of a girl named Genesis.
"By the way ladies, I don't care how much money you spend on a belt at Macy's or Nordstrom's," McGee told his Ceres audience, "Genesis will get noticed first, I promise. And it's a lot cheaper than Louis Vuitton."
The show ended with McGee bringing out "Julius Squeezer," a Columbian Red-Tailed Boa which he called his "number one problem snake" because it grew from the size of 16 inches long to the size it is today in four years. Because of its size it eats a lot.
He brought out his rarest snake at the end - a large Green Anaconda, the largest species of snakes in the world. It can grow to over 30 feet long and weigh up to 500 pounds. The only local institutions which have one are the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco and the San Francisco Zoo.