Port Townsend sisters, from left, Lauren and Grace Taracka hold two of their pet reptiles. Lauren started a business, Lizardopolis, which visits local schools and events to educate kids about reptiles and amphibians. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend sisters, from left, Lauren and Grace Taracka hold two of their pet reptiles. Lauren started a business, Lizardopolis, which visits local schools and events to educate kids about reptiles and amphibians. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend sisters headed to reptile symposium

PORT TOWNSEND — Sisters Lauren and Grace Taracka are heading to New Mexico from Port Townsend to attend the International Herpetological Symposium after winning the junior herpetologist contest for their work to educate others about reptiles and amphibians.

Lauren, 17, and Grace, 13, won free admission to the event after submitting an application that included an in-depth research project.

Lauren was the winner of the 16-to-18-year-old age group, while Grace won runner-up in the 12-to-15-year-old age group.

The 40th annual symposium will be in the town of Rodeo, N.M., at the Chirichua Desert Museum and includes talks by leading herpetologists and field trips to study reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitats.

The girls will go to New Mexico with their mom, Heather, on July 19-22.

The family is seeking to raise money to cover some expenses.

Lauren won with an essay on western toads and a research project. Lauren has been working with the Northwest Watershed Institute to study the reptiles and amphibians native to the Tarboo Wildlife Preserve northeast of Quilcene through the Youth Environmental Stewardship Program.

Over two years ago, Lauren, who is currently a junior at Port Townsend High School and in Running Start at Peninsula College, started Lizardopolis, an educational program that provides students with hands-on experiences with reptiles and amphibians.

Lauren estimates that she has talked with more than 900 students at area schools, including Blue Heron Middle School, Grant Street Elementary, Chimacum Elementary and Quilcene Elementary, as well as at the YMCA.

“We also do birthday parties,” Lauren said. “It’s mostly educational and then hands-on at the end, and some kids really get to face their fears there at the end.”

Grace, a seventh-grader at Blue Heron Middle School, helps her sister with the presentations.

Between the two of them, they own more than 13 reptiles and amphibians, including a ball python named Marvin, a blue-tongued skink named Mulan and a tortoise.

Lauren enjoys having students hold Marvin.

“He’s a ball python, so they’re very calm and not very squirmy, which makes them easier to hold,” Lauren said. “They have a great disposition.”

The two sister also started a 4-H Club specifically for reptiles. Lauren started Olympic Reptile Club in August.

Now, it has 15 members. The group will participate with live animals in the Jefferson County Fair, set for Aug. 11-13, as well as in the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival Pet Parade next Thursday and the Grand Parade on May 20.

“Kids just joined and all of a sudden, I had this group of enthusiastic kids that wanted to learn about reptiles,” Lauren said.

Lauren talked about these projects in her application

This will be the third year Lauren won admission to the International Herpetological Symposium (IHS). She has been the runner-up in her age group for two consecutive years.

“This is the reason I’ve been able to do what I’ve done so far,” Lauren said. “This year, I can just learn more and I get to talk to the professionals in the career that I want to get into.”

Grace is active in the 4-H Olympic Reptile Club. She wrote an essay on rattlesnakes and the problem with rattlesnake roundups.

“They’re basically these contests where people kill a lot of snakes,” Grace said.

This will be Grace’s first year attending the symposium.

“I’ve really wanted to go to the International Herpetological Symposium since Lauren’s been going,” Grace said. “She really inspires me.”

Since Lauren won her age group, she won free admission to the symposium, airfare and lodging for her and her mom.

However, Heather said they will need to rent a car and cover Grace’s airfare as well as basic expenses such as food.

Donations can be made online at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-gofundme-tarackasisters.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].

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