Up-close look at web of life

COSTA MESA — Animal pelts covered a table littered with the jaw bones of different animals, a stuffed opossum, ferret and bird, and small cages that housed a fat hissing cockroach, a beetle with spindly legs and a tarantula preparing to molt.

Out of one of the largest cages, Michelle Price pulled a snake that was more than a foot long. Its scales shimmered a silvery-purple as she held the reptile, wrapped around her hand, to show students at Woodland Elementary School.

"She's using her tongue to smell," Price told the students as the snake's head weaved around with its tongue poking in and out. "She's smelling the first-graders saying, 'Do I like first-graders?'"

The snake was one of the creatures Rebecca Olsen's first-grade class was shown Thursday morning as they learned about omnivores, carnivores, herbivores and how they all fit into the web of life at a special lesson by Price from Science on the Go, a mobile program that gives hands-on science lessons to students around Southern California.

"When we're looking at animals, it's really important for us to figure out where they fit on the food chain," Price said.

The soon-to-be second-graders reviewed the difference between mammals and amphibians, learned what every living thing needs (water, oxygen, energy and temperature control) and were given a sneak peek at science lessons to come with the introduction of photosynthesis — a fifth-grade word.

David Vargas, 7, said his favorite part was seeing the snake, and his classmate Lilly Urresti, 7, agreed.

For Lilly, seeing the snake was exciting not scary. She liked seeing the snake and the lesson.

"I thought it was interesting," she said. "It was interesting about invertebrates."

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