Fourth grade at Vaughn Elementary was more than reading, writing, and arithmetic for Bailey Sullivan. It was the year of science with a specialty in snakes. The discovery that the classroom corn snake laid eggs kick-started Bailey into an emersion in herpetology. “I was the first one to notice (the eggs),” Bailey says.” I skipped a whole week of recess or free time just to study. But since we didn’t have the right stuff, the eggs died. I never had a chance to examine one of the eggs. I could have opened it to see how they formed in it.”

Bailey Sullivan with his summer guest. Bailey and his mom said “snake-sitting” the python has been a treat for the family. Photo by Mindi LaRose

According to Bailey, it was after this extra effort that his teacher, Doug Smith, talked to him about a special assignment. Smith asked Bailey to take care of the classroom python over summer vacation, and cautioned him not to tell any of the other students. A note was sent to his home with the news.

During the last days of school, when Bailey’s mother, Kasey Sullivan, came to pick up the python, Mr. Smith told her he had a wonderful surprise. He was going to let Bailey baby-sit the tarantula, too! Sullivan says with a laugh, “You know the only reason was (that) we’re the only ones that would take him.”  Tarantula is an easy pet to care for, she says: “Just pour in water and give him a cricket every couple of weeks.”

The giant spider is a Red Shield Tarantula. Bailey says, “The cool thing about tarantula is, instead of sucking blood out of food, it eats the whole thing.”

Feeding the python is not such a simple matter. Frozen mice are stocked in the Sullivan family freezer for python dinners. “He eats frozen mice. To thaw out, we put them into hot water, then leave it out (to cool) and dry it.  He eats always from head first, otherwise it’s too hard to eat,” Bailey says, adding that the python’s teeth are just like sandpaper, a fact he learned from Internet research.

Both Bailey and his mother give the python high scores on a pet personality scale. “It’s very nice; you can put him around your neck. It won’t squeeze,” Bailey says.

“It’s going to be hard to give up Snake. We just hold him. He likes it,” his mom ads. “You just fall in love with these creatures.”

Kasey Sullivan appreciates that Smith selected Bailey for the summer baby-sitting job. “Mr. Smith is so wonderful with these children,” she says. “Bailey has three sisters and my husband works away on a tugboat. This is boy stuff.  What a treat. Thank God for Mr. Smith.”

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