Tuesday, February 12, 2019


I just delivered a kick-ass class about taxonomy to a bunch of elementary school children.  

I have a pet corn snake, or I should say, my daughter Anna has a pet corn snake that lives in my husband’s office and that I commandeer from time to time to show to my nature club kids. The snake road show usually comprises of me doing a dramatic interpretation of Johnny Cash singing Shel Silverstein’s poem I’m being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor.  I step into a giant slinky and sing OH NO, he’s up to my toes and the kids go nuts. Soon everyone is being swallowed… It is a fun introduction to my snake Stormy who is an easy-going snake and doesn’t mind climbing through a jungle of kids before he is let into an acrylic snake maze where he amazes the kids with his twisting and turning through the tight corridors in search of Micky.

This routine is a hit with the four and five-year-old crowd, however, elementary kids don’t necessarily want to see me getting into a slinky and singing off key. It’s not funny then. Plus, we are a bona fide nature club, and as such, I feel it is my duty to open the elementary students’ eyes to the world of biophilia.  The truth is, as I told my kids today, they are already budding biologists. From the moment they can discern a cat from a dog, a bird from a frog, they are classifying the world and beginning to understand The Tree of Life. And that’s when I launched into my lecture about taxonomy.

What is the first thing you do when your mom asks you to clean your room?

Immediately one kid shouts out, I sort my clothes.

Correct. The animal kingdom is just like your clothes and it too gets organized into groups -

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Yikes. Too much.

King Philip Came Over From Great Spain.

Mnemonics are good way to remember long lists but as my nature club kids pointed out - who ever  heard of Great Spain? So I shared a tip I learned from my friend and fellow Audubon classmate Susan. She said, Everyone knows Kingdom, Phylum and Genus, Species so just remember to COF (or cough) in the middle. How easy is that?!

At this point, I asked the kids to help me sort a set of animal posters into major groups to demonstrate my point –


These are the five Classes under the Animal Phylum called Chordata.
Then we separated the mammals into even smaller groups -

Hoofed animals
And African Animals

At this point, the kids all smiled because they knew they had just categorized the animals at the Family level. After that, I explained we call the Genus, Species of most animals by their common name.

The kids really liked sorting the animal cards.  And they graciously put up with the long introduction about my favorite member of the Colubridae family, Pantherophis, guttatus better known as a corn snake. Most of all, the kids loved holding Stormy.