Skaneateles: The zoo comes to town

Upstairs in the Skaneateles Library Thursday afternoon, Ashlea Vilello held an American Kestral hawk named Bob in her hand.

In front of her sat a roomful of curious children, who were eager to help her arrive on Bob's diet -- bugs, insects, small birds (the size of a sparrow) and rodents. When asked what kind of animal hunts other animals, however, the room became quite.

Devin Shon, a recent graduate of State Street School, rose to the occasion.

"Predator," he said, breaking the silence.

Vilello furthered the question, asking what kind of animal only eats meat. No, the answer wasn't meat-eater.

"Carnivore," he quickly shot back.

The hawk was the last animal featured in this year's "Zoo to You," a Rosamond Gifford Zoo program that offers inquiry-based education on animals to children across CNY. For every animal prior, Devin was just as engaged.

"Does Fitz smell with his nose or tongue?" he asked during Vilello's presentation on the Northern blue-tongued skink.

"He smells with his nose," Vilello said.

"Because snakes smell with their tongue," Devin said.

Devin was smart to make the connection between snake and skink -- the skink is, like a snake, a reptile, and classification was a key aspect of Vilello 's presentation.

The room was alive with curiosity, though not all questions were as scientific as Devin's -- some had no quick answer.

"Can somebody beat him in a staring contest?" one boy wanted to know, referring to the skink. As Vilello's assistant Carol Lebiedzinski took Fitz around the room, many stared it down, with varied success.

Of all the topics Vilello addressed, none was more prevalent than animal survival methods. The children's knowledge on the subject going in was evident; Vilello challenged them to expand on it.

"What does it mean to be brightly colored?" Vilello asked after pointing out the skink's brilliantly blue tongue.

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