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Exotic animal enthusiast and tortoise team up to educate preschoolers

Staff writer

Fidgeting in anticipation of a creature they had heard about but never seen, preschoolers were a cacophony of “cool and eww” as Archie Bumper extended his neck to examine their fascinated faces.

Archie is a red-footed tortoise. His Jan. 21 visit to Marion Elementary School was part of a hands-on learning presentation chaperoned by exotic animal enthusiast Steve Unruh who is also known as the “snake guy, lizard guy, frog guy, and turtle guy,” among students.

“Archie is cold-blooded, so that means he can’t warm himself up,” Unruh said as he spread two thick towels in the center of a student circle. “We don’t want him to catch a cold. Tortoises like him usually live in tropical jungle areas.”

Now about 32 years old, Archie is used to children petting him, Unruh said.

Unruh regularly borrows animals like Archie from a pet store in Newton to help educate children.

Currently about the size of a small dog, Archie will continue to grow another 30 to 40 years and double in size by the end of his lifespan, Unruh said.

“Turtles walk slow,” one preschooler commented.

Another student asked what kind of food Archie eats, to which Unruh replied, “He is omnivorous, which means he eats variety of things, but mostly fruit and vegetation, and I have a couple treats for him today.”

Archie picked and nibbled at an apple slice, he devoured a portion of banana leaving a only squishy mustache on his beak.

“Archie’s doesn’t have teeth like we do,” Unruh said. “His upper and lower jaws are solid bone. Tortoises like him also drool.”

While Archie munched treats, students were allowed to pet Archie’s dark colored shell and examine its orange spots with a magnifying glass.

When Unruh visited the class earlier this year with a snake for “S week,” he told students about Archie. He was invited to make an encore appearance with his shelled friend.

“Preschool is all about hands-on learning,” Beery said. “Animals are a great way for kids to make a letter/sound connection. They help make the letters and their sounds more ‘real’ to kids.”

Unruh not only enjoys sharing his knowledge with children, but also believes it is his duty as a citizen to help educate Marion’s youth.

“I have an appreciation for all living beings,” Unruh said after the presentation. “The same love I have for my community also extends into the animal kingdom. I’d like to see other people get more involved their community, too.”

Last modified Jan. 29, 2015

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