Cohen Hawkins was nervous after he bravely volunteered to help Serengeti Steve, aka Steve Ceriotti, at the beginning of his reptile show at the M.W. Boudreaux Visitor Center at Mark Twain Lake on Saturday.
Ceriotti, a herpetologist by training, is a master showman and educator. He was asking Hawkins, 10, of Carrollton, Mo., to remain still while he reached into a basket for a what was believed to be a snake.
“I said not to move,” Ceriotti said as Hawkins tried to peak around to see what was coming. “Keep your head still.”
Replied Hawkins in a loud voice: “I am keeping my head still.”
For a little over an hour, Ceriotti toyed with audience members, entertaining about 80 people – mostly children with their parents – who were packed into the meeting room of the Bourdreaux Visitor Center, alternately using a loud voice to cajole startled reactions, and then quietly explaining the nature of the reptiles he was displaying.
Ceriotti owns a company called the Reptile Experience, which is based in St. Louis, he performs up to 600 shows a year, displaying the animals he owns. His goal is to take the fear and mystery out of reptiles.
He showed a lizard, snakes, a tarantula, alligator and a scorpion. Ceriotti is in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding a live scorpion in his mouth for 17 minutes – the previous record was two minutes. He once kissed a cobra, and he made the Las Vegas finals of the NBC-TV show, “America’s Got Talent.”
At the midpoint of the presentation, he called for a boy and a girl to volunteer to assist.
“Do you like turtles,” he asked them?
Both nodded their heads yes.
“To hold a turtle, you need to place your hands this,” he said, holding his hands level at his waist equal distance apart. “Then you lift straight up.”
After a build up with them, Ceriotti lifted the lid on his basket.
The boy jumped back with a loud scream. The basket did to contain a turtle. Instead, the pair gazed down into a basket with a live alligator. They both ran back to be with their parents.
“I never said I brought a turtle,” said loudly as the audience laughed. “I just asked if you like turtles.” He proceeded to move around with the alligator, at one point placing his snout into his mouth – briefly.
He explained that while it is impossible to train alligators, that it was possible to “condition” them to not fear humans.
In his final act, Ceriotti produced a 4-year-old, 14-foot reticulated python. He said the python, which is has not yet named, is the daughter of the world’s longest snake, a 27-foot reticulated python named Medusa, which is owned by Full Moon Productions Inc. of Kansas City.
For Mary Hustead, 7, of Ewing, Mo., the 14-foot python was her second snake of the day. Ceriotti had her cradling the head of the huge snake, while another 10 children lined up to hold the snake.
“I was a kind of a little bit afraid,” she said afterward. “It feels kind of slimy…but I did it.”
After the Mark Twain Lake Show, Ceriotti packed up for a two-hour drive to his next show.