By Curt Yeomans
Many of the children cringed in fear as the snake slowly turned it's head toward them, and began to reach out for the frightened youths.
The pink, albino, corn snake's thin, red tongue slid in and out of her mouth as she took in the scent of the children on Tuesday. As the serpent's tongue slid back into her mouth, she tasted the aroma of the strangers who were only sitting two feet away from her. That happens because a snake doesn't have a nose, but it uses its tongue to taste the scent of whatever is around it.
For the record, the children faced no danger. It is non-venomous, and the 20 children -- 3-year olds from the Bright Star Early Learning Center in Rex -- were too big to be eaten by the snake.
A visit with the snake was part of a field trip by the toddlers to the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve. They took a hike around a short trail, and then got face-to-face with other reptiles.
"I learned the snake's skin is the color of bubble gum, because she's about to shed her skin," said Jordan Jones, a student at the Bright Star Early Learning Center.
The nature preserve, located at 5665 Reynolds Road in Morrow, usually hosts about four classes every week, from March to November. More than 4,000 students visit the preserve annually to participate in educational programs.
The busiest time of the year is October, when classes are visiting virtually every weekday, said Will Wagner, a Nature Preserve ranger.
"We share the duties of leading these hikes," Wagner said. "We try to keep the groups to 25 children, or less. If there are 50 students who come for a visit, we'll split them into two groups. One ranger will take a group in one direction, and I'll take another group in the other direction."
The classes begin their trips to the nature preserve by taking a hike around a small walking area next to the nature center. The children learn about plants which grow in Georgia. They hear lectures on eco-systems, ranging from the forests to ponds, and lakes.
The hikes begin at a daffodil near the front door of the nature center. Children learn about bees, pollination and honey. The hikes end at a small lake behind the center, where the focus is on fish, and other aquatic wildlife.
The youths occasionally get to see wildlife, such as squirrels, Canada Geese and Blue Jays.
Later, the young visitors go into the nature center and get up close and personal with area reptiles. There are some turtles in the nature center, but many of the reptiles are snakes, including copperheads and the albino, corn snake.
"We generally try to teach them about the flora and fauna that are indigenous to Georgia, particularly Clayton County," Wagner said. "With children as young as [the students from the Bright Star Early Learning Center], though, we are just trying to teach them how to appreciate nature."