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For the love of lizards

It’s not every day that children are able to interact with exotic animals like prehensile-tailed skinks and Ball Pythons, but Stockton native Teressa Killeen has turned the experience into a scaly, educational encounter for local youth through Lizard Lady Reptiles.

Since 1990, Killeen’s reptile show has traveled to schools, birthday parties, summer camps and libraries, sharing a wildlife experience which allows participants to interact with lizards and the like typically found only in the wild. The Lizard Lady originally rose to fame in the Bay Area, but brought her show home to the Central Valley about three years ago.

“I grew up in Stockton, and part of what I credit my love of reptiles to comes from growing up in the Valley. We would always see garter snakes and frogs, or go hunting for polliwogs,” Killeen said.

When it comes to her reptile show, however, the animals are much larger than tadpoles and far more exciting than a tiny snake. Most of Killeen’s animals — which she lovingly calls her pets — are endangered species from all over the world. None of her reptiles are venomous and have participated in the show for decades, like Puff the bearded dragon, Scooter the skink and Bob the 70-year-old tortoise.

Typically, Killeen and her critters entertain crowds of children at preschools and libraries via an educational seminar, where those in attendance can pet the animals and learn about preserving their habitats. Lately, the coronavirus pandemic has put these events on hold. That hasn’t stopped the Lizard Lady from sharing her reptiles with the public, however, as Killeen has kept herself busy by attending small, socially-distanced birthday parties, immediate family visits at her clients’ homes and, most recently, Zoom calls where the community can get to know the animals virtually.

Though the adjustment has been trying at times, Killeen is glad she’s still able to spread joy through her animals. Whether at someone’s home or at a school, the show is always the same: an educational presentation that informs children how important the reptiles are and how we can work together to save their habitats.

“It’s been really wonderful...I know it’s an experience or birthday party that the child will never forget,” Killeen said. “Their party had to be canceled, but they got some lizards to come and visit them anyway.”

Thanks to her background in preschool teaching, Killeen is able to not only provide the facts, but ensure the kids pay attention long enough to understand them. She’s even brought her reptiles to birthday parties for millennials, she said, as snakes and lizards make for quite the exciting party guests.

“It doesn’t matter what their age is — kids love it,” Killeen said. “They think they’re doing something really cool at school when they get to touch a snake or lizard.”

Over the last three decades, Killeen said she has seen firsthand how important it is to educate youth about animal conservation. While she loves her reptiles, the best part about her wild job is seeing the smiles on children’s faces as they appreciate and understand the beauty of exotic animals.

“We’re providing children with an opportunity to pet animals safely and they really don’t have an experience like that outside of a show like this,” Killeen said. “We’re also educating them when we show endangered species, and we talk about why there aren’t many of them. It teaches children very early that they have a part in taking care of the environment and taking care of the animals who share the planet with us.”

For more information about Lizard Lady Reptiles, follow Killeen on Facebook or contact her at 650-557-2254.