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January 14, 2011

For the Love of Lizards: Student Rescues Green Anoles

Failed classroom experiment leads fourth-grader to find homes for tiny reptiles

  • Anoles, like all wild animals, belong in their natural habitats—not in classrooms. iStockphoto.com/Frank Leung

  • Kathryn, pictured here with her adopted gerbil Whiskers, wanted to make sure the anoles would have a good life. P. Koo

When the tiny green lizards first arrived in her classroom, fourth-grader Kathryn Koo was just as excited as the rest of her classmates. Scampering around in their plastic terrariums, the green anoles were adorable and fun to watch. Students were enamored.

Kathryn’s school bought the anoles for all four fourth-grade classrooms as part of a science kit sold by Delta Education, the self-proclaimed “largest producer of curriculum-based elementary school science kits in the United States.”

The company’s marketing materials claimed anoles were ideal for the classroom, saying that the lizards would live for only one year and that the crickets provided with the kit would reproduce and be a long-lasting food source. The science kit, however, did not live up to its promises.

Little creatures, big problems

First, the plastic terrariums melted when used with the heat lamps required by the cold-blooded critters. The school paid to replace them with glass terrariums. Then all the crickets were eaten before they could reproduce, so the school started purchasing crickets to feed the anoles. Teachers did additional research and discovered that anoles can in fact live for seven years in captivity, much longer than the advertised life span of one year.  

Teachers soon came to the conclusion that anole-raising was not an ideal classroom activity. They sent home anole care sheets and asked if any families might be willing to adopt a lizard or two, but there were few takers.

Enter young Kathryn, who couldn’t stand to think of the anoles “not having a good life.” She asked her mom, Patty Koo, how they could find good homes for the lizards, and they located a reptile rescue that agreed to take in all of them. The Koos looked after the anoles in their home for one night before bringing them to the reptile rescue.

“They are very cute but have a lot of needs,” says Patty, who contacted us with her concerns about the project. She doesn’t fault her daughter’s school, which preferred not to be identified, but feels that Delta Education should be more responsible and upfront with its customers. “If this company insists on selling animals, they should be clear about the care requirements and not send them out to die in classrooms.”

Endangering people and animals

There are a variety of reasons reptiles should not be kept as pets at home or in the classroom. All reptiles, including anoles, carry Salmonella bacteria that can be harmful to humans. Reptile-associated salmonellosis can even be fatal to children, who are perhaps more at risk because they are less likely to wash their hands after handling reptiles.

Also of concern is the live reptile trade, for which animals are often taken from the wild. This poorly regulated and inhumane industry negatively impacts ecosystems and animal populations.

Stephanie Clark, Manager of Training for the Student Outreach department of The HSUS, sent a letter to the president of Delta Education detailing these concerns and offering the opportunity to develop more humane science activities.

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