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Zoo demonstration part of Adrian's 'Christmas in July'

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Ethan Langseth, Adrian, touches a blue-tongued skink shown by Great Plains Zoo representative Ashley Verdeck Saturday as part of Christmas in July in Adrian.

ADRIAN — Did you know that humans and giraffes have the same number of bones in their necks? Or that Madagascar hissing cockroaches can live up to a week without their head?

Children and adults who attended the Sanford Zoo Express Demonstration on Saturday, hosted as part of Adrian’s Christmas in July, learned these facts and more as Education Specialist Ashley Verdeck taught the audience about vertebrate and invertebrate animals from southwest Minnesota to as far away as Australia.

As part of the demonstration, Verdeck brought two Madagascar hissing cockroaches, an eastern screech owl named Aphrodite, a blue-tongued skink and a double-striped skunk named Luna.

Verdeck shared information about each animal, including interesting facts and living habits, before allowing audience members to touch all of the animals — except the eastern screech owl, which Verdeck explained “gets nervous when lots of people touch her.”

Verdeck spent about 10 minutes talking about each animal and welcomed questions from the audience afterward.

The traveling exhibit is part of the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Verdeck regularly brings the animals to events to share the 45-minute program.

“We have our own animal collection at the zoo,” Verdeck explained. “It’s kept behind the scenes, and we’re the caretakers of the animals. We train them and get them program ready.”

The mobile zoo program is supported in partnership with Sanford Hospital.

“If a town has a Sanford in it, we absolutely come out if we’re asked, and its free of charge to the town,” Verdeck said. “And as part of that partnership, we also go out to the Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls twice a week. We spend about 15 to 20 minutes in each kid’s room that wants us to come in. We can’t bring any live animals, but we do bring bones and other animal facts.”

Verdeck has been a part of the Sanford Zoo Express Demonstration for about two and a half years. She said her favorite part is still sharing information about animals with children and their parents.

“You can just tell on their face when you bring out an animal and say a fact they didn’t know, or bring out an animal that they haven’t seen before, or teach them something about an animal they’ve known their whole lives — you can see it on their faces, and that is definitely rewarding,” she said.

The zoo demonstration was hosted by the Adrian Town and Country Club as part of the its annual weekend celebration.

“We put it on so we have something for the kids,” Joni Aggen, Town and Country Club member, said. “The whole celebration over the weekend — we try to cover all ages to give them something to do.”

Aggen added that as the number of Town and Country Club members has decreased, events like the one offered by the Sanford Zoo Express Demonstration are a perfect fit for the community.

“They help us because it’s something free and something simple,” she said. “You know, people are so busy these days, and this is a nice event that doesn’t require a lot of people to come help. We can just let them come set up and do their thing.”

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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