'Wildman Phil' provides lesson in 'creepy crawlers' at Prescott library
PRESCOTT - Creepy, scary, and dangerous: That was the promise, and Philip Rakoci more than delivered during his programs at the Prescott Public Library this past week.
With a running commentary that kept the roomful of mostly 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds screaming, screeching, and laughing, Rakoci (also known as Wildman Phil) ran through a lineup of the type of reptiles and insects that can keep kids up at night.
But, along with the entertaining chatter, Rakoci imparted a message: Despite the "creepy" rap of the scorpions, snakes, and lizards, "That doesn't mean they're out to get you."
Throughout the Thursday morning program at the Prescott Library, Rakoci repeatedly reminded the audience members that the scary-looking creatures are at their most dangerous when provoked.
As he revealed a large scorpion, for instance, Rakoci responded to the kids' screams by noting, "You find a scorpion, you want to leave him alone. Of course, you don't have to tell most people that."
Although venomous, the scorpion's stinger is more an existence tool than an attack tool, Rakoci said.
"They don't have that stinger just to come attack people," he said. "They have this stinger to kill their food."
The assurances were enough to convince several of the children to come forward as volunteers to hold snakes and lizards. One 8-year-old boy even agreed to have a lizard rest on his head.
Rakoci, an Arizona native who lives in Casa Grande, terms himself a "little boy who never grew up. I still come home with lizards in my pocket."
After Thursday's show, he noted that he did his first animal show at the age of 13, and later earned a degree in biology/zoology.
Now, he conducts hundreds of shows a year all over the U.S., and he is filming a pilot for a one-hour television show.
Martha Baden, the lead librarian for youth services, said the Prescott Library chose the "Wildman Phil" show from a list of summer programs that the Arizona State Library makes available.
Baden estimated that the Thursday morning program attracted 165 children, many from the Rotary Summer School, along with about 50 adults. Another show took place later that afternoon.
Rakoci tied the program to the library's mission, when he encouraged the crowd to read about the animals he showed.
"Check out a book," he said. "That's how I learned about these animals; I read books."