Bill the ball python was curled in a ball in Sarah Schoenberg's palm, not at all disturbed to be the center of attention by a class of Bishop Ryan seventh-graders last week.
"That's why they're called ball pythons," explained Schoenberg, one of two Roosevelt Park Zoo educators who were visiting life science teacher JoAnn Schapp's class. "They like to sit in a ball all the time."
Since the zoo was flooded this summer, Bill's temporary home has been in a cage at Roosevelt Park Zoo North, a building the zoo is renting. Schoenberg said the lazy Bill is also a lazy eater. She can put one or two frozen mice -- "mousicles," as Schapp coined them -- into his cage one night and he might not have eaten them by the next day.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jennifer Fry introduces Lulu, a domestic ferret, to seventh-graders in a life science class at Bishop Ryan.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Sarah Schoenberg shows off Bill the ball python to students at Bishop Ryan.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jennifer Fry, right, let seventh-graders in a life science class at Bishop Ryan pet Lulu the domestic ferret.
Ball pythons can go for up to a year without eating anything at all.
Bill doesn't get to kill his prey for a couple of other reasons.
"I won't kill a mouse for him to eat," said Schoenberg, who is bird and reptile keeper. The zoo also doesn't have enough staff to keep live mice on hand and kill them for the snake to dine on regularly. Instead, they order them in special from a company that kills the mice humanely and then freezes them before shipping them in.
Apparently Bill might not be as docile as he is if he were allowed to exercise his predatory instincts. A snake that dines on live prey will be more aggressive and might be a threat to its caretaker. And, given that it doesn't need to dine every day, it might leave its prey untouched and the prey might attack it instead. Zoo education coordinator Jennifer Fry told the kids a story about a rat that chewed up the snake that was supposed to eat it.
Many of the kids touched the ball python when they were given the opportunity, but a few cringed when Schoenberg brought it within touching distance.
The other animal they brought into the classroom was Lulu the domestic ferret, potentially a cuddlier creature.
Fry said Lulu lives in a cage in the zoo's temporary office at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. Her cousin, the black-footed ferret, was threatened with extinction as recently as 1979. The black-footed ferret lives on prairie dogs, which were often killed by ranchers who considered them a nuisance, and the animal's natural habitat was threatened. The population was replenished when a remnant population was found in Wyoming and scientists started a breeding program.
Fry said the zoo is able to do community outreach programs for free this year at public and private schools in the Minot area thanks to grants. Teachers interested in having the zoo educators visit should call the zoo office for more information.