A room full of wide-eyed Simi Valley elementary school students watched intently as Julius Squeezer, a 7-foot-long boa constrictor, made the rounds of the auditorium Wednesday.
None of the youngsters answered right away when asked why the slithering creature stuck out his forked black tongue occasionally. Then one student raised her arm tentatively.
"Because he's smelling," said Yvonne Jones, 7, a second-grader at Simi Valley Elementary School.
Not only that, the snake uses his tongue to determine the size of objects and if they are edible, added Lisa Burington, a trainer with the Six Flags Magic Mountain Animal Chatter show, which visited two local schools Wednesday.
In the program, students get a close-up look at exotic and domestic animals to learn about their habitats and behaviors. The creatures, including Rusty the llama, Henry the great horned owl and Cinderella the turkey vulture, earlier in the day visited Township Elementary School.
The animals regularly are displayed in educational shows at the amusement park in Valencia, Burington said. The school programs have been conducted throughout Southern California as a public service since 1973, she said.
The purpose of the program is to teach students about the differences between wild and domestic animals, Burington said.
"The children always enjoy animals, and at the same time they learn an important lesson about conservation," Simi elementary's Principal Barbara Patten said.